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Every Celebrity and Music Industry Cameo in Kanye West Documentary Jeen-Yuhs Explained

17 minute read

When viewers first encounter Kanye West in Jeen-Yuhs, Netflix’s three-part documentary, he’s a hungry young music producer who dreams of making it as a rapper in New York City’s hip-hop scene (Jeen-Yuhs is produced by TIME Studios, the film and television division of TIME). As West, who has since changed his legal name to Ye, makes his own way in the industry, he rubs shoulders with some of the major artists of the day—Mos Def, Pharrell, Ludacris, and of course, Jay-Z, who helped give West his big break before signing him to his Roc-A-Fella Records label, marking the start of a deep and complicated friendship.

It’s no surprise, then, that Jeen-Yuhs—for which filmmakers Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah followed West for more than 20 years—is full of familiar faces. The film highlights many of the connections that West made during his early years as an artist; people who became close friends, collaborators and creative partners who helped shape his musical legacy—and vice versa. And West wasn’t the only person in the scene whose star was on the rise; in Jeen-Yuhs, a young (and then-up-and-coming) John Legend is seen working on West’s iconic debut album The College Dropout, while Jamie Foxx is seen recording his feature on the song “Slow Jamz” off the same album, ahead of his Oscar win for Ray.

Here’s a rundown of every celebrity and industry cameo (in order of appearance) in parts 1 and 2 of Jeen-Yuhs.

act i: VISION

Mase and Harlem World: Rapper and pastor Mase, formerly signed to Sean Combs’ Bad Boy Records, and the hip-hop group he founded, appear in the documentary alongside West in an interview with Simmons for the Chicago hip-hop program Channel Zero while at a 1998 birthday party for producer Jermaine Dupri.

Jay-Z: The rapper, songwriter, music executive, and entrepreneur played a huge role in West’s rise in the rap industry. As the co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records and the biggest name in rap during the late ’90s and early aughts, Jay helped give West his big break as a producer when West produced the song “This Can’t Be Life” for his 2000 album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. This marked the start of a long and fruitful creative partnership and a complex friendship. Jay-Z has since appeared on four of West’s 10 studio albums, including his most recent release, Donda, and the duo paired up for Watch the Throne, a collaborative album.

Talib Kweli and Mos Def: The rappers, who rose to prominence as the hip-hop duo Black Star, were both early supporters and collaborators of West’s, advocating for him to get signed to Rawkus Records, the conscious hip-hop label they worked with. Although West did not receive a record deal with Rawkus, both Talib Kweli and Mos Def appeared on tracks on The College Dropout. In a particularly moving scene in the documentary, Mos Def and West perform an a cappella rendition of what later becomes the track “Two Words” on the album.

Kanye West's Performance at the Canal Room
John Legend, Mos Def, Kanye West, Consequence and Damon Dash at the Canal Room in 2003WireImage

JB Marshall: Now a manager and music executive, JB, also from Chicago, was a close friend of West’s during his early days in New York. In the documentary, he bests West in a spirited game of pool at West’s Newark, N.J. apartment, during an informal hang with other Chicago natives.

Greg “OlSkool Ice-Gre” Lewis: The rapper and music executive met West when he bought a beat from the producer for his band, Abstract Mindstate. While Lewis and West were both from Chicago, they didn’t strike up a friendship until they were in New York City; in Jeen-Yuhs, Lewis can be seen working on the track “Two Words” at the makeshift studio in West’s Newark apartment. Later, he became the longtime A&R for West’s GOOD Music label.

J. Ivy: Poet and spoken word artist J. Ivy is the lead writer for Jeen-Yuhs, but he’s also featured prominently in the documentary. He found camaraderie with West as a fellow Chicagoan and creative in New York during the early aughts, and he eventually co-wrote and performed alongside West on the College Dropout track “Never Let Me Down.” More from music history: during a studio session for the album, Ivy came up with John Legend’s stage name.

Tarrey Torae: The singer from Chicago is featured prominently on the track “Family Business” on The College Dropout, the lyrics of which are inspired by her anecdotes about her own family; in the documentary, there’s a clip of her doing an early recording of the song at West’s apartment.

Consequence: The Queens rapper and music executive, who is also the cousin of A Tribe Called Quests Q-Tip, was a close friend of West’s after he moved to New York, often socializing with him at his Newark apartment, as seen in the documentary. He’s featured on the track “Spaceship” on The College Dropout and was later signed to West’s GOOD Music label.

Charles “88 Keys” Njapa: During West’s early years in New York, the rapper and producer was a close friend and collaborator of his; in the film, he appears at an early listening session in West’s home.

