We need to talk about Kanye : Pop Culture Happy Hour Kanye West is a successful rapper and producer who has won 22 Grammys. But West has also been a public lightning rod for his outbursts at awards shows, his outspoken support of Donald Trump, his acrimonious divorce proceedings with Kim Kardashian, and much more. Netflix recently released a documentary called jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy. So it seems like a good time to assess the artist himself.

We need to talk about Kanye

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STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

Kanye West is not only a successful rapper and producer, he's a label mogul, a fashion designer and reportedly a billionaire. But he's also been a public lightning rod for his outbursts at awards shows, his outspoken support of Donald Trump and much more. Netflix recently dropped a documentary called "Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy," so it seems like a good time to assess the artist himself. I'm Stephen Thompson, and today we are talking about Kanye West on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: Joining me today is writer, NPR Music contributor and co-host of the "Bottom Of The Map" podcast Christina Lee. Welcome back, Christina.

CHRISTINA LEE, BYLINE: Hello.

THOMPSON: Great to have you. Also, making his POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR debut is Gavin Godfrey. He's an NPR Music contributor and Atlanta editor for Capital B News. Welcome to the show, Gavin.

GAVIN GODFREY, BYLINE: Hey. Thank you, guys - good to be here.

THOMPSON: It is great to have you both. So the Netflix documentary "Jeen-Yuhs" is split into three acts. Act I, subtitled "Vision," documents his early career as Kanye struggles to get a record deal. Act II, subtitled "Purpose," captures the difficult process of recording Kanye's debut album, "The College Dropout." And Act III, subtitled "Awakening," tries to cover everything since 2005, as filmmakers Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah drift in and out of Kanye's orbit, Kanye's beloved mother, Donda, dies, and the rapper himself behaves more and more erratically.

We're going to get to our thoughts on "Jeen-Yuhs," but we also want to assess Kanye West's career. The rapper and producer has released 11 albums. That's counting "Donda 2," which Kanye recently dropped on his own proprietary streaming device, which costs $200. He's won 22 Grammy Awards and been nominated 75 times, including an album of the year nomination this year for "Donda."

But Kanye's career has been mired in controversy. He's feuded with Taylor Swift and Drake. He famously once said George Bush doesn't care about Black people during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At one point, he also said slavery was a choice. He was sentenced to two years' probation after fighting with a paparazzi photographer. He was an outspoken supporter of then-President Trump. He's currently in acrimonious divorce proceedings with Kim Kardashian, and he's threatened her boyfriend, Pete Davidson. He's also spoken publicly about living with bipolar disorder, as well as opioid addiction. We should note that Kanye West legally changed his name to Ye last year, but we're going to refer to him as Kanye in this conversation for the sake of clarity.

So as you can see, there is a lot to unpack here. Christina, I know you've followed Kanye's career for a long time, and I know you were in Atlanta for one of those stadium shows where he played "Donda" for huge crowds. I want to start out by assessing his body of work, so give me your general thoughts on Kanye's music so far.

LEE: Oh, boy. Did you see - I was taking, like, deep breaths because it's like, OK, we're writing a book here on Kanye West, but also because there is so much to talk about. I mean, I do think it's fact at this point that Kanye is one of the most influential living figures in hip-hop today most certainly. I would say in general, there is a lot to be nostalgic for. There is a lot to be fond of. Everybody is going to have a different answer as to when it becomes harder to forgive the artist for the sake of the art. So that is my basic summary. I'm so excited to talk about when we first each got into Kanye, though. So...

(LAUGHTER)

GODFREY: Oh, man. If we're talking about body of work, there's "The College Dropout," "Late Registration" and "Graduation" Kanye that I literally, like, grew up on, right? And as Christina said, he, to me, is one of just the most influential people alive. And I think that's a testament to the track record, literally, that he produced from the gate up till now. And I think Kanye warrants all the flowers that he's gotten up to this point. But now we're trying to make sense of, like, who he is, what he's doing at this point, because I think it has really confused the hell out of me, certainly, in terms of just trying to see what's going to happen next.

I felt like, you know, coming up, he was that artist that, you know, each time he released a new album and new music, there was an evolution and we were here for the ride and nodding our heads to it at the same time. But now I'm kind of lost on what to really think about our guy. And, you know, I think the new documentary complicates that more for me.

