In October 2019, Coodie, a former stand-up comedian turned music video and documentary maker known by only one name, brought a padded duffel bag to his big meeting with Time Studios in New York City. Executives seated for his film pitch – a look at the life and career of rapper Kanye West, with an intense archive of never-before-seen footage spanning more than two decades – assumed he was from the gym.
“I threw the bag right there on the table,” he said. “When they saw the stack of mini DV tapes, they lit it green.” To suggest that Coodie and his longtime creative partner and co-director Chike Ozah were finally getting their shot wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Their ride on the personal story of one of the most famous rappers and polarizing celebrities of our time was always going to find its way to the public (as this issue went to press, West was named the prime suspect in a investigation into the battery of crimes launched by the LAPD). But, much like a long-delayed album or a thrice-pushed stadium show from West (known more recently as Ye), timing is everything.
The footage was edited into three feature-length documentaries, titled “Jeen-Yuhs”. Netflix acquired all three films last fall, and attendees of the virtual Sundance Film Festival will get a sneak peek at the saga before it hits the streaming service later this year. It’s hard to fathom the sheer volume of footage the men have of West, from his most intimate conversations with his late mother, Donda, to the candid moments of his struggle to transition from producing hit music to center stage. Her run-ins with Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, and even some glimpses of Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé are also included.
Coodie first met West in their hometown of Chicago, where the director got his start as the host of a music-centric cable access series called “Channel Zero.” Part of the show’s mission was to uncover the city’s vibrant hip-hop scene, which struggled to produce a commercial star before West and rapper Common.
“I kept hearing about Kanye and I kept meeting him, but I finally saw him play and I was like, ‘This guy is a superstar! ‘” Coodie said. “Watching the movie ‘Hoop Dreams’ is really what gave me the idea for this movie. I wanted to do a ‘Hoop Dreams’ on Kanye and see how far he would go.
Their West chronicles will span 22 years, with a significant hiatus — a period that began in 2007 after West’s mother died due to complications from liposuction surgery. They reconnected after West’s very public breakdown (“or breakthrough, Kanye would say,” Coodie says) during the 2016 world tour in support of “The Life of Pablo” album.
Variety screened the first of three documentaries, which begins circa 2001 when West was producing hits such as Jay-Z’s “H to the Izzo.” A parade of rap legends including Mos Def, Talib Kweli and hitmaker Just Blaze are all seen in West’s orbit, although the film suggests many industry players have invested in keeping West locked in the studio making premium beats. Her struggle for legitimacy as an artist feels almost bizarre to relive, given her incredible influence across multiple musical genres and the worlds of fashion and film. Even weirder, perhaps, is that even though West is listed as a documentary producer, he didn’t receive the final cut. Some would consider this a triumph for directors, as West is known for being meticulous about his image and incredibly controlling.
“I said, ‘Dude, you gotta trust me.’ And he did, 100 per cent,” Coodie says. “Remember, when his team and the business people get involved, of course they will have a say. this story. It’s not about making Kanye likeable or not. The pictures don’t lie. What makes the movie special is that it’s not something definitive; it’s his journey through my vision.
Over the past two decades, directors repeatedly felt that the film could be cut and released, but West’s story kept evolving.
“I was always arguing with people that this guy was about to win Grammys,” Coodie says. “That was the doc’s main goal was to see if he could pull it off. But we always say, you can’t let your imagination get in the way of the manifestation of God. I saw the Grammys, but God had something much more in mind for Kanye – he had in mind to run for president for Kanye. And yes, the movie follows West on the 2020 campaign trail.
But back to part 1 of “Jeen-Yuhs”. Much of the narrative drama centers around West featured in an MTV News segment called “You Hear It First,” which was designed to break up emerging artists (a quaint reminder of the power MTV wielded among the teens who influenced the music industry). Coodie met Ozah through a mutual friend at those Times Square offices, where they bonded over the love of movies. Sometime later, Coodie was in Los Angeles with West writing a treatment for his single “Through the Wire,” which was performed through a caged jawbone following a near-fatal car accident.
“I get a call, and he says they had no money other than this idea for a music video,” Ozah says. “I knew Kanye on the producer’s advice and I respected him. So Coodie and I did it, and we’ve been business partners ever since.
The pair have released several documentaries outside of the long-gestating Kanye project, including ‘A Kid From Coney Island,’ about ex-NBA star Stephon Marbury, and ‘Gangster With a Heart of Gold,’ about member Noonie. of a gang turned politician. G. Coodie and Ozah, however, recognize the seriousness around “Jeen-Yuhs”.
“What I think resonates about Kanye, whether people had the same success or not, maybe they were crippled by adversity,” Ozah said. “Kanye didn’t let it cripple him. He didn’t crumble into it – he met it head-on. He used every loss to light his fire. That’s the mindset when you operate in your gift – you have to believe that the doors will open for you and keep working Kanye never stopped, and neither did we.
The directors say they weren’t very committed to the more incendiary parts of West’s story. “I’ve seen a lot of things like the rest of the world, like the Taylor Swift situation and then, man, the Trump stuff,” Coodie recalls infamous West moments like the interruption of the acceptance speech of Swift in 2009 to decry her victory. on Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and her donning a MAGA hat and dating Trump early in his presidency.
But alas, the cameras didn’t follow West everywhere. Reality TV fans shouldn’t expect much Kardashian content either. “When he got married, I wasn’t invited to the wedding,” Coodie says. “This movie is really from my point of view, and the camera wasn’t filming Kim. I’ve always said, if anyone wants to know anything about this part of Kanye’s life, watch ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians”.
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