Two Reactions to Jeen-Yuhs

u/Key_Village_1942 posts at Reddit, “Am I the only one that got depressed bc of jeen yuhs”?

Always felt like me and ye are really similar souls in different bodies, and seeing how much he had going for him at that age and how I can’t get nothing going on made me think I’m never getting no fucking where, I really am an NPC and not a main character am I, I’m destined for a 9-5 forever, sheeeeeeeeit

By contrast, Taz Taylor writes the opposite:

kanye documentary mad inspiring.

this what i needed rn

I feel the same way as Taz Taylor. I’m 30. By my math, Kanye dropped Graduation by the time he was my age. He also won like a gajillion Grammies by then. 

The way I see it, Kanye at Jeen-Yuhs Act 1 was already a force to be reckoned with because he had put in a ton of work. Here’s an incomplete list of what he did in the years prior:

  • Spent a lot of time learning how to make music by himself (“five beats a day for three summers”)
  • Met No ID (his mom’s friend’s son) and informally apprenticed with him, annoyed him with his enthusiasm
  • When No ID stopped responding to him, he learned from Dug Infinite and others (in Jeen-Yuhs)
  • Outside of music he got so good at visual arts that he was accepted into college with a partial scholarship
  • Worked a day job at Gap after he dropped out of school
  • Made and finished many beats for free for artists, often bringing equipment and CDs over to their place
  • Made good beats, delivering on deadline and consistently, that he started getting paid, and could eventually make a living with making beats without a 9–5 and quit his day job
  • Started the Go Getters and Konman Productions, surrounded himself with local Chicago artists to work together
  • Moved from Chicago to New Jersey in a condo to sign a lease without seeing the place (he clearly really wanted to stay in Chicago, as documented in Jeen-Yuhs)
  • Made more beats, met more artists (200+? 500+?), and eventually started working with Jay-Z. By schmooze I mean really schmooze. Even a Jepsen Karp can write about a story in which Kanye produced for him ( Running to deliver a CD with beats (Jeen-Yuhs) because he couldn’t pay cab fare. And again, also inviting Coodie along to document his work. Easy to imagine how many other people he worked with to try to make this thing happen
  • Deal with personal drama from previous collaborators like Dug Infinite (as seen in Jeen-Yuhs)
  • Struggle to pivot away from the label of producer and to present himself as a recording artist—hence the trip documented in Roc-a-Fella in which he plays unreleased music and nobody really cares
  • Manage a difficult business relationship with Roc-a-Fella and Capitol
  • Finally get a deal with Roc-a-Fella through Dame Dash just to basically develop the relationship and keep the music close to the Roc

That’s all just before and during Jeen-Yuhs Act 1. And it’s an incomplete list, because the guy was too busy doing to say and the internet wasn’t as well documented back then. 

I’m sure he also felt depressed at some points in between all of that (Pharrell got to start his career 10 years earlier, etc.!), especially as he got closer and closer to where he wanted to go—but not quite there yet. Kanye’s pagers had a signature featuring the College Dropout, Late Reg, Graduation, Good Ass Job, concepts before CD even came out.

The most inspiring part of all of this is he worked through it. That’s really the only choice each of us have every day. We do or we don’t. 

Even at my age, I haven’t put in that amount of work yet that he did at 26 (and will not be taking that financial or health risk). 

You’re reading this at my blog, so I’ll write a partial list of what I’ve done too. (I love this comprehensive list Seth Godin has):

Ok honestly typing all of that made me feel really tired. Let’s fast forward through the Chamath Archive, the travel experiences, the Wonder Shuttle projects with the City of Toronto and the ones with Twilio, Wattpad and Shopify, and my jobs leading editorial at a Fortune 500 company and WorkOS… 

I didn’t write an actual book until 2020, There Is No Right Way to Do This.

I’m now working with a publisher to expand and revise that into Creative Doing, coming out in a month.

It’s not about the age, it’s about the work.

There’s nothing to feel bad about working a 9–5. John Legend worked at BCG before signing with Kanye. IIRC Virgil Abloh has said that before he met Kanye, he thought he’d work as a 9–5 architect and just DJ outside of that. Some of the best poets throughout history had full-time jobs. (See “Business and Poetry” by Dana Gioia in The Hudson Review for many examples including T.S. Eliot.) I don’t mean to invalidate the concern, just to suggest that it’s also possible to make great art with a 9–5.

Last point on the NPC thing. A decade ago, I watched Gary Vaynerchuk publicly compare himself to the biggest business leaders of all time and take stock of his own abilities. Gary himself said he might not compete at the highest level of business moguls. That doesn’t mean he’s an NPC. It just means he’s playing in a different league and different game.

Not everyone can win at Kanye’s level. Even the best established artists and fashion designers can’t compete with him. That doesn’t make them NPCs or anything, it’s just talent and timing.

Kanye’s story is most inspiring not with a fixed mindset—“He had so much going for him, he was so talented”—but with a growth mindset—“Anybody who worked this hard might not see such great results, but would see some nonetheless.”

Your work matters, and you are a main character playing in your own game, league, and level.

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