THOMPSON: I'm in a similar boat, I think, to you guys. I mean, I really fell in love with those early records, in part due to something that kind of comes out in this documentary, which is that when Kanye first emerged, it was as a scrappy underdog. And part of his pitch as a rapper was his relatability - coming out and saying, like, I'm not able to credibly represent myself, you know, the way a lot of rappers do.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JEEN-YUHS: A KANYE TRILOGY")

KANYE WEST: I feel like I can't sell to you that I'm finna (ph) come up and take your life. Like, I'm not going to rap to you, like, go - I'm going to take your life because I think that's what's hot or what's industry-ready. Man, I don't give a [expletive] about the industry, man.

THOMPSON: When he did "Through The Wire" on "The College Dropout," which is something that he talks about in this documentary, he's rapping through a wire because his jaw has been broken in a car accident. And it's this very relatable and humble - there was a humility to the way that he presented himself as an artist. And as these subsequent albums rolled out, you heard him find his voice more and more and find this power more and more. And so by the time you get to albums like "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," you are just hearing this guy at the top of his game sonically. And as a rapper and as a presence, that is remarkable.

But when you're assessing the entirety of his recorded work, the ability to separate the art from the artist feels impossible because the art is the artist. It's happened with some of his earlier stuff, but can you imagine someone covering a recent Kanye West song?

(LAUGHTER)

LEE: That's true. Yeah, I don't think I'd be able to imagine that at all, Stephen.

(LAUGHTER)

GODFREY: I'd be here for it, though, for sure.

LEE: Would we? I don't know.

GODFREY: I don't know - depends on the song, I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I mean, before we kind of get to unpacking just this enormous creative legacy and all the controversies around it, like, what are your favorite Kanye works, like, that, to you, captures who he is at his best?

LEE: For me personally, Stephen, that is tricky because I think for much of his career, with every single album came sort of an evolution or, like, a new phase in his career that made it much more exciting, that really added to our understanding as Kanye really sort of complicated it. So when we first get to "The College Dropout" - right? - like you said, Stephen, there is this humility. And more specifically, he is able to sort of seamlessly navigate these two divisive spaces within hip-hop, which is the mainstream commercial successes that his label at the time, Roc-A-Fella, like, really came to espouse and this sort of countercultural, conscious hip-hop that was supposed to be, like, the antithesis of that. And Kanye was able to really, like, navigate this space literally just by acknowledging that he is self-conscious and he's just the first to admit it.

So that era of Kanye is always going to be very nostalgic for me. But in all honesty, I think for most of his albums, I feel like there was always just, like, this really striking evolution. Like, with "Stronger," like, at once, like, Daft Punk fans and "Akira" fans shook hands and said, OK, we are one. Like, I felt seen.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRONGER")

K WEST: (Rapping) Haters. Now that don't kill me can only make me stronger. I need you to hurry up now 'cause I can't wait much longer. I know I got to be right now 'cause I can't get much wronger.

LEE: I'm also fond of "808s & Heartbreak" 'cause that album essentially gives birth to artists like Drake. And in this household, we respect anybody who respects Phil Collins as well.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

LEE: So, I mean, there are so many different evolutions. "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," as well, like you said, Stephen, I think that was where it seemed like there were going to be no creative limits. Like, the - just the mere image of Rick Ross and Bon Iver being at the same artist camp to come together for this larger vision was so, so exciting, so thrilling to watch.

GODFREY: I'm with you on that 'cause, like, when I say, like, I grew up on this man, like, I was at Syracuse University, I think, my junior year of college when "College Dropout" came out. And, like, I'm surrounded by, like, New York kids who are telling me, a kid from Atlanta, that, like, Dipset is more influential than Outkast, and I am losing my mind. And they can't understand where I'm coming from. I don't understand where they're coming from. An in comes this guy, Kanye West, who is somewhere nestled in between, right? He is, you know, with the Roc-A-Fella crew. He's got that co-sign, if you will. But, like, he's wearing pastels. He's rocking backpacks. Like, a lot of people who listen to hip-hop felt seen for the first time. There was a vulnerability there. There was that admittance of being self-conscious.

