This month Kanye West should have been attending the Grammys. And though his actions resulted in that not happening, Kanye still made some remarkable strides. Donda, his tenth studio album named after his late mother, added two Grammys to his collection to give him a record-breaking 24 Grammys, the most for a hip-hop artist. This tied him with Jay-Z who reached the milestone for joining West on “Jail.”
With his ex-wife and mother of his four children Kim Kardashian’s reality show The Kardashians now streaming on Hulu, Kanye will undoubtedly continue to trend on social media. So there is no canceling Kanye West and the epic three-part Netflix documentary Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy—directed by the famed duo Coodie & Chike, EBONY's 2021 Power 100 Breakthrough Creators' awardees—shows us why.
Long before he won his first Grammy, Jeen-yuhs co-director Clarence "Coodie" Simmons had no doubts it would happen. “When I put the camera on Kanye, I just really wanted to document his process on winning his Grammy because I had the vision of him winning it. Just hearing his music, seeing the person that he was, and how he loved the camera, I was like I’m going to document this,” the Chicago native shares.
Hearing “Jesus Walks” really got the documentary's co-director Chike Ozah high on Kanye. “I was familiar with his production with Roc-A-Fella, Beanie Sigel and whatnot. I already loved the emotion that he was able to portray through his production. Me, my passion was making music videos, and so my relationship with music triggers me emotionally. And his beats always nailed it for me,” explains Chike, who officially started working with Coodie and Kanye on the game-changing “Through the Fire” video. “So then to hear his lyrics on top of that [was even better]. The first time I heard it, I definitely thought ‘this is something special. Like I've never heard anything like this.’ I could relate to [Kanye’s music] in so many ways because I grew up in the hood in New Orleans, but I went to this private school. So I always felt like I was in this middle. I wasn't necessarily in the street, so it was like the first time I heard a voice that actually spoke to me.”
But Jeen-yuhs, says Coodie, is not about Kanye, him or Chike. Instead, he says “the story is about all of the dreamers. Everybody that has something that they want to do.”
Of course, Kanye had an extra ace with his mother Donda West’s unconditional love and supreme belief in him. That she did so when a lot of Black parents didn’t even want their kids listening to rap music, as well as supported him dropping out of college, even though she, herself, was a college professor, is even more impressive. Glimpses of her in the documentary are beyond special as the bond she and her son shared takes center stage. And, though both Coodie and Chike, as Jeen-yuhs shows, are no longer as close to Kanye as they once were, they both feel that lost for him.
“When your mom is part of your backbone, of your foundation, and the sacrifices [she] made for you to get where you’re going and then for him to have all these peaks in his career and everything she sacrificed for him [to be] happening, I can’t imagine,” says Chike. “I think, to this day, it still affects him.”
To many people Kanye isn’t who he used to be, but Coodie doesn’t always see that. “It’s just amazing how he's so much the same person that I first put the camera on when I am with him. And then, at times, when I see other footage of him, he seems like somebody different. But every time I’m with him, it might start off a little awkward at first but then, all of a sudden, we’re just back to laughing.”
Getting to watch watch all three parts of Jeen-yuhs with Kanye, who saw it for the first time with them and a lot of their original crew, was both surprising and special to the duo. “He gave me and Chike love and thanked us for what we did with the film,” says Coodie.
Kanye’s impact, he says, is huge. “He definitely showed me how you can manifest things and really believe and make it happen. Just seeing his work ethic just made me want to do more.”
Chike agrees. “What I take away from Kanye personally is just the work ethic and believing in himself and never giving up and never thinking that something can’t be accomplished,” he says. “This film is not about Kanye,” Chike reiterates. “It’s using moments [of Kanye’s life] to teach how to live your passion, how to unlock your genius.”
Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy is currently streaming on Netflix.