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How celebrity and death changed Kanye West

Third part of ‘jeen-yuhs’ documentary focuses on West’s complicated rise

Toward the end of the third part of jeen-yuhs, Netflix’s documentary on Kanye West, narrator Coodie Simmons attempts to sum up his friend of nearly a quarter century. He knows how hard it is for the viewer to watch West drown in his own self-worship.

“You might say you miss the old Kanye. But what I’m realizing now is that every part of Kanye makes him who he is,” Simmons said. “Even with everything that’s changed, I still see so much of the person that I first put my camera on 21 years ago.”

Therein lies the crushing calculus in attempting to find a balance between the man he is now and the man we fell in love with 20 years ago. West admits, shortly after College Dropout became a sweeping success, that he began acting for the now ever-present cameras that followed him in Truman Show-like fashion. He was playing a character. Except for one person.

Without question, the late Donda West is jeen-yuhs’ brightest star — brighter than her own son. She is the glue that holds everything together both in West’s life and for the viewer. There was no bigger Kanye West fan than the woman who knew him longer than he knew himself.

Which is why Donda West’s death is the most crippling part of the documentary. For two episodes, her smile lit up any scene she was in. Her words of affirmation to West are enough to create tears. For years, it’s been understood that West’s life changed after his mother died in 2007 from complications from plastic surgery. What jeen-yuhs does is show the depths of his grief. West’s life revolves around two distinct periods: with Donda and post-Donda.

“All he wanted was to make his mama proud,” Simmons said. Without her, that spiritual road map was gone, as the last 15 years have shown.

It’s shocking how West didn’t allow himself to grieve. Just a week after her death, he was onstage talking about how he didn’t want people to tell him to, in essence, take care of himself. Post-Donda, his world was a dizzying amount of highs and, especially in the last five years or so, even more lows.

Kanye West’s longtime friend Coodie Simmons, who narrated jeen-yuhs, has always been protective of him.


Simmons approaches the uncomfortable moments like West’s obsession with President Donald Trump, his “slavery was a choice” comments and West’s own run for the White House as someone deeply loyal to West. He was there from day one and, even during his periods of separation from West, always loved him.

So it’s understandable why there’s a palpable sense of fear in Simmons’ voice when he reflects on West being committed to a hospital and the status of his mental health. West speaks of having to take medication just to have “normal” conversations with people. He says he hates how he gained weight because of it and wants to be slim again. In one scene, West sits on a couch while recording the Kids See Ghosts album with Kid Cudi and speaks about how he courted death. It’s the one moment where West seemed to realize how lost he was in his own insecurities and the evils of success.

“It’s better for us to touch on things that people can really relate to. Even me when I already had the house, and the wife and the kids, the plaques — I’d still have moments where I felt suicidal,” he said. “Still have moments where I’m addicted to Percocets and don’t even realize it … I was confused. I hit a breaking point. I didn’t know where I was going. I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

West is still one of the most influential artists in the world. The album sales, Grammy nominations and sold-out concerts are proof of that. But the harsh truth, too, is that West has lost many people who once hung on his every word. Simmons understands that and may have tried to shield West by glossing over certain parts of his life — for example, his public disrespect toward ex-girlfriend Amber Rose (a precursor to his current fiasco with ex-wife Kim Kardashian).

Simmons just happens to be a guy from Chicago who started filming his friend he knew was talented before the world did. He’s protective of West now because he’s always been protective of him. 

It’s hard to rationalize that when West seems to let his father’s pleas to take care of himself go in one ear and out the other. Or when West stands in solidarity with Marilyn Manson as the performer faced allegations of abuse. Or when he portrays the decapitation of Kardashian’s current boyfriend, Pete Davidson, in a music video.

By the end of part three, it’s impossible not to be sad. There’s no way to reverse course. If jeen-yuhs paints West as a superhero in many moments, it’s a clear reminder that no superhero is invincible.

The trick is trying to remember that the next time he does something to piss us off. Which, honestly, could be any moment now.

Justin Tinsley is a senior culture writer for Andscape. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single most impactful statement of his generation.