Like, on "College Dropout," "Spaceships" is probably one of my favorite songs 'cause I've been that Black kid who worked at a retail shop like the Gap and, you know, was treated like crap until some Black folks walk in, and they come parade you on out. And just having those dreams of something bigger - and, you know, it seemed that every time, whether it was lyrically or outside of the music, any time he said he wanted to do something, he did it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPACESHIPS")

K WEST: (Rapping) Y'all don't know my struggle. Y'all can't match my hustle. You can't catch my hustle. You can't fathom my love, dude. Lock yourself in a room doing five beats a day for three summers.

GODFREY: He tested the limits of what our sonic palette is, right? It's like, you know, obviously, if we want to go through the school route - "Dropout," "Late Registration," "Graduation." But then we talk about "808s & Heartbreaks" (ph). When I lived in Chicago, I was living by myself, and that album felt like a very lonely, almost, like, heartbreak album, for lack of a better word. And that got me through a lot of cold winters - pun intended - in Chicago because, at that point, I had come along for the ride with this guy who does worldbuilding. Every album doesn't sound exactly like the last, but it takes his music and what he wants to do forward.

And so "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," it was like, OK, I felt like lyrically and just visionwise, he had it down. We had a whole film tied to that. There was, like, a whole just moment. Like, I think that's when we started to see that, like, this guy doesn't just make albums. He tries to create experiences. And that was so just wild and refreshing to see an experience. And just all of those elements of what was making him blow and grow in front of us was just so, like, captivating to watch. And I just couldn't stop, you know, watching.

And I felt like, sure, as things progressed and he got more successful, you started to hear some of that everyman, you know, personality fade away a little bit. But it was still there. And now, obviously, I think that's, again, what we're trying to figure out. Where did it go? - because I think that's what drew us in, and I would say that it almost kind of stopped at "Yeezus."

THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, I do think it's telling that when we're talking about our favorite Kanye moments, we're really - the three of us are kind of fixating on those first five records, right? You know, so if I'm, like, naming - probably my favorite Kanye song is probably "All Of The Lights" from "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." Let's actually hear a little bit of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL OF THE LIGHTS")

K WEST: (Rapping) All of the lights - cop lights, flashlights, spotlights, strobe lights, streetlights. All of the lights, all of the lights - fast life, drug life, thug life, rock life, every night. All of the lights, all of the lights.

THOMPSON: What you get in the song is this marriage of, like, triumph, but it's still very specifically kind of Kanye telling his story. He is a flawed narrator (laughter) in...

LEE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...This story. He's kind of at the top of his game as a rapper within this song. And yet, you know, you can kind of pick up some of the downside of his (laughter) persona in this song. And so it's a perfect example of how you can't separate the art from the artist. This song could only come from Kanye West, but then after "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," when you get into "Yeezus" and then some of the stuff that follows, there is this point where it becomes much harder to kind of separate out the musical innovation from the flaws in the artist himself. I think for each person, there's maybe kind of a different tipping point in his life where the music changed, he changed. What do you guys see as the biggest tipping point?

LEE: Oh, oh, that is a tough question because like you were saying, Stephen, I think it really depends on every individual person. And I think that answer has actually changed for me as I've gotten older. I was in my senior year of high school when "The College Dropout" arrived, so obviously, I've grown into adulthood as Kanye has literally grown into adulthood. And so when the 2009 VMAs happened, for example...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

K WEST: I'm really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish. But Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.

LEE: At that time, I was thinking, we need to side with Kanye on this because we do need to take awards shows more seriously, and we do need to recognize genius as it is unfolding. So, obviously, Beyonce needs to win this. Like, I believe that with my whole heart, my whole chest, because this seemed to be coming from an underdog perspective. But as you get older and the more you start to understand, especially just how young Taylor Swift was at the time, she being 19, it was, like, it's harder to sort of justify that sort of behavior. You know, even if he is drunk and just sort of, like, acting in the moment, it becomes harder to sort of, I guess, justify that sort of behavior, even if the public spectacle does make for good conversation, right? There are, like, a lot of inflection points.

I think what the documentary "Jeen-Yuhs" gets at also is the Donda-shaped hole that seems to exist in his life. Like, this is probably the most tangible depiction of what that has looked like because I think for fans, we have all kind of come to speculate what that's looked like. We've all kind of come to understand it, especially with "808s & Heartbreak" immediately following that life event.

