Success Behind The Lens Of Global Icon Kanye West
Ahead of the release of the much-anticipated Kanye West documentary on Netflix later this month, directors Coodie and Chike share what audiences can expect
Since Netflix’s announcement in 2021 that it bought West’s three-part docuseries titled Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, set to be released globally on February 16, fans have been waiting in anticipation. Jeen-Yuhs is an intimate and revealing behind-the-scenes story of Ye’s experience, showcasing both his formative days trying to break through and his life today as a global brand and artist. It chronicles 21 years of Ye’s life as a college dropout who produced for Jay-Z, fought for a record deal, won 22 Grammy awards and became one of the most controversial figures in pop culture. Award-winning directors and friends of the star Coodie and Chike, the creative forces behind West’s Through the Wire and Jesus Walks music videos and other projects, directed and produced the docuseries. They share more about the documentary and what viewers can expect
What can viewers expect from this three-part documentary?
Coodie: We have three acts in the documentary. Act I is Vision, Act II is Purpose and Act III is Awakening. I had to have a vision. So, when I ran into Kanye in Chicago and I saw how charismatic he was and how energetic and talented he was, I was like, “That was the vision.” When I was hosting and interviewing for Channel Zero and doing stand-up comedy for seven years, I had found my real passion, which was filmmaking. Kanye was one of the catalysts to that besides Channel Zero. When I started, when I put the camera on, that was the vision, to document him, not knowing if he wanted me to film him at the time or not. It’s just one of those gradual things that happened. But I feel like God just put it all together. I knew Ye was going to do something great. That’s the vision. And the genius of the movie is not Kanye, me or anybody who’s in the movie—the genius is unlocking the genius in you, that’s the purpose. Everybody’s got a purpose; when you figure that out, your genius will shine.
What do you want viewers to take away after watching the trilogy?
Chike: We would love for people to see on a deeper level that it’s not so much about Kanye. It’s not about a person or individual. It’s about using Coodie and Kanye as vessels to tell an empowering story about how if you put your mind toward your passions and have faith in God, you can achieve anything. It doesn’t come without hard work, adversities and strains in friendship. But if you keep pushing through for years, you will eventually succeed.
Coodie: When I was filming Kanye, I couldn’t believe how much I was working because it didn’t feel like work. I was happy to be on stage with Jay-Z at the concert. I was just having a ball and kicking it, but yet I didn’t turn the camera off. When somebody said, “Boy, you always got that camera with you.” I was like, “Yeah.” I didn’t even think about it because it was a part of my vision, my eyes. That’s definitely the journey that we take you on. God is really the genius. We can find God in us, and we can find our genius. But until you tap into that, it’s hard. Have faith and belief and move forward.
How did you go about editing down 21 years of footage into a four-hour trilogy?
Coodie: It was a team process. We have brilliant editors, Max Allman, Jason Harper and Byron Leon, who dug into these tapes. They were finding things that I forgot I ever had. We called it “jeen-yuhs” five years or six years ago when we met with Kanye for the first time to talk about it. We named it “jeen-yuhs” then, and then fast forward, here’s a tape with Rhymefest and Kanye talking about him not being a genius. It’s 330 hours of footage that we had to cut to four hours.
You have to think about all the things that you have not seen yet. So we had to be really strategic about the storytelling. Thank God that we got to do Benji, the ESPN 30 for 30 film about Chicago South Side basketball player Ben Wilson. That was our first feature-length documentary, which taught us how to do documentaries. Then we did A Kid from Coney Island with Nina Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker. All this was a setup for this moment.
Can you talk about how this trilogy can serve as an inspiration for viewers, particularly the youth?
Chike: Just coming from where we come from, you just got so many reasons to not trust your instincts and follow your passions. A lot of times, we are just really out here trying to survive. Our parents were trying to survive and the parents before them were trying to survive. So, nobody ever really had an opportunity to afford any time to just sit and think about, “What do I actually want to do with my life? How can I spend time?” I was fortunate to have it because my mother made the sacrifices in order for me to … Somebody had to make a sacrifice though. Somebody got to break the cycle and sacrifice themselves for the next generation to be able to afford the time to sit and think. I think the biggest defining moment in the film that I think a lot of young people can take from is when Coodie drops everything because he was successful as a comedian. He didn’t have to film Kanye when he first started filming Kanye. And not even so much just believing in Kanye, it is not like he just believed in Kanye. He believes in himself and this feeling that felt right to follow Kanye and together they would make magic.