The films differ widely in subject and style but they each resurrect a musical past that feels very distant from our present.
In the first part of “jeen-yuhs,” which debuts next month on Netflix, a not-yet-famous Ye is struggling to score a record deal, selling beats and yearning for the kind of ubiquity that has followed for him, more or less nonstop, since his 2004 debut album, “The College Dropout.” His hustle is all-consuming, as is his confidence. “Even me doing this documentary, it’s a little narcissistic or whatever,” Ye says in a self-reflective moment that now seems prophetic.
But there are also tender scenes in the film, directed by Coodie and Chike, that speak to what propelled Ye in the first place — like the touchingly sweet support of his late mother, Donda. She’s the most encouraging of mothers, rapping along to her son’s lyrics and telling him, “You play tracks the way Michael Jordan shoots free throws.”
Such a maternal relationship never existed for O’Connor, who speaks about the abuse she suffered from her mother in Kathryn Ferguson’s “Nothing Compares.” To many, O’Connor has been largely reduced to a caricature — that fiery bald Irish singer who tore up an image of the pope on “Saturday Night Live.” But “Nothing Compares,” by laying out O’Connor’s life, which she discusses in off-camera interviews heard through the film, gives O’Connor’s music and career the depth it deserves by tracing the pain that drove it. She was just 20, and pregnant, when her 1987 debut album came out.
And from the start, O’Connor was outspoken on a wide range of issues, from the Catholic Church she had be schooled under, to the Grammy Awards’ ghettoizing of rap. Sometimes her protests came with self-aggrandizement, but you can’t watch “Nothing Compares” (which unfortunately, since the Prince estate didn’t allow it, doesn’t include “Nothing Compares 2 U”) and not think that O’Connor’s rage came from a genuine place. And the intervening years, which have seen much uncovered about long-concealed abuse by Catholic priests, have cast her criticisms in a different light.