Los Angeles, October 23, 2002. Like every day since he was 15, Kanye West has been producing beats. Today, he works for the Black Eyed Peas, but also Beanie Sigel and Peedi Crakk, rappers from Roc-A-Fella, Jay-Z’s label on which he signed. Behind his console, Kanye sighs. He’s one of the most in-demand rap producers in the country, but he’s tired of playing studio rats. However, when he tried to make his mentor Jay-Z listen to his flow, the latter kept his pupils glued to his beeper: basically, the great Jay despises him a little. Kanye is not ghetto enough. He’s from the Midwest, not the streets. He never dealt drugs, not even a dumpling of weed in the halls of high school. His mother is an English teacher at the university, his father is a photo-journalist, ex-militant of the Black Panthers. The inspiration for his rhymes, he draws it from his experience… at university! Unheard of among American rappers.
Moreover, Kanye feels more poet than rapper. So, on this hot Californian fall day, he freestyled in front of Atlanta rapper Ludacris. He also went to university, maybe he will appreciate his punchlines? In a bad mood, Ludacris sends him packing. Kanye is humiliated. It’s 3 a.m. in L.A. Kanye angrily climbs into his rental Lexus. Was he still mad when his vehicle crashed moments later? He wakes up in the hospital, his jaw shattered, and the tune of “Through the Fire”, Chaka Khan’s kitsch ballad, is spinning in his head.
Lying on a sofa in this room that smells of 90° alcohol, his eyes so swollen he can hardly open them, he silently raps: “A vitamin C is my breakfast, a protein drink my dessert / Some ‘one ordered pancakes, I only swallow the sizzurp. When he leaves the hospital, he heads straight for the recording studio. He samples “Through the Fire”, makes a loop of it, adds a few beats, and finally settles behind the microphone. He thought he was dying and believed he was invested with a divine mission. His diction is hampered by the threads that hold the bones of his mouth together. Between his lips, he spits his venom even stronger. “Through the Wire”, through the wires, will be his first single. Three years later, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Kanye’s career soared to unattainable heights, then crashed.
This is the trajectory of one of the strangest personalities in the world of music, half-crazy, half-genius, megalomaniac who went from rap to president of the United States (well, he ran there), that this documentary sets out to retrace. In three episodes, the last of which has just been unveiled on Netflix, Clarence “Coodie” Simmons follows him from his laborious beginnings in Chicago, to his triumph thanks to Jay-Z and his accident which almost cost him his life, without forgetting his excesses. psychiatry and politics.
The strength of this series is the privileged access that the co-director has had since the very beginnings of the rapper, allowing him to bear witness anchored in time. It’s fascinating to see West’s determination to speak out when no one takes him seriously. In the offices of Roc-A-Fella, he puts his song on the sound systems of all the secretaries, raps the lyrics to them, eye to eye. He only gets embarrassed smiles, but his faith does not waver. He has a very clear idea of what he wants to do in the studio in terms of lyrics and productions, he is ahead of everyone, and only his mother believes in him. Donda, who raised him alone, knows all his raps by heart. She encourages him to behave like a star until he becomes one. She is his base, his driving force, his best friend, his manager, his adviser. She films him at the age of 13 chaining rhymes like a grown-up, already in full ego trip in his polka dot sweater.
“They say I’m overconfident, like that’s wrong, like that’s a dirty word,” he said years later at the opening of his charity, while he is at the top. “How can you have too much self-confidence? You have to have too much self-confidence, you always need more. They want us to blend in, bow our heads and say yes to everything. […] I am ready to shake up people’s negative view of a self-confident black person. Because they’ve never seen that. It’s like the overly noisy slave mentality. […] I’m the best and you should think the same of yourself! We notice that what we find cool in Liam Gallagher, the most arrogant of rockers, we can’t stand it in a black rapper. The sin of pride is excused.
Husband of a queen brand of social networks and reality TV, he seems on the brink of the abyss since the loss of his mother and the announcement of his divorce, locking himself up in the boxes of a stadium for two weeks to finish an album after a concert where he had just presented it. His new album Donda 2 is complacent, rough, unfinished, but we can only recommend this documentary series as it sheds light on the ruthless hip-hop industry, the grace of moments of creation, mother-son relationships, resilience and bipolarity.