‘Jeen-yuhs’ chronicles the rise — and troubles — of Kanye West

When Chicago native Coodie Simmons turned on his camcorder to document young hip-hop producer Kanye West’s attempt at becoming a rapper in 1998, he got to witness first-hand a friend’s rise to greatness. It was also during this trip that he met his future creative partner, Chike Ozah, an aspiring director working in graphics at MTV. The ambitious collaborators – now known as Coodie & Chike – established music video bonafides with West’s breakout video “Through the Wire” and documentary featuring “Benji,” their moving “30 for 30” bit about the life and death of a high school basketball player Player.

Now, the couple and a team of editors have poured two decades and more than 500 hours of footage into the three-part Netflix docuseries Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye West Trilogy. An intimate lens on Kanye’s hyper-focused path to fame, from campaigning for attention in recording studios and label offices to Grammys fame and iconic status, is told from the perspective of an understanding friend who doesn’t ignore his more erratic behavior (although the Kardashians are). absent here), preferring to celebrate rather than condemn him.

Speaking with Chike recently over Zoom, Coodie said he’s already seen how her film inspired others to hit the switch and record their own joys and struggles. “I think it’s important to document life,” says Coodie. “We used to do it with literature, then with pictures, and now we have videos where you can really relive a moment. It’s something powerful.”

A man and a woman laugh into it together "Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy."

Kanye West was close to his mother, Donda West. The two are shown together in Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy.


If you had made “Jeen-yuhs” five, ten or 15 years ago, what would it have been?

Chike: different movie Everything we did before was in training for that moment.

Coupon: It’s about storytelling, a lot of experience and practice. Reading “Story” by Robert McKee helped me a lot. And we have learned [making the “30 for 30” documentary] “Benji” how to get rid of our loved ones.

Chike: We were able to shorten everything that didn’t bring the story to our goal at a specific second.

Kanye’s ego is as legendary as his talent. What did working on this documentary tell you about this kind of self-image?

Chike: I think the death of the ego is important because it is wrong to think that the ego is responsible for trust. We have no egos in our relationship. We criticize each other positively. We let God drive our car. Although I literally can’t drive. I don’t have a license. [Laughs]

Coupon: Every time I even think about acknowledging anything, having some ego, God just puts me in my place.

Kanye could see his future clearly. What could he not foresee?

Chike: I can’t enter his skin, but looking inside from the outside, I only wish that the darkness he ever felt in his journey could be removed. None of us ever sees that part coming.

Coupon: His mother makes the transition. I know he didn’t see that. That had to hurt.

Kanye’s mother, Donda, who died in 2007, is such a powerful, affirming presence in your documentary.

Coupon: When I first met her, I felt like I knew her. She adopted all of us, everyone who was around Kanye and gave us wisdom and knowledge that she infected Kanye. Then we just became really good friends. When Kanye became famous, she called out, “Coodie, come and celebrate Christmas with us in Oklahoma.” I feel her spirit was with us the whole time.

A man poses for a portrait against the sky

“I can’t penetrate his skin, but looking inside from the outside I just wish that whatever darkness he ever felt in his journey could be removed. None of us ever sees that part coming,” Chike Ozah said.

(Kayla James / For the Times)

A man poses for a portrait in a hat and sweatshirt against the background of the sky.

“It’s storytelling, lots of experience, and practice,” says Coodie Simmons.

(Kayla James / For the Times)

Coodie, there’s a line in your narrative about when you realized early on that your camera could help Kanye’s career. What would you say over 20 years later, what is your camera doing for him now?

Coupon: I always felt Kanye was so misunderstood, even though I thought I didn’t know him by the time we were apart for those six years and I’m just looking [him through the] Media. But then we got back together and when I went to China with him, I knew this was the same guy I’d grown to love in Chicago who wanted to attach a camera. I also told Kanye that the film isn’t about him and me, it’s about the dreamers. I knew people would respect Kanye even more after the film. It would definitely wake people up and see Kanye not as this superhero, this fictional character, but as a real person.

It helps that Coodie is the narrator, but also a character with his own journey. Was that an obvious decision?

Chike: What separates one story from the other is the entry point. There’s only one coodie who had this one experience with Kanye and happened to film it, so I figured that would be the best thing to use as an anchor. Kanye, he’s a megastar. He is in a place that may not be relatable. You won’t feel, “I’m going to be Kanye tomorrow.” But Coodie, who has also excelled in his career, is the one more people can relate to. He becomes the voice of every child, especially in the communities we grew up in.

What was Kanye’s reaction when he first saw the documentary?

Coupon: I had said to him, “Kanye, you have to watch the movies with whoever you made up and who loved you.” We made it possible for the premiere. He went on the defensive for whatever reason. His hood was up. But they put him right next to my sister and my daughter and while the movie was playing he was laughing and turning and looking at people and his hood kept falling off. In the end he gave us all the love and that was special. He thanked me for the first time, I think, ever. Then, in the elevator, he said, “Man, I can’t believe Drake thought he could narrate this movie!”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-06-20/jeen-yuhs-kanye-west-documentary ‘Jeen-yuhs’ chronicles the rise — and troubles — of Kanye West

Sarah Ridley

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