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Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy Has Screened At Sundance, See What Critics Are Saying About The Netflix Docuseries

Kanye West performs on jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy.
(Image credit: Netflix)

Coodie & Chike’s upcoming Netflix docuseries jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy has been decades in the making, as Clarence “Coodie” Simmons began collecting footage of Kanye West in Chicago back before his meteoric rise to icon status, and long before he packed arenas with Donda listening parties. Critics have had the chance to screen the three-part project, whose first act, “Vision,” premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 23. Let’s take a look at the reviews.

The screeners that were provided to critics included the label “Work in Progress,” and that seems a reasonable warning after Kanye West’s recent demands to Netflix regarding the series' final edit, which the rapper posted on Instagram just two days ahead of its Sundance premiere. Netflix will be releasing jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy on Wednesday, February 16, in three 90-minute installments. Do the critics think the story of Ye is worth over four hours of your time?

Chris Willman of Variety says though it’s separated into three parts, Kanye West’s story is really told in two halves, with the story of the rapper’s rise in the early aughts feeling like the hip-hop version of Disney+'s extremely popular The Beatles: Get Back

The way they’ve encapsulated West’s story really boils down to a two-act narrative: rags to riches followed by, of course, riches to rumpuses. Is your preferred archetype of Kanye the hungry, deeply focused, self-made scrapper who showed everybody? Or the openly bipolar billionaire whose run for president felt more like a box to check on a list of Ultimate Hubris moments than anything even half-seriously intended? Both Kanyes are on view in Jeen-yuhs, with a story that necessarily comes off deeply bifurcated, given that a plot is something West would seem to have lost along the way.

Jordan Mintzer of THR enjoyed the first-hand footage captured by Clarence “Coodie” Simmons in the first two acts of the trilogy, but as Kanye West rose to fame, he left Simmons behind for a time, making the third act reliant on content that’s always been publicly available. Mintzer wishes we could have seen the making of the now-classic albums that took hip-hop to new places.   

The jump in the last act, “AWAKENING,” from rap phenomenon to music-and-fashion mogul bloated on meds is not always easy to sit through, and Simmons is genuinely concerned enough about his old Chi-town buddy to come running with his HD cam whenever he calls. Covering the period from 2005 to the present, the final installment charts Kanye’s various rises and falls via montage sequences that fill in all the gaps, making it less compelling than the years where Simmons captured things firsthand.

David Ehrlich of IndieWire graded the series a B+, saying despite its faults, the nearly five-hour project feels like a single hour, and that it could have held his attention for ten more. He says Clarence Simmons’ love for Kanye West is apparent, but does ultimately hurts the series as Simmons struggles to maintain perspective on the rising star. 

On the one hand, Simmons’ personal attachment to the growing supernova at the center of this story results in the unique intimacy of a film that shares the fortune of its subject. On the other hand, that same codependency makes it hard for Simmons to maintain perspective once West’s fortunes start to turn. The big-hearted man behind the camera loves the volatile guy in front of it too much to look directly at the person he became (the same person he knew would eventually be watching this), and “jeen-yuhs” suffers as a result. By the time it’s over, the fact that Kanye cut Simmons out of his life for nearly 15 years is just a part of the reason why this film only finds a thimble of insight for every mile of its event horizon.

Anna Smith of Deadline says viewers will feel a plethora of emotions when it comes to jeen-yus: A Kanye Trilogy, but it succeeds in making the rapper a sympathetic character.  

Fans are sure to take many different things from this documentary. There are funny moments, fascinating moments, weird moments, scrappy moments. I found myself oscillating between admiration, amusement and disdain, as well as frustration at what wasn’t being shown. But the most lasting feeling was pity. This portrays Kanye incompletely but sympathetically, suggesting that behind the bravado he’s a little lost and vulnerable – while never short of words.

A.A. Dowd of AV Club gives it a C+, going back to the “Work in Progress” label, which this review argues is fitting for a subject who continues to dominates the headlines with a public divorce from Kim Kardashian, threats to Pete Davidson in rap lyrics and starting a new high-profile relationship with Julia Fox. Kanye West’s story is far from over, and the episodes were incomplete to begin with. 

The best objection to the films is that they’re fundamentally a “work in progress,” as a portrait of an artist who’s turned his whole life into a serialized melodrama of public conflicts and screeds, subject to change by the hour or the post or the latest threat to kick Pete Davidson’s ass. Any documentary about his life will become outdated sometime between pressing play and watching the credits roll. This one has big holes long before that.

While the critics seemed to find both good and bad in jeen-yus: A Kanye Trilogy, they did all agree that the early footage of the rapper as he moved from Chicago to New York is a thrilling documentation of Ye’s perseverance. The third act and the lack of first-hand footage and an incomplete story seems to weaken the overall project. But maybe that will all change if Ye does indeed get to have final editing supervision before it goes live.

If you think this sounds like an endeavor you’re in for, the first act of jeen-yuhs: A Trilogy will premiere on Netflix on February 16, with the next two being released weekly on Wednesdays. Until then, take a look at some of the best shows on Netflix right now.  

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.