November 2008: Cheo Coker '90


Cheo Hodari Coker was graduated cum laude from Hotchkiss in 1990 and matriculated at Stanford University where he began his writing career. He completed his B.A. in English in 1994 and went to work for the Los Angeles Times as a pop music staff writer for the Calendar section, contributing more than 200 articles. Cheo was interested in profiling iconic hip hop artists who were quickly gaining popularity at the time, but his editors were not convinced of the newsworthiness of the topic. Since Times employees were not allowed to freelance for competing publications, Cheo took a major career risk and agreed to write the May 1997 VIBE cover story, "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," about the murder of rapper Christopher Wallace, also known as the Notorious B.I.G.

In September that same year, Cheo left the Times to pursue a career in screenwriting. His projects included Flow, a hip-hop thriller which he co-wrote with Richard (Uptown Saturday Night) Wesley, purchased by New Line Cinema for John (Boyz ’N The Hood) Singleton to produce and direct, and several feature film scripts about subjects including Marion Barry for H.B.O. and Tupac Shakur for MTV. Cheo created and wrote an animated series, The Devil’s Music for urbanentertainment.com, and served as executive producer of the series as well. He has also written cover stories, features, and reviews for The Bomb Hip Hop Magazine, The Source, XXL, Rap Pages, Spin, Premiere, Essence, Details, The Face, Rolling Stone, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the Village Voice.

Cheo published his first book in 2003 on a subject he’d written about before, The Life, Death, and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G. This well-written and fascinating narrative tells the story of the young black man who grew up in Brooklyn, dropped out of high school, and became “notoriously” famous. The book is based on exclusive interviews with Christopher Wallace’s family and friends and from six hours of personal interviews with Wallace himself, recorded over a three-year period prior to his murder. It is a riveting account of the rap culture, of a single mother trying to do her best to raise her boy in the adverse conditions of the inner city, and of the friendship between B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, that not only turned bad but escalated beyond rivalry into an East Coast - West Coast war.

In his latest project, Cheo co-wrote (with Reggie Rock Bythewood) the screenplay for the movie, Notorious, the feature film version of The Notorious B.I.G.'s life. The film is due to be released by Fox Searchlight on January 16, 2009 and stars Jamal "Gravy" Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, and Anthony Mackie, and is directed by George "Soul Food" Tillman.

“Surviving Robert Hawkins’s (formerHotchkiss faculty member) course (a.k.a. the HAWK) gave me all of my confidence with the written word.”
~Cheo Hodari Coker ’90

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