But I think in the documentary, I don't think I ever really understood it until I saw just the warmth that Donda exuded and the sort of presence that she had in his life. This was maybe the first time where I'm understanding, like, oh, my God, this is what he was missing in his life after all these years, and I can't even understand what that's even like. But I feel like with this documentary, I do get the most tangible representation or the most tangible depiction of what that might look like. So the answer is, I don't know...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

LEE: ...It could be anything (laughter).

GODFREY: Right.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I mean, it's telling. I mean, Donda West died in November of 2007, and she died suddenly, following basically complications from a cosmetic procedure. So it was sudden, and his response to it, as we see in the documentary, is to immediately kind of throw himself into work and not really take a break and process it the way he might have. And that does seem like a major tipping point.

GODFREY: At that time, I was actually living in Chicago. I was reporting for Rolling Out magazine, which if you watched the documentary, two different Rolling Out magazine reporters are interviewing...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

GODFREY: ...Him in the studio scene, so shout out to Rolling Out. But...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

GODFREY: I did a lot of reporting that came in and out of Chicago State, talking to students, different athletes for different stories, and you'd always hear about, you know, Kanye and the legend of Donda, and everybody's like, oh, you know, Donda was a - she was a teacher here. And, you know, that was a big deal, right? And then Donda passes away, and I get invited to come to an event through the foundation that he had with his mother in Chicago, where they invited the students from different schools to come out to a show at The Chicago Theatre. I think it was the students who made the honor roll or something like that.

Luckily, I knew the publicist at the time, and so she was, like, yo. You and one other outlet can get an interview with Kanye when he comes down the red carpet. And I'm like, oh, my God, I'm going to interview Kanye. I mean, it's a red carpet interview, but it's not - that's not that big of a deal because you'd probably get, like, a question in, right? And so he makes his way down the red carpet. There's all this press. I'm also just, like, shocked that we're, like, the same height at...

(LAUGHTER)

GODFREY: ...Like, 5'8" because, again, that idea that Donda says, he's a giant - in your mind, he's a giant.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

GODFREY: He's like a - he is a superhero. And then you - this person in front of you is just a man. And what I noticed immediately before the publicist leaned in and was like, absolutely no questions about his mom. I was like...

LEE: Oh.

GODFREY: ...All right, I guess I'm just going to freestyle this. But there was just a look. You know what I mean? There was - there's this guy I've created in my - this image in my head through his music, through press, and there's just a sad man who just lost his mom. And that's literally all I saw in front of me. And, like, that energy that I had heard, that I had seen, was gone. It was just gone. And I - it was just like we're saying, it was, like, all he did after suffering, as we now learn, was such an insurmountable loss is he just threw himself back into work. I kind of feel like that inflection point still is the loss of his mother because I'm now looking at this document and realizing I don't know if he ever really addressed it with himself. And I think that is very telling of everything that has come after that moment.

THOMPSON: Yeah. When you break down the human element of all of this and you talk about the fact this is just a man, and you start to run through the factors that are feeding into his behavior in the last few years, I mean, it's hard to name one tipping point. And it's extremely hard to pull apart the threads of trauma, of living with bipolar disorder, of substance abuse. Then you factor in, like, success is a stress in its own right.

And I'm not forgiving bad behavior here. I'm not forgiving somebody's transgressions but simply saying that even trying to pick apart causalities is extremely difficult. I mean, at some point, when you become enormously famous, who even is your friend? When you lose your mom - and we see enough of his mom in this documentary to see that she is enormously supportive of him, enormously validating of him but also still serving as a grounding influence.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JEEN-YUHS")

DONDA WEST: But you know what? I was thinking about something I was going to say to you, Kanye, that I thought was important, how you are down-to-earth and everything, but, you know, you got a lot of confidence and come up a little arrogant even though you're humble and everything. But it'd be important to remember that the giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing.

THOMPSON: The loss of her is clearly a massive, massive tipping-point trauma in his life. I did want to talk a little bit about the documentary, which, you know, when you hear there is a 4 1/2-hour Kanye documentary, it's an interesting but very, very flawed (laughter) piece of work. What did you guys think of the documentary?

LEE: So what's really interesting about this documentary, what I'm at once fascinated by, intrigued by, but also frustrated by, is how the directors, Coodie and Chike, sort of operate within his life. Because it seems very true to their experience in that they act as the really concerned friend who want to be there as, like, a presence but don't really know what to make of that otherwise. And I think that also kind of speaks to, I guess, the isolation in his career at this moment. Because like you said, Stephen, like, fame and success, especially to the extent that Kanye has experienced, very, very few of us are going to understand that in each other's lifetimes. There's a reason why Kanye invokes Michael Jackson as a point of comparison because he might have been the only other person to really have understood that.

