Coodie Simmons recalls a New Year’s Eve party with Kanye West in 2004, right before The College Dropout was released and Ye was launched into superstardom. “You just see the innocence and everything and the anticipation,” he says of his footage, part of a new Netflix documentary, Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy. “Mama West was showing us so much love. That right there was one of my favorite things, it’s the calm before the storm.
The upcoming documentary that walks us through Ye’s career features raw footage taken by filmmaker and South Side native Coodie Simmons, who was an early member of Ye’s inner circle. The film shows the grit and grind that the artist formerly known as Kanye West put into becoming one of the biggest superstars in the world.
Simmons, who hails from the Beverly/Morgan Park area met Kanye back in 1995 when West was just a hungry 18-year-old. During that time, Simmons’ public access television show Channel Zero highlighted the Chicago hip-hop scene, which granted Simmons the opportunity to hone in on the culture — ultimately leading up to Ye becoming the focal point of his lens.
Simmons and his creative partner Chike Ozah directed the new documentary that will debut on Netflix on February 16 with a one-day theatrical release on February 10, presented by Iconic and TIME Studios and produced by TIME Studios. The film is being released in three parts.
Chicago recently spoke with Simmons and Ozah about the film, including the scenes they hated to cut, the close relationship Simmons formed with West’s mom, and how Common ultimately reunited Simmons and Ye after they parted ways during the filming.
You guys have talked about having to “kill your darlings” and remove lots of viral moments from the film to push the story along. What were some of the moments you had to get rid of?
Ozah: One big moment that we had to sacrifice was a moment that we had with [deceased writer and director] John Singleton. Coodie was sharing the new music that Kanye had made when Singleton was directing 2 Fast 2 Furious. It was sort of like another way for Kanye, at the time that he was hustling, to just get his music out there. This was when there wasn’t that much support coming from the label so he was trying to get placements with his music on the films. And that was a special moment just because of a relationship we built, especially Coodie with Mr. Singleton before he passed.
Other than Kanye demanding that he see a final edit before the film’s release, have you heard anything else back from his camp?
Simmons: We had a great conversation with Kanye and asked him, did he see the film? And he said no, he said it’s a process and he likes other people to see it. We’ve been showing his team the film just so they can have their eyes on it and look at it. They really had no notes for us besides, “It’s good.”
Ye said he didn’t even look at his Drink Champs [interview] but then the next day he said: “I’m so excited this film is coming out. We got Donda 2, that’s gonna come out and then this doc, so it’s perfect timing,” and I said, yes, it’s God’s timing.
What were those moments like while filming Kanye and his mom? What was your relationship like with her?
Simmons: Her energy was just amazing. And I just saw the love and the support she had for Kanye and his career. A lot of parents, they’d be like, “Go get a job. Go to school and get a good job.” But she was like, “Oh, what’s your passion? You want to be in music? Oh, I’m ’bout to help you make that happen.”
By her getting behind him like that and rooting him on and just meeting her — it just felt like I knew her right at the moment of meeting her. She became a really, really good friend to the point I [was] calling her Mama West. When we (Kanye and Simmons) started going our separate ways, Mama West would call me and say, “Come spend Christmas with us.” I had my camera and I did stuff for her.
What other projects have you used this footage for?
Simmons: When I put together a video presentation [for Mama West’s funeral] and it was amazing to me. I’m like, whoa, this is what this footage is for, it became a whole other reason. It wasn’t for the documentary at that moment; it was for what was happening in this moment, which was her making her transition. That was the hardest thing that I had to do because the same effect the funeral had when they watched that, I had every rough cut. Her spirit has been with this movie the whole time. She’s been guiding this movie.
After not speaking in six years, what brought you and Kanye back together?
Simmons: Common brought us back together during the first-ever AAHH! Fest in Chicago [in 2014].
How did you decide to fill that gap after the six years of not having a relationship with Ye?
Simmons: Right before Mama West passed, my daughter was born. I’ve been documenting my daughter since then, so my daughter was the timelapse throughout that six years. You will see my daughter growing up and you will see what Kanye was doing in the media because that’s the only way I saw Kanye [during that time]. So we showed that parallel until Common put us back together in 2014.
Ozah: It’s like a juxtaposition. It strengthens everything that Coodie shot to that point: You see a point of differentiation between the media’s lens and Coodie’s lens and I think that an important distinction to be made.
Is there any part in the doc that touched on the separation between you two and what happened?
Ozah: The film does explain to a degree why the separation took place. I don’t want to give it away, but it offers enough explanation for you to understand.
What is the goal of the film?
Ozah: [To] help you understand that you have a passion that can be unlocked and how much you rely on faith to help you once you align yourself in that journey. How to overcome fear [so] that you can embark on that journey so that you can overcome adversity. It’s like a blueprint for those who are moving in their passion and moving in their genius. It’s just continued affirmation for them.
Do you think that Channel Zero would have had a bigger impact on Chicago’s hip-hop scene had you not left for New York to film Kanye?
Simmons: Channel Zero still lives on. Channel Zero is in the “Through the Wire” video, Channel Zero is in Creative Control (Simmons’ and Ozah’s production company). … Channel Zero never really ended and is still going. It’s the style and the energy that comes from Channel Zero that is rooted in everything that we do.