Embracing the Carhartt hoodie, buckskin Timberlands and Girbaud jeans era that he comes from, Cheo Hodari Coker is finding a commonplace between Marvel comics and ’90s era Hip-Hop in Luke Cage, season 2.
The 45-year-old film and TV executive made a decision to do something for the culture when he penned Biggie’s Blockbuster biopic, Notorious in 2009.
Two years and a $16 million-dollar profit at the box office later, Coker started working as the supervising producer on NBC’s dramatic Southland series in 2011. One year and 20 episodes later, Coker was a supervising producer on NCIS: Los Angeles. The show runner has since left production fingerprints on shows like Showtime’s Ray Donovan and FOX’s Almost Human, and of course, Luke Cage as executive producer.
But prior to writing and producing movies and television shows, the Stanford University alumnus was making a name for himself as a Hip-Hop journalist for The Source and other premier media outlets.
Cheo Coker’s been doing it for the culture for years.
Now, in the land of Black super heroes and Hip-Hop, the NAACP Image Award-winning writer reunited with The Source to talk Marvel, music and making moves in Hollywood.
Make sure to catch the season 2 of the Netflix hit series this Friday, June 22.
The Source: You’ve gone from writing for The Source to penning your own Netflix series. Do you feel like you’ve reached your personal definition of success?
Cheo Hodari Coker: [Laughs] I’m laughing because if you say yes to that question, you sound like an a–hole. If you say no to that question, you also sound like an a–hole. I’m just happy to be doing what I’m doing. And I’m also happy that [Hollywood is] beginning to achieve what was always the dream of The Source back in the day. The Source, when it was first started, was basically the magazine of Hip-Hop music culture and politics. And Luke Cage is essentially the show of Hip-Hop music culture and politics. It’s an extension of all of our aspirations.
You see the success of Black Panther and Luke Cage season 1 did really well. What do you think is bringing so much interest to Black superheroes?
CHC: Well, you know…people got a taste of having potato salad without carrots and raisins, and decided that they like the flavor. Our main thing is that Luke Cage is a show that’s inclusively Black, not exclusively Black. What that means is that we go deep into our culture without explanation. But, it’s done in such a way that even if you’re outside the culture, you don’t feel alienated by it. You don’t have to be from Harlem to enjoy Luke Cage.
Season 1 was timely. The Philando Castile and Alton Sterling shootings had just happened around the same time shooting Luke Cage came out. You said before that you wished Luke Cage was an untimely show. What did you mean by that?
CHC: I meant that I wish people could see Luke Cage and be like, ‘Aw man, that show was made during a time when Black men were being killed indiscriminately by police for no reason, but that’s so outdated now because that stuff doesn’t happen anymore.’That’s what I mean by it being untimely because unfortunately, that’s not the case. I would love for people to say, ‘Oh well that was back in the ’90s and 2000s when Black political leaders were being assassinated, but that doesn’t happen anymore.’ I wish it was a show out of the time. I wish that some of my Black heroes — I wish Malcolm X was bulletproof; I wish Martin Luther King, Jr. was bulletproof; I wish that Biggie, Big L and Tupac were bulletproof. But they weren’t.
So that’s where the idea behind Luke’s superpower comes from —
CHC: The vicarious thrill that I get from seeing a Black man like Luke Cage and the bullets bounce off of him [happens] every single time I see it. I get an electric charge in my body. I know people are…sick and tired of seeing Luke get shot and the bullets bouncing off of him, but for me it’s like, “Hell yeah!” I love that sh-t.
Your grandfather was a Tuskegee airman, which makes him a sort of superhero. Do you feel like your he helped you in writing Luke Cage?
CHC: My Grandfather Lieutenant Colonel Bertram W. Wilson. He flew with the 100th Fighter Squadron. He actually was one of, I don’t know, maybe 100 Tuskegee airmen to earn the distinguished Flying Cross, and [he] had combat kills. His picture as actually is the picture on my Twitter page. My grandfather taught me what it was like to be around an actual Black superhero. In terms of life lessons and having confidence, the thing that my grandfather taught me is that when you are one of the few African Americans doing something, you must be excellent because how you do is going to determine the experience others behind you are going have.