The way that this documentary operates is that like, OK, we get to see Kanye's career grow and evolve, and we get to see how all these different traumatic events sort of play out into his life and fast-forward through a bunch of it as the directors sort of lose contact with him. But maybe it's because they felt it wasn't their place, or maybe because it kind of speaks to how we as a society don't know how to reckon with or under - we don't have, like, the literacy to comprehend what it's like to live with bipolar disorder, any of these things.

It seemed like the film didn't really quite know how to venture into these particular subjects. But I think as fans, it's also easy to kind of get frustrated by that. And, you know, as pop culture fans, we want to know more. We're super-curious about this stuff. So that's neither like a - you know, a rave or a pan or anything like that. It's just really fascinating to consider.

GODFREY: I had a lot of hope, you know, obviously when it came out. Like, especially, you know, as journalists, we're like, great, maybe we'll get both sides of the story. I felt like for a while we were all kind of Coodie, right? Like, here we are, we get introduced to this person who were drawn to because of his drive, you know, his passion, obviously, his just undeniable talent. And it's like, OK, well, I'm liking where we're at. Now, let's document this, let's go for the ride. And, like, to Christina's point, like, as things are progressing, it almost felt like Coodie doesn't know what to do with himself when he's in certain situations or what side of the story he's telling. I think he was like, I signed up to document what I thought might be the rise of, like, the next great artist. And I - it turned out to be a lot more than that, right?

And Kanye has these moments where he might be lashing out or going on what some folks might call a rant, and Coodie turns off the camera - you know what I mean? - because I think he is like, oh, whoa, whoa, like, this isn't what I signed up for. And I think we as fans are dealing with the same thing. It's like, here comes another, you know, Twitter rant, here comes the latest outburst, here comes X, Y and Z. And we're still like, oh, but like, this is the guy I used to love interviewing for Channel Zero. This is the guy that, like, helped create so much opportunity for people where we're from, and now I don't know who this is. I think he even says at one point, you know, I spent my whole life documenting Kanye. I started to try to get to know Yeezy. And I think that is where a lot of us are.

And I think in terms of just the documentary itself, once you look at it as like, this isn't a documentary that's going to explain Kanye, this isn't a documentary that's going to give you both sides of Kanye - this is Kanye through the eyes of Coodie. That's literally all this is. And that's why it even stops. It's like they drifted apart or whatever you want to call, but there's a gap in footage. And I think Coodie's like, I didn't talk to the man for an X amount of time, so I don't have that footage. And so I now look at it as like, this is the Kanye story, according to Coodie's camera. And I now have an easier time digesting what I've been watching if I look at it through that lens.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I mean, this documentary is, I think, a little more interesting than I thought it would be. When I saw that this was a documentary that was called "Jeen-Yuhs," I'm like, OK, well (laughter), clearly, this is going to be scathing, you know? But at the same time, I think those first two parts present a really, really interesting look at the early creative life of Kanye West and what he was in the beginning. They have so much access early on. You have this absolutely fascinating scene where Kanye is trying to capture the interest of Roc-A-Fella Records by, like, walking around and trying to play his music for indifferent people, including, like, executive assistants, not necessarily even people who are going to have the power to, like, give him the budget that he needs.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: You know, it's just like - he's just trying to get people to listen to his music. And first of all, in those early days, he is extremely relatable. Who among us hasn't metaphorically walked through a record label's office saying, like me (laughter)? You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JEEN-YUHS: A KANYE TRILOGY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Roc-A-Fella Records. Hold on one second.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL FALLS DOWN")

K WEST: (Rapping) She's so precious with the peer pressure - culdn't afford a car, so she named her daughter Alexus. She had...

THOMPSON: He's known as a producer. He's known as a beat-maker. And just trying to get the world to hear him for how he wants to be heard - that stuff is really interesting.

LEE: Right, right. Well, first of all, Stephen, I know you bring up the Roc-A-Fella meeting as to say, like, this is Kanye at his most relatable. I don't know if this is a testament to me getting older, but who I related to the most were the executive assistants...

