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Kanye West for as long as I remember has been a complex character. Over the past decade his various exploits have seen him dominate headlines and seen millions of us simultaneously rolling our eyes. With every venture is a question of his intentions and his recent very public (and very one sided it seems) feud with Pete Davidson is only further fuel to the ‘Kanye is crazy’ fire. However having recently enjoyed all three parts of Netflix’s new behind the scenes look on Kanye’s music career – filmed by long time friend Coodie, my perspectives on both Kanye, and music, have changed.
Often we look at those in the limelight and deem that they have it so easy. It’s far too tempting to tarnish those at the top with the same brush – they got lucky, it’s been handed to them and so on. Maybe it’s a jealous thing, maybe it’s a coping thing or maybe it is just because sometimes that genuinely is the case. I wouldn’t really say I had any of these assumptions about Kanye, but it’s not like I didn’t have them either. Episode one of ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ was definitely a wake up call. Often we start our lives at the bottom of the pile, especially in careers, and generally you don’t consider the same about rappers but for Kanye it’s true. Leaving his beloved Chicago for New York, making beats for other famous artists to rap on and just barely getting by. It was enlightening to see Kanye just grinding it out. In a time when it’s so easy to label him as an out of touch celebrity watching him climbing his way up really was inspiring. Always in the back of his mind was his goal to rap even though people only saw him as a producer, and would constantly ask him for free beats knowing his touch was golden on their own tracks. Even after producing a good portion of one of Jay-Z’s most successful albums he still struggled to really establish himself. The most impressive thing was that even when it seemed like people were taking advantage of him, he had no doubts about himself. Not arrogant, but confident. He knew how good he was and he was going to do everything in his power to make it. The Kanye West in ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ part one is the perfect role model for anyone who wants to be successful – believe in yourself, work as hard as you can, have a goal in mind and never give up on your dream.
This episode follows in a similar mould to the first. I actually felt sorry for Kanye because he wasn’t being taken seriously. After working tirelessly to get signed it seemed like his own label still really only respected him as a producer; and after a near fatal car collision decided to pull funding from his debut album ‘College Dropout’. I love this album so watching it come together was always going to be a treat for me, but watching Kanye pull together a project as successful and as brilliant as this in the fashion he did was inspiring. Calling in favours, writing and rapping from a hospital bed and borrowing studio time from other artists – Kanye had his mind set on this and he wasn’t going to give it up. One of the most enjoyable things to see was the surprise on the faces of other artists. Having no backing from his label and getting little respect as a rapper it seemed that the common preconception was that Kanye was just a producer indulging himself on some vanity side piece, but one by one he changed their minds. The best of these moments is when in the studio with Pharrell, Kanye proceeds to rap for him and show him some of the music he’s been working on and Pharrell is so dumbfounded he walks out of the room. It is incredible to see the exact moments that he gains the respect of these artists. In a time when it would have been so easy to call it quits on his project, become resentful at his lack of respect, or become tired of his lack of opportunities, Kanye worked and worked and worked – pouring his heart and soul into his dream, his goal and his album. And what an album it was.
Episode 3 is an emotional rollercoaster, but it did change a lot of my preconceptions. The first is the infamous arrogance of West. Having watched the episodes prior where Kanye had to believe in himself when it felt like no one else did I almost enjoyed seeing him revel in his own success. Of course some of it is a little over the top, but one thing that stood out was a Q&A session he did with some children at a charity event. He essentially told them that whilst the media like to portray him as cocky or deluded he doesn’t see it that way; of course he thinks he is the best but he wouldn’t be where he was if he didn’t think so, and he tells the kids that they too should all believe that they themselves are the best. He also went on to laugh about how when people praise him or his music it’s like they want him to say ‘oh thanks, do you really think so?’ instead of agreeing with them, but of course he’s going to love his own music. That one thirty second clip really made me look at Kanye differently. If you don’t believe in yourself how do you expect others to believe in you? It’s Kanye’s self belief that saw him force his way to the top, so he’s completely right when he tells the kids that they need to think they’re the best. Forget all this modesty rubbish, if you want something you need to be confident and go after it! That’s where the second part comes in, and it really made me think. The polite way to accept a compliment these days is to deny it or downplay it, and the moment someone doesn’t they’re perceived as brash, arrogant or vain, but Kanye’s sentiment here rings so true. It’s his art that he’s worked tirelessly on, of course he is going to like it even if no one else does – so why should he have to pretend like he doesn’t! The episode really starts to get very emotional when Kanye loses his mother. Even from early clips in episode one it is clear that Donda was his guiding light and when he got to the top she went all the way with him – acting as his best friend, mentor and manager. Although his portrayed arrogance (although now I just see it as confidence) was already gaining attention it wasn’t until Donda’s death that Kanye really started becoming the headline grabber, for the wrong reasons, that we have become more familiar with. I won’t go into too much detail about all of the various episodes you see him go through because to get the full picture you really have to watch it, but without his mother, and later with his bipolar diagnosis it is fairly clear that Kanye is lost. We see him in the studio or at his house just start on various rants and tirades about the world and about life to a point where Coodie actually stops filming because he doesn’t think it’s right to in these low points. To be honest I’d assumed going into this that the documentary had been approved by West, or even put together by him, so I was pretty surprised that so much of his struggle was filmed and included. Amidst his short-lived presidential campaign and infamous abortion speech we see footage of Kanye watching it back in the car and suggesting that he sees the world differently. In fact it’s so nonsensical that it almost starts to make sense. It seems that Kanye in recent years is constantly going against the grain – in fact sometimes it has felt that he is just pushing boundaries for the sake of it. After watching episode one and two are we so surprised that the words of his critics fall on deaf ears when from a young age Kanye has been having to prove people wrong – fighting his own corner when no one backed him and doing it all on his own. It’s the fact that he has been so set in his ways, so focussed, so passionate and so devoted that he has had any of his success. So is it really a surprise to see some of his actions in recent years? Whilst it feels that Kanye is lost in himself he wears his heart in his sleeve and throws himself headfirst into everything he does – for better or worse.
This documentary is one of the most honest and inspiring I have ever seen. I’ve always been a Kanye fan but my view on him has been tarnished by recent actions as I’m sure is the same for many others. However seeing how hard he had to work to get his chance, how hard he had to work to take it, and just how he was able to climb to the top in a world where so many people just wanted to take advantage of him is a testament to his pride, dedication and talent. I’ve even got a different perspective on his more recent years, feeling more sympathy for his condition and how it affects him now than before – and understanding further that while his drive and determination is still the same as it always was it feels like he’s just lacking the guidance he had while Donda was alive. It’s apparent from the show he never took the time to grieve her properly, and with his latest album being in dedication to her and with his bipolar struggles you do wonder whether these are key factors in why he is hurting so much. Partner that with a highly publicised marriage breakdown and you almost find yourself thinking that it’s no wonder that the man who was always criticized or disrespected is struggling. One thing is for sure – instead of rolling my eyes at Kanye West I am now full of admiration and sympathy for the man. I hope he finds himself again soon.
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