“The giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing.”
Donda West spoke to her son in a way that always managed to cut right to the chase — his heart always received from her the validation that few have provided for him in the wake of her passing.
The first installment of Netflix’s three-part documentary on Kanye is a testament to the confidence that West always had. Donda not only saw that confidence, but she encouraged it in every facet. The first episode of the documentary covers the phase of Kanye’s life that I’m in right now.
We see a Kanye full of the ambition that his music later instilled in me, along with the generation that grew up on his music. He runs New York — a city that he’s determined to make his own — pleading with A&R representatives, executives and assistants — hell-bent on making them as confident in him as he was in his own abilities, and as confident as his mother was in those abilities.
These industry execs may have had confidence in Kanye’s beat-making, but not in his essence. On top of that, the people who he expected to lift him up, Chicago’s very own, didn’t seem to believe in him much either. Friends who had no problem taking beats from Ye would rather share a piece of the fame he already had than push him further.
Only Donda, Kanye himself and a few friends that deserve every single one of their flowers saw in Ye what we’ve witnessed for 20-plus years.
That vision is something reminiscent of what’s been materializing in myself for a while now. I’m a very insecure person, but there’s something about what I’m doing right now that feels incredibly right to me. I’ve met people in the past few months that I know are integral to my future, similar to what we see in this first act of Kanye’s story caught on camera. There’s this strange feeling that what I’m doing is what I’m destined for.
I’ve entertained the possibility of not writing anymore — to stop talking about the shit I love most and give up on what I’m most passionate about. However, the people I’ve met in my final semester of college have put a mirror up to myself and questioned any ounce of hesitation I’ve had in my abilities. They seem to be the ones I’ve been looking for for four years.
I’ll say it until my fingers go numb, until I’m blue in the face — Kanye was the first artist that made me want to talk about music. The first that made me want to be creative. He put a battery in my back to discover others of his ilk, and those are the artists that I’ve become indebted to for the rest of my life.
This first installment of jeen – yuhs is a reminder of confidence’s significance. All this manifesting bullshit is nothing compared to self-esteem — putting stock in yourself as an entity and banking on that being enough. In time, somebody with the resources to put you on will see that and believe in you the way you’ve been believing in yourself since you started.
This is the last page of the prologue of the life you’ve dreamt of. Now, the life you were truly destined to live out begins.
Getting signed to Roc-A-Fella was supposed to be the chapter that began Kanye’s new life, but that life could only come after one chapter more than previously anticipated.
Kanye’s car accident in the fall of 2002, which left his jaw firmly lodged in the back of his mouth, became that chapter. His triumph was now one over his own mortality, rather than the people who got in his way.
Those people still remained obstacles, even after Kanye signed to a label that could no longer ignore a talent they so casually overlooked for years. He had to borrow studio time from the pockets of other artists. He had to beg to find out when his first album would actually be released. The persistence that got him in the same room as Jay-Z — as well as his own record deal — was the same persistence The College Dropout required in order to be released.
Kanye was signed, but the box in which he was unreasonably locked seemed even more fortified than before. The accident gave those in Ye’s way an excuse to further doubt him.
A 10-minute, spur-of-the-moment studio session while Ludacris wrote the hook for “Breathe In Breathe Out” in his G-Wagon resulted in Pharrell hearing “Through the Wire” for the first time. Williams realized what Kanye had already known — he was here to stay.
Self-sufficiency was always a motif on West’s path to destiny. Leading up to the release of his first album, it became the sole driving force. The music video for “Through the Wire” was entirely funded by one man — the man who so desperately wanted it to be heard by an audience large enough to quantify the greatness and triumph behind it. Chicago was the heart and soul of Dropout, the way that Donda remained the heart and soul of the son who she was so incredibly proud of.
The second installment of jeen – yuhs feels like the last few moments in Kanye’s life before everyone decided it’d be beneficial to document it for him; Coodie Simmons, the director of the documentary, was just ahead of the game.
Every second captured feels surreal. At the time, only those present saw these moments that showcased the true vision Kanye always had. The purpose behind it all was finally starting to materialize, which feels incredibly deserving for a man like him. But still, his work was far from finished. A new life was approaching on the horizon yet again.
In the third installment of jeen – yuhs, Kanye embarked on a path without the guidance that got him there. He lost his beacon — Donda West — and used luminescent strobes and camera flashes as a substitute for the light he thought he’d never lose.
As a result, many believed the Kanye they grew up with was gone. Following Donda’s death, his actions began to overshadow his character. The person who’d been so sure of himself, so desperate to catch a glimpse of stardom, had allowed that stardom to define his worth. Instead of a man defining the culture, many saw him as a man defined by culture.
Creatively, I don’t think anyone could say that Kanye’s judgment really faltered. In the long run, getting Yeezus, 808s & Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy wasn’t worth shit if the man behind them suffered. In his personal decisions, his friendships and his public appearances, West seemed so detached from the person he was when he started this journey.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that today, his roots seem to be so deeply embedded in the people who were responsible for this documentary — those who were responsible for the support that his quest began with.
A hero’s journey if there ever was one.
Rhymefest, J-Ivy, Coodie and Chike, among others, have been with Ye from the start. I think he required time away from them, enduring turmoil in large part on his own, to realize the most important people in his life had always been there.
Better yet, they only knew a fraction of what that turmoil entailed. When Ye came back, they were still waiting with open arms.
When you reach rock bottom enough times, it becomes crystal fucking clear who’s supposed to be in your life. As manic episodes compound on each other, you realize who on your team is going to try to lock you up, and who will actually stand by you to provide the care you need.
The awakening within Kanye West didn’t just happen when he gave himself over to Christ. It didn’t happen when he realized he was cutting off the friends who were limbs that couldn’t grow back. It was trial and error. With each perceived misstep, Ye was leapt closer to who he was always supposed to be.
Reaching levels of fame that only Michael Jackson has had to face, Kanye experienced a revelation: He was as indestructible now as he believed he was way back when he was making beats for Jay-Z.
That liberation opened a vision board that Kanye’s required for a long time — one he’s still painting on to this day.
“I just wanna bring as much beauty to the world as possible. I’m only 38 years old.”
Kanye West has been the greatest singular force of artistic creation of the past two decades — whether that’s through his own art, or what he inspires others to create. Without him, I wouldn’t have written about this series, or probably anything. I don’t know how much longer it would’ve taken me to pick up a pen to write down my feelings if it weren’t for his music.
Today, his creative ventures have seemed to finally interlock with his deepest emotional ventures. Donda is the title of West’s tenth studio album for that reason. She was the point of intersection for Kanye’s creative and emotional planes of existence. She always will be.
Finally addressing Donda as such is the culmination of what Ye’s been dealing with since her light went out. I think that’s why we see Coodie so deeply ingrained in Mr. West’s life once again, tying a bow on what our “ending” to this story is — for now.