This image is from the official trailer for “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy,” distributed by Netflix.

The year is 2002. An up-and-coming music producer by the name of Kanye West, most widely known for his work on Jay-Z’s album The Blueprint, returns to his condo after a radio appearance. His mother, Donda, is waiting for him there. The two sit by the dinner table against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline, reflecting on Kanye’s producing career to date and his aspiration to become a rapper in his own right.

“The giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing,” Donda muses. A brief silence, as mother and son survey each other. Then, she lets out a light laugh. “You know what I mean?”

Kanye smiles. “So you think I come off too arrogant?”

Fast forward twenty years, and the artist who now goes by Ye has just released Donda 2, the sequel to his previous album, named after his late mother. However, it is not on any streaming service or platform — it is exclusively available on the bizarre Stem Player, a futuristic-looking, disc-shaped speaker that costs $200 and can apparently remix any song using tactile controls. Not long ago, he made headlines for his high-profile divorce with his wife of seven years, Kim Kardashian, and has recently been called out for depicting an animated version of Kim’s current boyfriend, Pete Davidson, being buried alive in a bizarre music video. Before that, he was in the news after announcing his 2020 presidential campaign, which turned out to be short-lived and ill-fated. Time and time again, through some brash statement or inconceivable act, Kanye West thrusts himself into the limelight — and often for the wrong reasons.

But how did we get here? How did a young Chicagoan producer, relatively unknown outside the hip-hop scene, turn into one of the most recognizable and polarizing cultural icons of the 21st century? The documentary trilogy “jeen-yuhs,” directed by Kanye’s lifelong friend Coodie Simmons and frequent collaborator Chike Ozah (both known for their work on music videos and collectively referred to as Coodie and Chike), tells the origin story of the iconic rapper, tracking his meteoric ascent to fame through previously unseen archival footage spanning two decades.

The main draw of “jeen-yuhs” is the authenticity of its source material. In the documentary, Kanye calls Coodie one of his “closest friends”; in fact, they met when the former was only a teenager. The apparently prescient Coodie first began filming Kanye in 1998 with the idea of making a documentary, believing that he was destined for stardom even before his producing career took off. In “Act I: Vision,” Coodie’s camera tracks Kanye faithfully as he dials in during studio sessions, mixes with other rappers at live events or just kicks back at home. Through his everyday interactions, we see his persona take shape — the ambition, the unabashed self-confidence, the boldness to speak his mind regardless of the situation. “I’mma stand for everything I’ve seen in my life, and I’mma try to express that to y’all the best I can,” he announces. Through it all is the steadfastness of Donda West — it is immediately clear that she was an important part of Kanye’s life, an assuaging presence that kept his larger-than-life personality in check.

“Act II: Purpose” is primarily concerned with the conception of Kanye’s debut album, The College Dropout. Witnessing the birth of classics such as “Through The Wire” (which he recorded with his jaw literally wired shut in the wake of a near-fatal car accident), “Slow Jamz” and “Jesus Walks,” they take on a whole new aura of significance. In an uphill battle against a reluctant record label, Kanye’s dogged determination to get his album released is infectious. He is the writer of his own narrative, a champion of self-promotion; it’s difficult not to root for him when he is rooting so hard for himself.

By “Act III: Awakening,” Kanye has made it. He is a multi-time Grammy winner, the founder of a fashion brand and has reached superstardom by all accounts. Yet, he is all too often mired in controversy and called out for his antics. Following the success of The College Dropout, Coodie drifts apart from Kanye, and for a period of time, he watches from a distance. Upon his return to Kanye’s circle in the past few years, he tries to make sense of who his friend has become. Though “jeen-yuhs” is unmistakably Kanye’s story and not Coodie’s, his imprint on Kanye and authorship of the documentary is perceptible. Interludes between scenes and jumps ahead in time are denoted by Coodie’s narration, and we get an idea of his own “making-it” story as it is in many ways tied to Kanye’s. His voice as a filmmaker shines through, one that is genuine and knowing. Indeed, “jeen-yuhs” is often meta in its commentary, lending its portrayal of Kanye a certain verity.

Though it stops short of being a truly piercing character study, the documentary is nevertheless impactful in its first-person appraisal of the rise of Kanye West, one that seeks to humanize a cultural heavyweight who many now see as inaccessible and obtuse. Make no mistake: For all of the things that Kanye says and does, there may just be a spark of “jeen-yuhs” about him.

Daily Arts Contributor Adrian Hui can be reached at