Kanye West Netflix documentary jeen-yus and The Beatles Get Back are perfect companion pieces

The Kanye West documentary jeen-yus comes to Netflix embroiled in controversy. The artist, now legally named Ye, continues to make headlines thanks to his active Instagram profile and high-profile relationships. He’s lashed out at Apple, Amazon, Spotify, Youtube, TikTok, and everyone in between. He’s even spoken out against the new documentary, demanding final cut approval, something that was ultimately denied by the filmmakers. That West’s tabloid presence should distract from jeen-yus is a travesty.

Directed by Coodie & Chike, best known as the duo behind West’s ‘Through the Wire’ music video, jeen-yus takes us back to the beginning of West’s career, when the music-maker was a hard-working producer making beats for artists around Chicago. West soon moved to New York and produced four tracks for Jay-Z’s iconic album The Blueprint, including the colossal single ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A.)’. Despite the acclaim, though, West was not viewed as anything more than a producer – and the first part of jeen-yus, a trilogy being released weekly on Netflix, offers revealing footage of West during this journey.

Mr. H-to-the-Izzo’s back to wi-zerk

Kanye West's jeen-yus

(Image credit: Netflix)

During this period of Kanye West’s career, cameraman Coodie was a stand-up comedian in Chicago. He soon moved to New York to document West on his journey to stardom. Coodie had incredible foresight, putting the camera on this unknown producer years before a record deal came through. jeen-yus has been decades in the making, the footage all coming fresh from the early 2000s. 

The insight makes the documentary unlike any other – we see West hustling around New York, rushing Jay Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records HQ, and rapping at anyone who would listen. Nobody takes him seriously. West gets Scarface, one of the great rappers of the moment, in the studio, and after Scarface calls West’s beats “incredible” and promises to rap a verse, he walks out and does not return. West manages to make his way onto MTV, but only to be interviewed about his production. He has the ego that we know today, but not the entourage to back him up. We watch him fight to make the world listen.

jeen-yus is a remarkable look at an artist in embryo. There have been documentaries about Kurt Cobain, Lady Gaga, Oasis, Taylor Swift, Bille Eilish, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Amy Winehouse, and Aretha Franklin, but none of them had the cameras rolling from the very start – before the fame. Coodie did that. He had faith in West, a magnetic screen presence. Yet, where jeen-yus shows the hustle, the documentary does not reveal anything about West’s creative process. There are clips of West playing future classics – like ‘All Falls Down’ and ‘Jesus Walks’ – to friends, but we rarely see West chopping samples.

Conversely, that’s where the recently released Get Back really shines. Peter Jackson’s three-part, almost eight hour series about the making of The Beatles’ unreleased album barely has a narrative. There are moments of tension, primarily when George Harrison threatens to quit the band, and the documentary culminates in arguably the greatest rooftop concert of all time, yet Jackson’s more interested in simply hanging out with the band. Their dynamic quickly becomes clear: Paul McCartney the driving force, John Lenon the stoner co-ringleader, Harrison at the end of his tether, and Ringo Starr the solid, dependable friend who keeps everyone sane with a few jokes. Despite us knowing that they will inevitably break up, Get Back is a joyful, triumphant celebration of this incredible band. 

Similar to jeen-yus, Get Back only uses archival footage filmed at the time. Jackson has cut together and restored film originally shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. There are no talking heads in either documentary – though jeen-yus has Coodie offer voice-over commentary for context – and both offer unique, unprecedented looks at these generation-defining artists.

Ye Jude

The Beatles' Get Back

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

Yet, the reason both work so well in parallel goes beyond that. Where one analyses the creative process, the other spotlights the sheer power-of-will necessary to make it in the music business. The reverse scenario would have been equally interesting – surely any fan would love to witness West creating his signature chipmunk-style samples or see McCartney negotiate getting his band on stage at Liverpool’s Cavern Club. 

Neither documentary therefore offers a full picture of its subject. Coodie is absorbed into West’s world, rooting for the producer-turned-rapper as he does the rounds at New York’s many record labels. The second episode ends with West winning the Grammy for his debut album and, after that, Coodie struggles to tell a cohesive story about West, especially after the death of his mother, Donda. She’s a huge presence throughout the documentary and is a guiding light for West. “A giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing,” she sagely tells West. In other words, check your ego. Today, that advice seems all the more prescient. 

Jackson, meanwhile, is an adoring Beatles fan. He pictures the difficulties the group go through, but there’s little added context. Get Back is simply an in-depth look at a month in The Beatles’ life. Yet, both documentaries are engaging for people who are not fans of the music. I was bopping along to early cuts of ‘All Falls Down’ and in awe of McCartney riffing into the song ‘Get Back’, but even without that context, it’s mesmerizing. 

And although The Beatles and West are individually musical phenomena (yes, I’m putting them on an equal pedestal – have you listened to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?), these close-up looks break any illusions of them being more than just men. West’s documentary in particular shows someone with ambition beyond themself, but, at the end of the day, he’s humbled by his mother. We’ve all been there. The Beatles may create world-changing music, but they’re equally four boys from Liverpool having a laugh. The genius of jeen-yus and Get Back isn’t just the subjects, but the documentaries themselves. Ignore the controversy around the man, jeen-yus is worth the watch. 

For more, check out the best Netflix shows and best Netflix movies available on streaming now.

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