He taught you how to keep you head up high —
CHC: [He taught me] people that look like you are not going to have the same opportunities, so you better knock it out of the park so that you can bring more brothers and sisters on. At the same time, he also said, “Even as you’re making history, you can’t forget to fly the f–king plane.” Meaning, yes you’re flying, yes you’re Black and yes they are shooting at you. So you better figure it out. You better figure out that you still got to maneuver this plane and shoot down your enemy all the while making history. And you don’t want to be Black history while making Black history.
Did you get to know your grandfather at all?
CHC: He raised me. He died in 2002 at the age of 81. My own biological father wasn’t around, so my grandfather was the leading male figure in my life.
Knowing that your grandfather was a Tuskegee airman kind of automatically links him to Luke Cage in a lot of ways.
CHC: Oh absolutely. The thing is, I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Red Tails but that final mission, you know the final mission when they go over Berlin and they’re fighting jets for the first time? My grandfather was on that mission. So, it’s like that legacy is always a part of me.
Why do you see Mike Colter as Luke Cage?
CHC: I said this before and I’ll say it again, Mike Colter is the best piece of casting since Sean Connery was cast as James Bond or Harrison Ford was cast as Indiana Jones. There’s just something about Mike and his vibe and how he looks and how he moves that he is Luke Cage, and particularly in the second season. You know, people say, “F–k Luke Cage” because Luke Cage doesn’t have any swagger like the comic book. Season 2 he has swagger for days, f–k y’all. [Laughs].
Anything special you can tell fans to expect in season 2?
CHC: We have a Power Man and Iron Fist collaboration that finally feels like a Power Man and Iron Fist collaboration. It’s hot. At the same time Bushmaster is the new news. You know, Mustafa Shakir plays an incredible villain. in season 1, we got very deep into Harlem politics. In season 2, we get very deep into the Black Diaspora, into Jamaican culture as well as Southern culture from the standpoint of the migration experience from the South to the North within the Stokes family. We actually filmed elements of the show in Jamaica. Musically we’ve got Rakim, we’ve got Stephen Marley, we’ve got KRS-One, we’ve got Esperanza Spalding and we have Faith Evans who came on with Jadakiss doing ‘NYC.’ We got KRS-One! Name me a show that has KRS-One and Rakim!
Since you’re talking music, what rappers are you listening to these days?
CHC: I have three kids. I have a six-year-old daughter and twelve-year-old twin boys. My sons, they love everything new. They love Migos, they love YBN Nahmir. They like a lot of stuff that’s out. Me, I’m kind of trapped between being the old crotchety Hip-Hop man but appreciating some of the newer talents. My favorite newer MCs — even though some people would consider them old now — would be like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Pusha T. That’s kind of my new era although my new era is now old because I’m not listening to Migos or Future or anything like that. And so what if Jay-Z becomes the billionaire old man’s rapper, he still has things to talk about. That’s why 4:44 was such a great album because he’s grown and he’s rapping in a young way about old man shit. And so there’s something cool about that
I think a lot of people in the younger generation embraced 4:44 —
CHC: ‘The story of OJ” is probably my favorite song of last year. The thing that he’s saying you know, he’d much rather people talk [about] their credit rating than talk about throwing away money in the strip club. I would love for young brothers and sisters to have financial literacy because that’s how we build. The Hip-Hop generation was supposed to take from the previous generation, and build the television shows, the movie studios, the businesses that were going to sustain a new Black economy and a new Black world. We were supposed to build Wakanda. Instead, we got smoked out, partied out and we lost all that. But now we’re seeing a new generation of young Black Hip-Hop billionaires, and hopefully we’ll build on that to create our own paradise.
If you had to compare Luke Cage to any rap album what would it be?
CHC: If I was going to compare season 2 to anything, I would say season 2 is the sophomore album that raises the stakes. So for us, we want to be [Beastie Boys] Paul’s Boutique; we want to be [Raekwon’s] Only Built 4 Cuban Linx — although that’s the debut album, but still it’s his high. We want to be [A Tribe Called Quest’s] The Low End Theory, we want to be Outkast’s ATLiens. We want to be that second record that says we know that you liked our original album, but we have more tricks in our bag.