Netflix’s new three-part-documentary Jeen-Yuhs is composed of decades’ worth of rare footage showing Kanye West’s rise to fame. Part 1 chronicles West’s fight to get taken seriously as a rapper ready for the spotlight rather than simply a producer behind the boards. But it also offers intimate glimpses of the hometown Chicago scene that nurtured West, which he would ultimately leave behind. So, what happened to West’s earliest peers and collaborators, such as the man who helped teach him how to produce beats in the first place, who worries about being written out of hip-hop history? We’re going to assume you’re already familiar with the fates of such superstars as Jay-Z, Pharrell, Mos Def, John Legend, and Talib Kweli, as well as big-name producers like Just Blaze, all of whom also appear in the documentary. But what about the up-and-comers who never reached the same heights, or stayed behind the scenes? Below, a guide, in the rough order in which each of these supporting characters first appears.
One of the two directors of Jeen-Yuhs, Clarence “Coodie” Simmons Jr., is also its narrator and becomes a recurring character throughout all three parts. After starting his entertainment career as an aspiring stand-up comedian from Chicago, Simmons became an early friend of West’s through the Chicago music scene while working for the public access show Channel Zero. As he describes in Jeen-Yuhs, Coodie was inspired by Hoop Dreams to begin filming West’s career from its earliest stages in the pursuit of making a documentary about his rise to greatness. He would go on to team up with Chike as a directing duo under their production company, Creative Control, directing music videos for West’s hits “Through the Wire” and “Jesus Walks.” Coodie & Chike then directed many more music videos for artists such as Erykah Badu, Christina Aguilera, Rick Ross, Mos Def, and more. They also directed an episode of ESPN’s sports docuseries 30 for 30 before going on to direct Jeen-Yuhs.
As chronicled in Part 2, Jeen-Yuhs’s other director, Chike Ozah, was doing motion design and graphics for MTV when he met Coodie, who was documenting West’s rise to fame, which led to the two filmmakers collaborating on the video for “Through the Wire.” As noted above, the pair would go on to establish Creative Control and become a successful directing duo.
Briefly mentioned during Jeen-Yuhs’ explanation of West’s induction into the music scene, the Go Getters were a Chicago-based rap group during the ’90s composed of four members: GLC, Timmy G, Arrowstar, and Kanye West, who was still in his late teens and early 20s. West produced beats for the group, which collaborated with other Chicago rappers like Rhymefest and Malik Yusef. Though West ultimately outpaced his fellow members, things reportedly ended with the group on good terms. GLC was signed to West’s future label G.O.O.D. Music, while one of the Go Getters’ managers, John Monopoly, served as the label’s first president. (The other manager, Don C, served as Kanye’s best man during his wedding to Kim Kardashian.)
Greg “Olskool Ice-Gre” Lewis appears in Jeen-Yuhs while West is recording “All Falls Down.” Lewis is one half of the Chicago hip-hop duo Abstract Mindstate (the Go Getters used to open for them), which was founded in the late ’90s. Abstract Mindstate began using West as a producer for their songs around the time West was phasing out of the Go Getters. Beyond his creative relationship with West, Ice-Gre would go on to become one of G.O.O.D. Music’s first A&Rs. Since then, Ice-Gre has founded a company called Honest Management, which seeks to develop new artists.
James Ivy Richardson II, aka J. Ivy (the lead writer of Jeen-Yuhs), is a spoken word poet best known for his three appearances on Def Poetry Jam as well as his feature on the song “Never Let Me Down” from West’s debut album, The College Dropout. In the documentary, Richardson and Tarrey Torae arrive together during the same recording session as Ice-Gre. Since his work on College Dropout, J. Ivy has released multiple studio albums (one of which was nominated for a Grammy) and a mixtape. Ivy has a wide range of work, from performing for Deepak Chopra to voicing the openings for the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee and the 2017 NBA Draft. He is also credited as the mastermind behind the stage name of the then–little-known artist John Legend. Currently, J. Ivy is the president of the Recording Academy’s Chicago Chapter and has won numerous awards, including a Peabody, a Clio, and an NAACP Image Award. Additionally, Ivy started the Dear Father Movement, which encourages people of various ages to reconcile feelings from failed relationships with their fathers—inspired by his most famous appearance on Def Poetry Jam, where he performed his poem “Dear Father.”