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Yes.

LEE: ...Trying to do their job on the phone. And all of a - if you were an executive assistant trying to do your job and this man walks into your office and plays you music that you did not make an appointment for...

(LAUGHTER)

LEE: I was just like, yes, I have been Kanye. But oh, my God, I was like - I don't know what I would have been able to do in that situation. And I think maybe it's a testament to him being relatable, of course, 'cause we've all been in that position where we just, like, have to believe in ourselves. But I think that also separates Kanye from the rest of us, which is how self-possessed he has been to get him to this point. And in this case, it is a compliment because that self-belief is required to get to where he is today. So I'm not knocking that at all. I was just like - as a mere mortal, I was like, oh, my God, what is happening?

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

GODFREY: For me, more relatable was, like, his retainers. That was, like, really the best supporting, you know, actor of the first act. It's like, no matter where he was - just, like, his - like, where are my retainers? I got to take this out. And the fact that he's talking to other, like, musical giants with his retainer in...

(LAUGHTER)

GODFREY: I was just like...

THOMPSON: Was it Scarface, who was just like...

GODFREY: Yes, right.

LEE: You're in front of Scarface.

THOMPSON: I was like, what is that doing on the table (laughter)?

LEE: Scarface had to be like, get that off the table. That was in your mouth.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

GODFREY: Right, right. As a kid who grew up with retainers, I was like, yo, like, this is why - this was the guy I fell in love with.

LEE: (Laughter).

GODFREY: Like, before he was rapping through the wire, he rapped through some wires. You know what I mean?

THOMPSON: Once you get to that third part, all of a sudden it's trying to be 2005 to the present. It becomes a really shapeless mess. In a way, it is kind of an interesting metaphor for Kanye's career, right? You have such clarity early on. That first bunch of albums have such clarity to them. They're flawed, but they're flawed in the most interesting possible ways. And then eventually, there is just this runaway freight train. And how do you even convey everything that's going on? It's such a whirlwind. And, you know, we've been talking about Kanye West for a while now. You know, we're talking about the traumas that affected his life and the losses that affected his life. I mean, but along the way, there have been people who've really been hurt by his behavior, and we haven't even been able to start to unpack that.

LEE: It was really interesting to see Coodie and Chike try to create a full-circle moment of Part III, which, as you said, basically picks up from, like - what? - 2005 onward and tries to frame the making of "Jesus Is King" as sort of a full-circle moment in that he's trying to invoke the Kanye West of "Jesus Walks." And now Coodie and Chike are back into the fold, back to documenting his life. He is back now in contact with the very folks who believed in this man so much that they gave up their jobs, and it was never, ever, ever clear whether these people were being paid or whether they were just, like, crashing with Kanye. I wanted to know what their living situation was.

So it was really interesting to kind of see them attempt to make a full-circle moment - that maybe we're sort of arriving at the return of this, quote, unquote, "old Kanye," to quote the "Life Of Pablo" track. And this is maybe the most interesting but also most unsatisfying part of the documentary - it doesn't feel like a full-circle moment.

GODFREY: No.

LEE: And maybe, like, you know, with documentaries, I think a lot of times you do try to tie things up too neatly in a bow, perhaps, in a way that doesn't really seem true to our human existence, but that is abundantly clear with this documentary in particular.

GODFREY: I agree with that because to the point now, we would get to the third act of this documentary, and, you know, I keep replaying Donda's message from the documentary - like, the giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing. But I think what's missed is what she says after that - is that because the giant is up in the clouds, but he's grounded, right? His feet are still on the ground. And I've realized that Act III, he's lost his footing. We got the everyman, and now we close out with, I think, just as - with any questions as we had going into it, right?

LEE: Right.

GODFREY: Like, I think the biggest point they missed was that the giant is not grounded anymore, and I think that was something they just kind of glossed over.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And, I mean, I think one of the challenges of the documentary and one of the challenges of us even having a conversation about Kanye West right now is that that story is still being written and rewritten and rewritten. And you can feel the documentary trying to hit a place where it can put a tidy bow on the story up to that point, but the story is just constantly being revised after the fact.

