Cheo Hodari Coker is the brains behind Marvel’s highly anticipated Netflix series “Luke Cage,” but the Stanford University alumnus could easily be the brawn. He’s tall and broad enough to be an NFL walk-on and greets me with the grip of an old Baptist preacher. Like most of his recent press appearances he keeps his wardrobe simple; a black T-shirt and jeans with some sneakers that have seen a few miles on a black top. I don’t know what size he wears but the shoebox they came in would hold a LOT of cassette tapes. And knowing Coker, a former music journalist who literally wrote the book on The Notorious BIG, it probably does.
He’s comfortable in his skin but isn’t above asking for some lotion for his elbows. He shrugs off the second “You’re taller than I imagined” comment of the day, insisting that he only seems big until he’s standing next to his star Mike Colter. But make no mistake, Coker is a big deal.
Until recently you could count the number of Black Showrunners in Hollywood on one hand and still have enough digits left to make a rude gesture in traffic. But thanks to outcry for diversity in the industry we’ve seen an unprecedented rise in Black shows run by Black creatives (“Power” “Atlanta,” “Insecure” and “Queen Sugar” to name a few). Coker’s “Cage” flaunts a decidedly hip-hop fingerprint, thanks in part to a score composed by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge and cameos by the likes of Method Man and Jidenna. Other touches, like a portrait of the late Christopher Wallace decorating the office of villain Cottonmouth, are homages to Cheo’s beginnings and the writing career that brought him to this moment.
“Big changed my life,” he says. “If I hadn’t interviewed him the first time–even though my first interview wasn’t published–I wouldn’t have gotten that second interview. And it was the second interview in Los Angeles where he was really revealing about his life that ultimately lead to me writing the Vibe cover story and the book Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G., which lead to me co-writing the screenplay [for Notorious], and once that movie gets made, that leads to me writing for “Southland,” “Ray Donovan” and [other shows]. So if I don’t talk to BIG on 226 St. James in the summer of 1994 all of those dominoes might not fall.”
Watch as Cheo talks about what Biggie would have liked about “Luke Cage,” if Frankie Faison’s character “Pop” from the Barbershop was inspired by Biggie’s “Warning” and the Basquiat painting that was originally intended to decorate Cottonmouth’s office.
In part 2 Coker talks about his introduction to Luke Cage in the comics and the possibility of him meeting up with Black Panther on screen.