Kanye West's Album Preview Party
Damon Dash and Kanye West during West's Album Preview Party at 40/40 in New York City in 2003WireImage

Damon “Dame” Dash: The music executive and entrepreneur, best known for being the co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, appears as a looming authority figure in the documentary, dangling the possibility of a record deal in front of West while enlisting him to continue making beats and producing for other Roc-A-Fella artists.

Kareem “Biggs” Burke: In a memorable segment of the doc, the music executive, film producer, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records has a spirited discussion with West about why West wants to be known first as a rapper, as opposed to a producer who also raps.

Gee Roberson: The manager and music executive was formerly the VP of A&R at Roc-A-Fella Records; in an entertaining bit from the film, West crashes the label offices, interrupting Roberson on a phone call. Roberson later became West’s manager.

Kyambo “Hip-Hop” Joshua and Big Face Gary: These music executives were both A&Rs at Roc-A-Fella Records while West was working at the label as a producer—they appear in a segment filmed at the office.

Chaka Pilgrim: The music business executive and former president of Roc Nation Records has a memorable cameo in Jeen-Yuhs, where a young Kanye raps to her in the Roc-A-Fella Records office in the hopes of securing a record deal, despite the fact that, at the time, she worked in the marketing department.

DJ Clue: The DJ, producer, and radio personality associated with New York City’s Hot 97 and Power 105.1 radio stations appears in the documentary as an integral part of the hip-hop scene West is trying to make his mark on.

Memphis Bleek: The rapper, songwriter, and music executive is best known for being Jay-Z’s hypeman during his heyday; in the documentary, he discusses the state of Chicago hip-hop with West during a studio session.

GQ Presents Kanye West's Platinum Party
Kanye West and Just Blaze in New York City in 2004WireImage

Justin “Just Blaze” Smith: In Jeen-Yuhs, during a studio session together, West calls the producer and DJ his “best friend and arch enemy”; at the time, they were both producing for Roc-A-Fella Records.

Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton: The audio engineer, producer, DJ, and music executive worked with West at Roc-A-Fella Records; in the film, he shares an anecdote about how West came up with a beat for the Scarface track “My Block.”

Joe “3H” Weinberger: The former A&R of Capitol Records and Interscope, Weinberger tries unsuccessfully to sign West to Capitol Records and is present in the documentary for many listening and studio sessions; when he was unable to convince record execs at Capitol to sign West, he helped facilitate the deal with Roc-A-Fella. If you listen carefully to the nearly 13 minute outro of “Last Call,” you can hear a sample of Weinberger talking about signing West.

Ali Richmond: The former A&R for Rawkus Records appears in a touching clip in Jeen-Yuhs, where he talks about wanting to sign West.

DeVon “Devo Springsteen” Harris: The producer and songwriter, who also happens to be West’s cousin, makes an appearance in the documentary as West’s one-time personal assistant.

Kanye West and J-Kwon Visit MTV's "TRL" - March 31, 2004
Damon Dash, Quddus, and Kanye West during a 2004 Visit to MTV's "TRL"FilmMagic

Quddus Phillippe: The former MTV VJ and host of Total Request Live appears multiple times in the documentary as an early supporter of West who helps to catapult the rapper to mainstream success by featuring him on MTV.

Vernon “Xtreme” Brown, Dug Infinite, Ernest Dion “No ID” Wilson: These producers were mentors and early supporters of West while he was growing up in Chicago; in Jeen-Yuhs, Dug Infinite is shown starting a small public beef on Chicago radio with West for crediting No ID but not him in an interview. In response, West counters that the interviewer edited out his full statement.

Lateefa “Teefa” Harland: In the documentary, the radio personality invites West to appear on her program during a visit back to his hometown of Chicago.

Donda West: West’s beloved mother, a Chicago State University professor, has many poignant moments with her son in the film, but none more so than a sweet segment where she encourages him to continue pursuing his dreams while maintaining some humility, noting that the “giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing.”

Che “Rhymefest” Smith: The rapper, producer, songwriter, and author makes a cameo in Jeen-Yuhs during a trip to Chicago with West. He and West later co-founded Donda’s House, a non-profit youth organization.

Bradley “Scarface” Jordan: In a delightful segment of the documentary, the rapper and producer, who rose to prominence as part of the hip-hop group Geto Boys, does a studio session with West for a potential feature on The College Dropout. While he doesn’t appear on the final cut of the album, during the studio session, he gives West major affirmation for the song “Jesus Walks.”

Pharrell Williams Hosts Store Opening of Nigo's A Bathing Ape
Kanye West and Pharrell Williams in New York City in 2005WireImage for Bathing Ape/Nowher

Pharrell Williams: The rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer shares an intimate and surprisingly spiritual moment with West during a studio session, where West does an impromptu listening of “Through the Wire,” eliciting an ecstatic response from Williams.

