The three-part Netflix documentary about Ye, formerly known as Kanye West before his successful petition for a legal name change last fall, jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, is coming to Netflix on February 16, 2022. Before hitting the streaming platform, the first episode premiered virtually at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday night. But like anything with the Ye, something unexpected happened, with the rapper taking to Instagram just prior to the film’s Sundance premiere to demand directors Clarence “Coodie” Simmons and Chike Ozah “open the edit room” for him to give his “final edit and approval.” But the rapper’s friends did not abide, and the first episode premiered as planned. Simmons and Ozah’s jeen-yuhs is about Ye’s life, covering everything from the 2007 death of the rapper’s mother Donda West to his mental health to his failed presidential bid in 2020.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter before Ye took to Instagram to demand final edit and approval on the trilogy, Simmons recalled conversations with the rapper about jeen-yuhs (pronounced “genius”) documentary when it was in earlier stages. “When it came down to making it, I had to let him know to make this film authentic, he had to step back,” said Simmons, who co-directed the doc with Ozah. “I had to take control of this narrative that God created — we didn’t create this. And he said he trusted I would do a good job on it.”
The documentary charts Ye’s rise as a young producer and wannabe rapper to a 22-time Grammy winner and one of the world’s best-selling musicians with over 160 millions records sold. The trilogy begins in 1998, with Simmons, an aspiring filmmaker and host of the Chicago public access show that he co-founded Channel Zero, conducting an interview with a young Ye at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party. From there, a friendship formed between Ye, Simmons, and Ozah and the rapper hired the young filmmakers to document every step he took on his rise to stardom.
After Ye won the Grammy for best rap album for his 2005 multi-platinum debut album, The College Dropout, Simmons thought it was the perfect end to his documentary since the rapper was at the top of his game. “It seemed like, at that moment, it could have been over,” he remembers, but “Kanye wasn’t ready and, of course, if we did put this out then, it wouldn’t have had the same impact.”
Simmons and Ozah Didn’t Film Ye for 10 Years
Shortly after Simmons and Ozah lost access to their subject for over a decade, reconnecting with the Donda rapper in 2016 to finish filming the documentary. Reconnecting after the musician’s public breakdown the same year, which included the infamous Sacramento show where Ye insulted everyone from Mark Zuckerberg (probably deserved it) to Beyoncé (definitely didn’t deserve it) before walking offstage. The rapper was later hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. According to early reviews, when jeen-yuhs addresses these public mental health episodes, its always from the perspective as a concerned friend with the filmmakers even opting to stop filming when Ye starts to spiral in order to persevere his reputation.
The filmmakers, on the other hand, have a much different opinion on their impartiality toward their friend and subject. Simmons explains:
I always thought he was just going off. I didn’t think it was anything to do with mental health. And in our community, we don’t pay attention to mental health, so we didn’t understand it. To lose his mom, Donda West, in public like he did, you just don’t know what that would do to a person.
We can’t go around anything that happens in life. Things happen, and we were filming it. We have to be authentic to what happened.
Throughout his years filming Ye, Simmons’ captured an array of moments like conversations between Ye and his mother, the aftermath of the rapper’s 2002 car accident, and even a clip of “West analyzing the media coverage of his first presidential campaign rally where he cried onstage while talking about his views on abortion,” according to THR. Although not arrested, the rapper was recently named a suspect in a battery report that led to an investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, following an incident outside the Soho Warehouse, a members-only club.