Tarrey Torae is a six-time Apollo-winning singer-songwriter who has been featured on Grammy-winning albums from G.O.O.D. Music artists including West and John Legend, in addition to records from the likes of the rapper Freeway. Most notably, the College Dropout song “Family Business” centers not only her vocals but stories about her family, although she is uncredited. In addition to making her own music and touring with legendary hip-hop artists, Torae has worked for a few advertisement brands and has branched out into acting with roles in the TV series ER and the independent comedy Not Another Black Movie.
Dexter Raymond Mills Jr., aka Consequence, is a former star on Love & Hip Hop: New York, frequent collaborator with the renowned hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, and cousin of its main producer and rapper, Q-Tip. After things ended with Tribe, Consequence met West through the producer 88-Keys, forming a creative relationship that included a feature on the song “Gone” from West’s second album, Late Registration. Consequence released his debut album Don’t Quit Your Day Job! under G.O.O.D. Music in 2007, then left the label in 2011, claiming that West didn’t give him enough credit for his contributions to West’s music, but he has since reconciled with West. His production and rap credits include work with Kid Cudi, Beyoncé, Patti LaBelle, and more. In 2020, Consequence announced that he has been diagnosed with both lupus and Type 1 diabetes. His 10-year-old son, Caiden, is also a rap artist.
Charles Misodi Njapa, aka 88-Keys, is a New York–based producer and rapper closely affiliated with G.O.O.D. Music. Also briefly featured during the “All Falls Down” recording session in Jeen-Yuhs, Njapa got his start producing early records for hip-hop artists including Mos Def and Talib Kweli—a résumé that reportedly impressed a young West. Njapa actually takes credit for being the one to introduce West to the MTV Unplugged album of Lauryn Hill, whose song “Mystery of Iniquity” was famously interpolated in “All Falls Down.” (The original sample was later rerecorded by singer Syleena Johnson for the official album version.) Njapa’s 2008 debut solo album, The Death of Adam, was executive produced by West and featured high-profile musicians such as Bilal and Kid Cudi. Njapa hasn’t released much under his own moniker since then but is still producing for West and other big names like Pusha T.
Seen in Jeen-Yuhs hanging out with West at Baseline Studios, Gimel Androus Keaton, aka Young Guru, is a producer, audio engineer, DJ, and record executive who most recently won a Grammy in 2019 for his work mixing Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s album Everything Is Love. Dubbed the “most famous and successful engineer in the history of hip-hop” by the Wall Street Journal, Guru has had his hand in the work of a slew of artists since West’s early days, including Rihanna, Mariah Carey, and Meek Mill.
Damon “Dame” Dash is best known as Jay-Z’s earlier manager and a co-founder of Roc-A-Fella records with Jay-Z and Kareem Burke. As seen in Jeen-Yuhs, Dash initially promised to sign West to Roc-A-Fella, but at the time no official deal was on the table. Though Jay-Z became incredibly successful, as did Roc-A-Fella, Dash and Jay-Z had a falling out that began when Roc-A-Fella was purchased by Def Jam, which had previously had a 50-50 distribution and partnership deal with the label. Subsequently, Jay-Z bought Dame Dash out of his stake in Rocawear. As Roc-A-Fella dissolved, the two engaged in a public feud. However, in 2021, Jay-Z thanked Dame Dash during his induction speech for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, beginning what Dash hoped would be a process of reconciliation.