Beyoncé Knowles: The singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, and actor makes a brief appearance at the concert where West’s signing with Roc-A-Fella is announced.

act ii: PURPOSE

Peedi Crakk: The rapper, also known as Peedi Peedi, is seen in Jeen-Yuhs at a music video shoot for his song “One for Peedi Crakk.” In the scene, West watches from the sidelines, highlighting how Roc-A-Fella Records was initially slow to support his creative efforts as an artist.

Big Face Gary: At a music video shoot, the actor, hip-hop personality, and former A&R of Roc-A-Fella hails West as the best “rapper-producer” in the industry, only to be rebuked by West for not thinking of him as solely a rapper.

Beanie Sigel: The Philadelphia rapper, who was formerly signed to Roc-A-Fella, has a lively conversation with West about why the latter no longer wants to be known at Roc-A-Fella Records for his beats.

MTV VMA Rehearsals - Day 2
West and Foxx at rehearsals for the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards in Miami, Fla.Getty Images—2005 Getty Images

Jamie Foxx: The Oscar-winning actor, singer, and comedian has a prominent segment in the documentary that centers on the recording of the College Dropout track “Slow Jamz,” which features Foxx singing and West and Twista rapping. Since Roc-A-Fella froze the recording budget for West while he was recovering from a 2002 car accident, West recorded “Slow Jamz” at Foxx’s house, which had a private studio.

Breyonn Prescott: The producer, songwriter, and music executive appears in Jeen-Yuhs during a studio session for “Slow Jamz” at Foxx’s house.

Ludacris: In a memorable scene, the rapper, songwriter, and actor is seen recording his verse on the track “Breathe In Breathe Out.” Since Roc-A-Fella wouldn’t pay for studio time for West after his car accident, Ludacris was one of the artists who shared his time with West so he could record The College Dropout.

DeRay Davis: A prominent figure in the film is comedian and actor Davis, who found camaraderie with West over their shared hometown of Chicago. In one scene, Davis exhibits an over-the-top reaction after hearing “Through the Wire” for the first time; in another, he’s seen recording the skits featured between the tracks on The College Dropout. The skit concept, in which Davis notably mimicked the style of comedian Bernie Mac through improvisation, was also used for West’s second album, Late Registration.

G.O.O.D. Music Label Launch Party
John Legend with West at the GOOD Music launch party in New York City in 2005.Getty Images—2005 Getty Images

John Legend: The singer, songwriter, and longtime close friend of West’s appears multiple times in Jeen-Yuhs, primarily in clips of West’s studio sessions.

Big V: The rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer, best known for being a part of the hip-hop group Nappy Roots, appears in a studio session with West, where he’s working on the song “Jesus Walks.”

John Monopoly: Formerly West’s manager, music executive Monopoly came up with West in the Chicago music scene; in the film, he appears in a scene preparing for the release of West’s debut album.

Dave Chappelle: The comedian and actor appears in the documentary at West’s 2004 album release concert at Webster Hall for The College Dropout; in the scene, Chappelle comes dressed as the Dropout Bear, the mascot of West’s album, and reveals his identity as a surprise.

Danny Sorge: The founder of Chicago’s preeminent underground hip-hop program, Channel Zero, Sorge has a memorable turn in the documentary when West asks him to appear as Jesus for one of three music videos for his track “Jesus Walks.”

Royal Birthday Ball for Sean "P. Diddy" Combs - Inside
Jay-Z, Sean "Diddy" Combs and West at Combs' birthday party in 2004.KMazur

Sean “Diddy” Combs: The rapper, actor, songwriter, and music executive best known for founding Bad Boy Records was both a mentor and an inspiration for West as he broke into the music industry. In Jeen-Yuhs, West has an intimate interview with Diddy on MTV ahead of his first Grammy Awards in 2004.

act iii: AWAKENING

Common: In a montage of clips that document the whirlwind of press following the success of The College Dropout, the fellow Chicago rapper makes a brief cameo at a party alongside West and Coodie.

Jayceon “The Game” Terrell Taylor: The Compton rapper, actor, and longtime West collaborator appears in the documentary during a studio session with West and Diddy.

Usher: In a heartwarming moment in the documentary, the singer dances with West during the 2016 listening party for The Life of Pablo, which he debuted at a Madison Square Garden fashion show for his Yeezy line.

Travis Scott: In his early days breaking into the music industry, the rapper was signed as a producer to West’s G.O.O.D. Music label. Later, he and West became family when Scott began dating West’s former sister-in-law, Kylie Jenner. Scott makes a brief appearance at The Life of Pablo listening party in 2016.