You know, we're having this conversation and new Kanye revelations, new Kanye controversies, including some unpleasantness around his divorce from Kim Kardashian, including a new single with The Game and a music video that depicts the kidnapping of her boyfriend, Pete Davidson, these stories, these headlines are still popping up. And probably several more will have popped up between when we tape them and when this episode drops. And so one of the tricky things about wrapping our heads around Kanye West is that that story is constantly being recontextualized.

LEE: Yeah, absolutely. And something that we do see in "Jeen-Yuhs" is this stream of consciousness by which he always seems to operate and which has always seemed to sort of inform his career. And I think that aspect is important to point out because that even makes it even more challenging to even wrap our minds around, like, what we're even seeing in the documentary, especially toward the tail end of the career that Part III tries to touch on but doesn't really quite fully get at.

With the documentary covering from this perspective of, I'm just trying to be here for Kanye as a friend, you see them acknowledge the fact that perhaps he might have once called slavery a choice by 2018, and that was in that interview with TMZ. But you don't see them try to square fully the man who said slavery was a choice with the artist who has contended with and sort of used the 13th Amendment as sort of a rallying cry for not only just his music but his entire career - the way that he has put himself, given his underdog mentality to not just his music but to entering fashion boardrooms, to, like, pursuing all these endeavors - is because of years of slavery that he then tries to completely disregard by 2018.

So, like, it's really hard also to even sort of wrap your mind around that. And, like, the "Jeen-Yuhs" documentary offers some glimpse into that (laughter). But, like, to especially contend with it over the span of an hour and a half, as Part III is - I mean, it's really dizzying. I think it was just more so a headache and a reminder that, like, of all that we've tried to understand about Kanye, and I don't know if that's a good thing yet. It feels like a doozy as of this moment.

GODFREY: Yeah. I mean, it's like no matter what happens outside of the music, that's going to be brought in. I mean, he's always done that, but it was relatable. I can't, you know, relate to wanting to beat up Pete Davidson. I can't relate to some of the topics of class that he's now seemingly obsessed with. You know, when he met with Trump eons ago, he kept telling him, like, we're American industry guys. I'm like, that's where you're at with it now, right? Like, you see yourself as like a, you know, somebody who's innovated and literally helped push, you know, the world forward. Is that where you're at now?

And there's that other element - I think it was Te-Nahisi Coates wrote about it - where it's like he doesn't see himself as Black. He sees himself as Kanye. I don't know if you guys saw the O.J. Simpson documentary, "Made In America," where have this same discussion, right? Like, everybody wants O.J. to be more than he is for Black people because of where he is. And O.J. is like, yo, bro; I'm just O.J. I'm not - mmm-mmm (ph). And I feel like that's where Kanye is.

And I think when he came out, it was easy for us to relate and not just because he was a Black guy speaking to Black people. He spoke to everybody, the underdogs, the insecure folks, and it really connected, you know? And now he is just so concerned with being Kanye and whatever that means, whether he's, you know, Kanye the mogul, Kanye fashion, Kanye music, Kanye politics. It's - that's what he seems most zeroed in on. And that really spoke to me in terms of, like - I don't know that he necessarily cares about all the things we think he should care about. He cares about Kanye, which is very obvious.

And I think that is showing up in his life. That is showing up in his music. Everything he does is a reaction to it. He's telling you why he doesn't like Kim and Pete's relationship because how it affects him. He's telling you, you know, why he wants to run for politics because of his ideas. It's never - it used to be, like, we're in this together. And now it's like, I'm in this. Come on the ride if you want. Don't forget; I make really great music, and to some people, I am a genius.

So what we're having a hard time grappling with is the guy that we fell in love with was in tune with all these things we're thinking, and now I don't think he thinks about any of that, at all. But he still makes music that sounds great. And then, you know, he opens his mouth and then things change a little bit in terms of the rapping. But the production to me is still there, but I just don't know - and not like I ever did. Like, I don't know Kanye. But I don't know who the man is now, who's giving us this music anymore.

THOMPSON: All right. Well, as I said at the top, there is a lot to unpack here. We've unpacked some of it. There is always so much more. But we want to know what you think about Kanye West. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Christina Lee, Gavin Godfrey, thanks so much to both of you for being here.

GODFREY: Thank you.

LEE: Oh, my God. Thank you so much for having me.

GODFREY: It's good to be on air and reunite with my friend Christina.

LEE: Yay.

GODFREY: Yay.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) It's great to have you both. This episode was produced by Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all tomorrow.

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