“Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy,” Netflix’s epic three-part documentary about the life and career of Ye — commonly known by his birth name of Kanye West — does not seek to examine or contextualize any of the rapper’s most controversial and confounding moments. The documentary does not show Ye reflecting on his famous George Bush moment or his relationship with Donald Trump.
“Jeen-yuhs” instead presents a composed, vérité style look into the pre-fame, struggle-laden early stages of Ye’s career.
The three-part docuseries — which debuts on the streamer Wednesday — was pieced together by co-directors Clarence “Coodie” Simmons and Chike Ozah from 330 hours of footage, dating back to the late 1990s when the two directors decided to quit their jobs and follow an up-and-coming Ye with a video camera to see how far his talents could take him.
Coodie told Insider he stored all of Ye’s iconic footage “in a bunch of shoe boxes and a big duffel bag.”
“I had a bunch of shoeboxes layered with tapes and a bag that I just carried around, throwing it in my closet, you know,” he said. “Now I got it organized and safe in storage.”
The two directors, who were inspired by the acclaimed 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams,” planned to conclude their documentary in the early 2000s after Ye won the best rap album Grammy for his multiplatinum debut “The College Dropout.” But at the time Ye told the pair that he wasn’t ready for the world to see who he truly was behind the music and awards.
So Coodie and Chike kept their camera rolling. As a result, “Jeen-Yuhs” acts as an entertaining and expansive portrait of the life of an era-defining artist.
Hours before the documentary debuted as part of the Sundance Film Festival back in January, however, Ye declared his objections. The rapper and designer demanded, via Instagram, that Netflix grant him access to the editing room so that he could be “in charge of my own image.” Coodie and Chike denied Ye’s request.
The two directors spoke with Insider about crafting the documentary, working with Ye, and giving fans a first real portrait into Ye’s mother, the late Donda West.
Insider: Was there anything that was left on the editing room floor that you’re still thinking about now?
Coodie: Man, there was so much left on the cutting room floor because we didn’t even digitize all the tapes that I’ve captured. There were 330 mini DBS tapes that said Kanye or KW on them that we digitized. But I still have like 4- or 500 more tapes with like Pitbull, or John Legend, or J. Ivy, or Tekitha.
And then there’s also stuff that we had to cut out because when you’re making a movie, everything adds up to the movie. So, for example, when it came to editing a scene we had with John Singleton, I was trying to figure out how we could include that scene just to show how amazing John was and how he just embraced me and Kanye and he ain’t know either one of us. He just knew Kanye’s beats. And it was a hilarious scene, but when it comes to the story you have to move it forward.
Chike: All of the stuff that’s happened in this project has truly been ordained. We always say God directs our videos and we definitely feel that energy and he puts us in these positions to tell these amazing stories.
At the point in the documentary when Ye’s mother, Donda passes, the documentary turns. There’s a clear narrative shift in the documentary and in Ye’s relationship to your camera. How do you think Donda’s death affected both Kanye’s career and your work?
Coodie: When you have a situation when two people had an amazing goal and then you accomplish your goal and all of a sudden that person is not in your life, it’s all in how you perceive it. And I couldn’t even imagine — because I’m not in Kanye’s head — how it would feel to have momma West make a transition at the same time as you reaching the top of your goal. And then have that publicly. And to have a million people worshiping you. Like I couldn’t even imagine the feeling and when it happened I just knew.
You gotta understand the energy that she had and how bright the room got when she walked in. She had such amazing energy, an amazing soul. And she was such a great supporter of Kanye and she adopted all of us and supported us, which we didn’t lose. We feel it every moment of this journey, even editing and all. We understand that she’s with us.
There’s been so much in the news about Ye wanting to be a part of editing this documentary. How involved has he been with the project over the years and with the release?
Coodie: Well, he’s been aware of the project since the beginning.
Chike: The film doesn’t lie on that, so you definitely have his participation … on camera. But, for us, as filmmakers, the name of our company is Creative Control, so, there are just certain rules in documentary filmmaking for it to be authentic. And for it to resonate, people need to see certain things. So sometimes it’s just not best for the filmmaking for the subject, who the film is largely about, to have control over the direction the story goes in.
But, that being said, obviously, the input of Kanye’s team has always been welcome and we’re out to make the best documentary possible. This documentary, like we said, is a period in creating Kanye’s larger message. That’s the message that we’re protecting. That’s the message that we want the people to feel.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.