Louis Vuitton: Paris Fashion Week Menswear A/W 2009
Kanye West, Taz Arnold, and Don C at Paris Fashion Week in 2009.WireImage—2009 Eric Ryan

Don “Don C” Crawley: While Don C is best known today for being an in-demand streetwear designer, he formerly managed West and worked as an executive at G.O.O.D. Music. Don C and West’s connection was more than just professional, however: the designer was the best man at West’s 2014 wedding to Kim Kardashian. In the documentary, he’s part of West’s creative entourage on the set of the “Spaceship” music video.

Jon Brion: The singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, producer, and film composer played an outsize role in the production of West’s sophomore album, Late Registration. Brion appears in the documentary during a studio session with West, finessing an early version of the track “Heard ‘Em Say.”

Swizz Beatz: The producer, rapper, and entrepreneur makes a brief cameo backstage at one of West’s concerts following the release of The College Dropout.

Kanye West's Heaven GRAMMY After Party Sponsored by Entertainment Weekly - Inside
Kanye West and Tracee Ellis Ross at West’s Grammys after-party in 2006WireImage for Entertainment Week

Tracee Ellis Ross: The actor, who was featured in West’s music video for the Late Registration track “Touch the Sky,” parties with Coodie and West in a video clip filmed at the G.O.O.D. Music Grammys after-party in 2006.

Taraji P Henson: The actor appears in the documentary briefly as part of a Channel Zero interview with Coodie at West’s G.O.O.D. Music Grammys after-party in 2006.

Leonard “GLC” Harris: In the documentary, the rapper, a fellow Chicagoan, has a 2007 studio session with West.

North West: West’s daughter with Kim Kardashian West is featured in a short clip from the music video for his single “Only One.”

Ibn Jasper: West’s longtime barber also advised him on style and makes a cameo in the documentary behind-the-scenes at the 2016 Yeezy fashion presentation and listening party West hosted at Madison Square Garden.

A$AP Rocky: The Harlem rapper appears in a brief clip backstage at The Life of Pablo listening party and Yeezy fashion show in 2016.

Kanye West Yeezy Season 3 - Front Row
Khloe Kardashian, Lamar Odom, Kris Jenner, Kendall Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Caitlin Jenner and Kylie Jenner at the Yeezy Season 3 presentation in New York City in 2016.Jamie McCarthy—2016 Getty Images

Kris Jenner, Khloé Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Kim Kardashian, Caitlyn Jenner, Kylie Jenner, Lamar Odom: The Kardashian-Jenner family is seen as a unit supporting West by attending The Life of Pablo listening party and Yeezy fashion show in 2016.

Pusha T: The rapper and longtime West collaborator signed to G.O.O.D. Music in 2010 and was named the president of the record label in 2015. He’s featured prominently in a segment documenting West’s The Life of Pablo listening party and Yeezy fashion show.

Two Chainz: The rapper appears in the documentary briefly at The Life of Pablo listening party and Yeezy fashion show.

Big Sean: West gave the Detroit rapper his first record deal through G.O.O.D. Music in 2007, but Big Sean left the label in 2021 to start his own imprint. He makes a cameo in the documentary dancing with other G.O.O.D. Music artists at The Life of Pablo listening party and Yeezy fashion show.

Kanye West Hosts The "Cruel Summer" Presentation - 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival
Kanye West and Kid Cudi at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.Getty Images for Belvedere—2012 Marc Piasecki

Kid Cudi: The rapper and actor has a long and complicated relationship with West, who gave him his first record deal through G.O.O.D. Music in 2007 and subsequently served as a mentor to him during the early years of his career. The pair have publicly aired their friendship’s challenges; in the documentary, they’re seen working together on their 2018 joint album, Kids See Ghosts. In a particularly moving scene, both open up about their struggles with mental health.

Noah Goldstein: The audio engineer and mixer appears in the documentary in a scene from 2017, in which West is recording vocals for his joint album with Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghosts.

Takashi Murakami: West tapped the artist to design the cover of his 2007 album, Graduation, marking the start of a longtime collaborative relationship. In a segment from the documentary, West and Kid Cudi visit Murakami at his studio in Tokyo to discuss the cover art for Kids See Ghosts.

Justin Bieber: In the documentary, the singer is seen doing a recording session at West’s Wyoming ranch.

Tina Frey: West pays a visit to the resin designer at her San Francisco studio while FaceTiming his father in an emotional scene in the documentary.

Jeen-Yuhs premieres on Netflix beginning Feb. 16. Twenty-four years in the making, this documentary about Kanye West was directed by Coodie & Chike, from TIME Studios and Creative Control.

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com