DeVon “Devo” Harris, aka Devo Springsteen, is West’s cousin and served as West’s assistant, then as his creative colleague. In Jeen-Yuhs, he is seen assisting Kanye with selling beats. As a former college roommate to John Legend, Harris is responsible for getting Legend to sign to G.O.O.D. Music in 2003, and he produced and co-wrote many songs on Legend’s Grammy-winning first album, Get Lifted. Harris won a Grammy in 2006 for his work on the hit Kanye song “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” which won Best Rap Song. In addition to working on Grammy-winning projects with Legend and West, Harris has co-written and produced for artists from Britney Spears to Common. However, since his music days, Harris has pivoted to the world of tech and business, obtaining an MBA from Columbia in 2011, becoming senior product manager at Vimeo in 2014, and launching his own interactive streaming platform, Adventr, in 2020.
Dug Infinite is a Chicago hip-hop producer who, in Jeen-Yuhs, also takes credit for teaching West how to produce beats alongside frequent collaborator No I.D.—the lack of recognition for which causes some contention between him and West. However, Jeen-Yuhs shows Dug Infinite and West eventually squashing their beef. For the most part, Dug Infinite has since stepped away from the music industry, only producing on occasion for a few artists, including on a joint album with No I.D. titled The Sampler Vol. 1. However, that changed in 2016 when he and No I.D. released an instrumental follow-up titled The Sampler Vol. 2.
Ernest Dion “No I.D.” Wilson is a Grammy-nominated DJ, rapper, and producer who also, in partnership with Dug Infinite, helped West get his start as a producer. In addition to mentoring West, he’s perhaps best known for his early work with Common, and has produced hits spanning a wide range of genres, such as Jay-Z’s “D.O.A.” and John Mayer’s “New Light.” A former president of G.O.O.D. Music, No I.D. formed the supergroup Cocaine 80s with one of today’s most prolific and esteemed hip-hop and R&B producers, James Fauntleroy. Cocaine 80s has worked with artists such as Jhené Aiko and Makeba Riddick. No I.D. served as the executive vice president of A&R for Def Jam, signing now-platinum-selling rapper Logic to the label, and has continued to maintain a long-standing professional relationship with Jay-Z and produce hits for artists like Drake and Rihanna, in addition to his many with West and Jay-Z.
Donda West, Kanye’s mother, was a professor and chair of Chicago State University’s Department of English, Communications, Media and Theater. Donda West died on Nov. 10, 2007 after post-op complications from cosmetic surgery. Recently, Kanye named his controversial 10th album after her, and he has announced plans for a sequel album, Donda 2. Multiple nonprofits and foundations have been founded in her name, including Donda’s House and the Dr. Donda West Foundation. Additionally, in 2009, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Donda West Law, which requires that patients receive preexaminations before undergoing elective cosmetic surgery.
Che “Rhymefest” Smith is an acclaimed songwriter who co-wrote West’s Grammy-winning hit “Jesus Walks,” his Grammy-nominated hit “New Slaves,” and more. He briefly appears in Part 1 while West is working on “Jesus Walks.” In 2010, Smith had a short stint in local politics when he ran to be Chicago’s 20th ward alderman, ending up as the runner-up to incumbent Willie Cochran in a runoff election. Additionally, Smith co-wrote “Glory” with John Legend and Common for the film Selma, which, in addition to winning an Oscar for Best Original Song, made Chris Pine cry. He has dipped his toe into acting with a role in the 2018 film The Public, which was written and directed by Emilio Estevez. In addition to his continued work with West, as glimpsed in Part 3, Rhymefest is currently working on releasing a new album titled Love Lessons Pt. 1.
Bradley Terrence “Scarface” Jordan, who’s seen meeting with West about recording a verse (never realized) for “Family Business,” is most notably a member of the Houston, Texas hip-hop group the Geto Boys. In addition to his collaborations with West, Scarface has worked with the likes of Nas, Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, and the Neptunes. In 2012, the landmark hip-hop magazine the Source ranked him in the top 20 on their list of top 50 lyricists of all time. In 2010, Jordan served a short time in jail for failure to pay child support, but he was released in 2011. He has collaborated on a few musical projects since that time, but most recently, like Rhymefest, he turned to politics, running for councilperson for District D of the Houston City Council in 2019. He, too, was defeated in a runoff election that December.