Directors Coodie & Chike give Billboard a look at exclusive footage from Kanye’s early days.
“The College Dropout” introduced a relentless rapper, Kanye West, with extravagant musical and visual ideas. Two men that filled in the bubble that is West’s vision were Coodie Simmons and Chike Oza. The video directors filmed ‘Ye since he was knee-high, and executed the majority of Kanye West’s first music videos of the “College Dropout” era.
Seeing how deep the artistic relationship between Kanye West and Coodie and Chike runs, Billboard visited the video directors at Coodie’s Harlem home to speak on their collaborations with ‘Ye and unveil unreleased footage from ‘Ye’s earlier career days. Check out the exclusive footage above – and below, a breakdown of their “College Dropout” videos.
“Through the Wire”
Coodie: “I was living with [West] at the W Hotel, after his accident. That’s where Dame [Dash] got him a room. One day, he was working on the album and we were watching videos. One of Hype Williams’ videos was on. Now, he started the 3-quarter letterbox for videos, so a lot of other people were jumping on the bandwagon. Kanye said, ‘I don’t like that. I don’t know about that.’ I was like, ‘We should make ours look like a Polaroid. We can include the documentary footage.’ We had the idea, but we didn’t know how to execute it. I met Chike while he was working MTV doing graphics. We called Chike to help us and I told him, ‘We have no money but we have this crazy idea.’ He jumped right on board saying, ‘What? Show me.'”
Chike: “I went to art school. I studied motion graphics. My first job out of college was [with] MTV. The only reason I took the job at MTV was ’cause my interest was to make music videos. So I thought it was a sign when he (Coodie) came to me and asked. I’ve heard of Kanye, but I had only heard of his production. It was evident he’d be something great.”
“There was no money involved. We used our time, resources and relationships. Being that I’ve been at MTV for a minute, I had relationships through out the building. Late at night, they’d let us come in or we’d sneak in to finish the video.”
Coodie: “Chike would be off at 6:00 pm and we’d start working on the video. We’d leave at 3:00, 4:00 am. We ended up premiering the video at MTV.”
Chike: “When we edited the video at MTV, we did two [versions]. We built the board the first time and we put grain on the Polariods so we can have it go without the actual footage, but we could never get it right.
“We needed more money to properly execute the video, everything was perfected in post. We would take a hi-res scan of the board. The post-production person at MTV at the time was able to go in and properly cut out the mask in the polaroid and put the footage under. Once he did, there’s a program that he used, Combustion, that he was able to use to move the board in key frames in post, to make it seem like that we were shooting the board.”
Coodie: “When we were filming Kanye in L.A. he had this idea: ‘Let’s have the Polariods spell out “Get Well Soon” on the bulletin board.’ I was like, ‘Kanye, no. That’s not going to work.’ But we still tried to make it happen for him. That took us another week, and he didn’t ended up liking it as I knew he wouldn’t. We didn’t like it. It was like one of those ‘It’s my video! It’s my song!’ moments.”
Coodie: “We did a hood version of ‘Slow Jamz.’ (Laughs) We wrote a treatment for ‘Slow Jamz’ but we didn’t get it. If we had a larger budget, we could have done a better version. ”
Chike: “Kanye always hit us with the ‘no money’ approach. That’s how we initially collaborated: with no money. You might as well keep it going. Thing is, we had such a close relationship it was comfortable to call up of these guys and do what we’ve been doing.”
John Monopoly: “We did one version of the ‘Slow Jamz’ video at an ex-girlfriend’s, Leslie, house, in her basement on the soutside of Chicago. ‘Ye got real frustrated the way ‘Slow Jamz’ came out and didn’t like it. Kanye has his vision; He’s very particular.
Coodie: “We wanted Dave Chappelle to play Jesus, but I think it’s cause he’s Muslim or because of his religion he wasn’t comfortable doing so. He (Kanye) told us that he’d let us do it but he ended up doing two other versions before ours. We’re like, ‘There goes that promise.'”
Chike: “He did two versions that were a half-million each.”
Coodie: “Chike and I were leaving the club on a Friday morning in New York. I get a call from Kanye. I thought Kanye was calling me because of the MTV special on me teaching people to do the ‘Jesus Walks’ dance. I made that dance up. He said, ‘I did these two videos. I didn’t like them. They don’t have the soul and feeling that I want. Let’s do your “Jesus Walks.”‘ I said, ‘Okay. When do you want to shoot?’ He said, ‘Sunday.’ I know one thing he hates is for someone to say they can’t do it. I said, ‘Bet. We have to shoot in Chicago.’ He said he’d give us his credit card number because it was so last minute. We started making plans, and he didn’t call us back with his credit card number until everything was closed in New York. We had to call L.A. Luckily they’re three hours early. We ordered film, got our film crew and our tickets to fly out to Chicago the next day. We arrived in Chicago, scouted locations, taught kids how to do the ‘Jesus Walks’ [dance] and did everything on one day.”
Chike: “We had so many scenes that didn’t make the cut. All the people that were at the church were just going to service that day. They had no idea we were going there that day.”
Coodie: “We had different Jesus’s. We had one Chinese Jesus working at the jewelry store. We never put that scene in. The house that we used, where he woke up at? We didn’t know the church nearby was there.
“When they premiered all three versions, Dame Dash and the New York Times said ours was the best. We might have spent $30,000, maybe.”
Coodie: “When we were shooting that video we didn’t even know if the 8mm cameras we bought from eBay would work. Right as Mos Def came out of the building, I drove the Jeep up, turned the lights on him, grabbed our cameras and started shooting him.”
Chike: “There were two versions to this video. There was a version where we were trying to do a museum installation, where people would come up to the Guggenheim and Kanye would be on exhibit. The back drop would be projected on the wall showing the black-and-white video that’s out now. Kanye wasn’t really feeling it. I don’t even think Coodie was feeling it too much.”
Coodie: “I’m from the streets of Chicago, so when Chike was explaining the idea to me I was like, ‘What’s an installation?’ He’s like, ‘You know like in the MOMA?’ I’m like, ‘What’s a MOMA?’ He was putting me on.
“We had two ideas for the video. We’d shoot it on 8mm, take that footage and put it in the installation. It’d be projected from the installation in the main video. They were doing a listening party at Sony and I played just the 8mm footage. Everyone in the studio went crazy: ‘Oh my God!’
“At the same session we showed Kanye and Common the rough version of the other video. Now, keep in mind that Kanye had just seen everyone going off in the room. In that video, there was a monkey and a bubble head. When Common saw that he’s like, ‘Wait a minute. What is that?’ We told Kanye it was the rough cut and we’d take that out but he said, ‘Let’s just go with the 8mm.'”
Chike: “When I heard the song I was just thinking of everything that came in my mind initially. There were all different types of elements in there that would go in the installation piece. We had go-go dancers, a choir, John Legend on the piano, Miri Ben-Ari on the violin and different artifacts that came mind when you’d hear the song. The monkey and the bubble head came in when thinking about oppression and injustice. Even though we could have cut that out, I think it just became too complicated and we already showed the other video which evoked emotion.”
John Monopoly: “When we would shoot with Coodie and Chike it was always guerrilla-style. I remember shooting the ‘Two Words’ video in front of where Def Jam used to be, on 49th street. We jumped out of Kanye’s truck to get this shot and I was in the middle of the street for the camera man to get the shot of Kanye. We didn’t have permits and police rolled up. I almost went to jail.”