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‘jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy’ Act II Film Review: Doc Series Balances Familiarity With Thrilling Immediacy

”Purpose“ moves to the part of Ye’s story we know, but it’s exciting to watch

“Act II: Purpose,” the second part of filmmakers Coodie and Chike’s documentary “jeen-yuhs,” underscores an important element that shaped Kanye West’s ascent and eventual impact on not just hip-hop but popular culture as a whole: His middle-class Chicago upbringing liberated him from gangsta-rap clichés while opening the door (if even just slightly) to the music, fashion and art that eventually metastasized in West’s mega-aspirational music mogul persona.

As an equally thrilling portrait of an artist at a different but equally crucial moment before he became ubiquitous, “Purpose” is as self-contained as “Act I: Vision” while simultaneously being less intimate and more exciting, because it’s part of a story that we already know with a behind-the-scenes immediacy his fans never expected to experience.

Where “Vision” captured the scrappy ambition and relentless hustle that led to his first recording contract with Roc-A-Fella Records, its follow-up begins at the moment when West went from a producer for hire to a rapper in his own right, transforming the world’s perceptions while he transformed himself.

Even after being signed, it was evident that Roc-A Fella co-founder and Jay-Z’s former manager Dame Dash just wanted to lock West up to manufacture hits for the label’s other artists; that said, the fact that West had a Kanye-sized chip on his shoulder about being seen not as a rapper but as a rapper-producer — in 2002 a much less common phenomenon than it is now — probably didn’t encourage Roc-A-Fella’s A&R team to drop everything else they were working on and focus on him.

As narrator, Coodie vacillates between generous affirmations of his subject’s growth and success and melodramatic proclamations about “news that changed everything,” such as West’s car crash that left his jaw wired shut for weeks during what should have been time spent recording his debut album “The College Dropout.” The life-threatening incident was obviously significant in the young rapper’s life, but Coodie doesn’t draw any immediate connections to pivotal choices in his early career (except recording “Through The Wire” with it still wired shut) or larger conclusions about its effect going forward.

In fact, it only kind of underscores how mundane West’s life was in comparison to the gangsta rappers (both real and wannabe) that preceded and surrounded him in the industry; not that “true” ghetto life (whatever that means) or crime is better or worse in a genre prone to self-mythologizing, but that his worldview, his interests, and his influences came from an authentically blue-collar but more suburban place.

Coodie is not only present for the dental work West receives for his jaw, but eventually uses some of it for the “Through The Wire” music video, which is where the amateur documentarian meets Chike, then an editor for MTV. He also follows West through a series of exchanges with “College Dropout” collaborators like Jamie Foxx, Ludacris, and Pharrell Williams, all of whom more or less apologize for not seeing his talent sooner, or for assuming it was limited to behind the boards. Williams in particular as a producer-turned-artist himself seems the most blown away, pacing almost furiously through the hallways of a recording studio after listening to “Through The Wire” before calling West “one of his favorite artists.”

But where fake-it-till-you- make-it braggadocio is a cornerstone of many rap artists’ identities, West’s boasts feel prophetic: when in 2002 he told a pal he wanted to be the best-dressed rapper in the game, even he could hardly have expected to become a collaborator with so many iconic clothing brands, a designer in his own right, eventually evolving into an incredible broker for the marriage between hip-hop and fashion that continues today.

While Coodie obviously collaborated meaningfully with West in the earliest days of his career, eventually co-directing both “Through The Wire” and “Jesus Walks” with Chike, his eventual use of “we” to describe the rapper’s efforts to get Roc-A-Fella’s attention doesn’t entirely represent the reality of what he contributed. Unfortunately, “Purpose” avoids self-examination of Coodie’s simultaneous prescience to follow this rising artist and the extent to which he clung to West in the hopes of securing his own success.

Especially as West’s career progresses, the benevolent, grandfatherly tone of Coodie’s narration elides deeper introspection, envy, or resentment for this undeniable talent that would skyrocket to stardom so quickly and intensely that it was probably unreasonable for Coodie to expect to be able to hold on for the ride. Instead, Coodie inelegantly tries to shift to the story of where his own life went after that moment, a subject that respectfully few viewers will care as much about after almost three hours of close-quarters living with West.

Then again, West kept in his circle so many of the Chicago capital-A artists he came up with, from producers to emcees to poets, that it’s understandable if someone spent so much time with him that he began to expect to remain part of that inner circle. And yet, it’s also immediately apparent that the success of “The College Dropout” propelled West to a level no one could have imagined; Dave Chappelle was the master of ceremonies at his release party, and it wasn’t long before the Jay-Zs that previously looked at him like a gifted subordinate would circle back around to kiss his Yeezys and truly validate his anointed status.

Nevertheless, “Vision” and “Purpose” are extremely effective companion pieces to one another, the first setting up the back story to Kanye West’s career, and the second following the trials and tribulations of his breakthrough. And from here, it remains to be seen if a third act will successfully capture the next decade and a half of work, artistry and life with the same detail and intensity.

Even without prejudging, it feels somewhat safe to say that all that happened next to West wasn’t less interesting enough to merit less attention or screen time. But if the reason for a more succinct ending than the beginning is a lack of access, let’s hope that change gets examined a little more closely, if for no other reason than to bring together the journeys of West and Coodie as this epic story syncs up with the present day.

“jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy” Act II: “Purpose” premieres on Netflix Feb. 23.

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