Editor-in-Chief Musa Jackson has an in-depth Q & A with award-winning, directing duo Coodie and Chike. Follow us on their amazing journey from the world of comedy and hoop dreams to their big break directing two Kanye West music videos, Through the Wire and Jesus Walks, then on to a NAACP Image Award for their documentary Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ and their current Netflix release A Kid From Coney Island about the life and basketball career of Stephon Marbury.
Q. Where are you guys from?
COODIE: I’m from Chicago, Illinois, the south side born and raised.
CHIKE: I’m from New Orleans, Uptown.
Q. Tell us what it was like growing up for you two?
COODIE: When you’re in it, it’s wonderful. They called my neighborhood the Wild Hundreds, so I seen a lot growing up, but I had my mother and father, a two parent home and my three sisters. Actually, my family was like The Cosby Show. Exactly the same age and everything! I was Theo. Then, you had the influence of the neighborhood, my friends and the things we used to do that I’m not proud of, but I was a kid and got through it.
CHIKE: It was kind of similar. I grew up in what was considered a pretty wild neighborhood, but when you’re a kid and that’s all you know, you kind of don’t feel it like that. I enjoyed it. A lot of laughs and fun times on the stoop. My mother did a great job of sheltering me from whatever was violent happening around me. Of course you see it, feel it, hear it, but it wasn’t at the doorstep as much because my family wasn’t involved in it. Also on the block, they bring it to me because when they would see me, they would say, “Not him”. My mother sent me to a private school, so I had this juxtaposition of growing up in this all Black neighborhood in this city, then going out to the suburbs and being the only Black kid out of thousands of White students, an experience that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for both experiences.
COODIE: We couldn’t go into an all White neighborhood without being called a nigger. Chicago is the most segregated city in America. Martin Luther King said it in a speech. He never seen that much hate in people’s eyes. As kids, we used to ride through the White neighborhood to go to the plaza and they would call us niggers and through rocks at us. We used to ride through it for fun; it got to that point, but you know, I wouldn’t take nothing back.
Q. Who were your childhood heroes?
COODIE: Sidney Poitier, definitely when it came to film. I used to love his movies. Bill Cosby and Sidney. All the movies like Let’s Do It Again, but the main person that got me doing everything that I’m doing at this moment is Richard Pryor. I watched the movie JoJo Dancer not knowing that Richard Pryor, wrote, directed, produced and starred in it. I was just looking at the comedy part. I started doing comedy, but then I fell in love with film and also Bernie Mac was my mentor. He was the first person to bring me on stage when I went to the open mic. He mentored me along with actor Jimmy Spinks from Car Wash.
CHIKE: I was more like a sports dude coming up. I always had the typical young Black kid wanting to be in the NBA dream, so I looked up to a lot of athletes like Walter Payton in football, Magic Johnson at the time and Michael Jordan of course. Then I got into art and one of the first paintings that inspired me was of a basketball player. My mom would take me every Sunday to the cathedral in the French Quarter and we would walk by all the art galleries and I would always stop and look at that painting of the player on the concrete shooting a basket ball through a makeshift hoop. The way the basketball player was painted, it had so much soul in it. The artist’s name was Ernie Barnes. He would become a mentor in our lives, but it was all in that art. What I liked about basketball in one aspect, then it connected and resonated with what I liked about art, so he was my first influencer who brought those two together, but as far as film, it was Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, Spike Lee films. I was heavily affected by music videos. I started getting into those. I loved Chris Cunningham’s work because it was different to me. I also loved Tim Burton’s work, Beetle Juice. Then I started to like Hype Williams and his music videos. I was into the clash of what Hip Hop was doing, but then what was the alternative. All the White kids in my school were into Heavy Metal so music videos became very inspiring to me, not just the music, but the visual.
COODIE: Real quick. When Chike mentioned Ernie Barnes, you know I wanted to get in. (They laugh.)
CHIKE: Yes it’s really Coodie’s story.
COODIE: I should of said him because Ernie Barnes was definitely one of them because you’d watch Good Times and these paintings and you’d see JJ, who reminded you of you at the time. And this one thing that we say often, “Don’t let your imagination get in the way of God’s manifestation.” So me imagining JJ paintings on my wall to the next thing, me and Chike having breakfast with Ernie Barnes!
Q. Coodie your inroad into entertainment was through comedy. Tell us about that?
COODIE: I started with comedy. Bernie Mac was the first to bring me onstage at The Cotton Club in Chicago. It was one of those spots where dope dealers would be in there. R. Kelly, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, everybody would come. Monday night Bernie Mac would be hosting and Jimmy Spinks would be at the bar right next to the stage. The stage was right in front of the door, so if you came in bogus dressing, the comics would let you have it. One time this comic named Trifling started talking about this dope dealer. The dealer went up on the stage and beat up Trifling.
You had amazing comics like Deon Cole who would be in this one room, but it was Bernie Mac’s room. One time Bernie was talking to Michael Jordan and he called me over there to tell me something. I felt Michael Jordan knew me like I knew him. You knew everything about Jordan, but it was the comedy that drew me in.
CHIKE: In my senior year, I had this epiphany. I wind up playing on an AU team and it was then I realized, I wasn’t going to have that career in basketball. The AU team was the better players and they were just on a whole other level. I realized I needed to focus more on the art. I went to Rhode Island School of Design. It was there I cultivated my palette for design and high art. It was in college I was influenced by the Hype Williams music videos. I started experimenting, shooting music videos in college. I got into motion graphic and it was the first time a university offered it as a major, a combination of video and graphic design. It was then I started thinking about MTV because they were offering these types of positions for designers to package the different shows. My mentality was if I could get on MTV, I could meet different artists and do music videos. What’s so amazing is, my first job out of college was at MTV and I wind up meeting Coodie and Kanye and we wind up doing Through The Wire.
Q. Coodie how did you transition from comedy to filmmaking?
COODIE: Danny Sorge had a camera and was like, “let’s start a public access show called Channel Zero.” He was like, “we are going to concerts and interview people outside the concerts.” I’m like, “I’m down for that, but let’s go inside the concerts, interview the artists and the people on the outside.” We joined forces and I was the host. He taught me how to use the camera, so I was going around filming and that’s how I ran into Kanye. I was like, “I’m going to do Hoop Dreams on Kanye, follow his journey and see where he goes.” When Kanye moved to New York, I made my way to New York. Kanye was in Newark, I was in Brooklyn. We would be at Baseline [Studios] with Jay Z and all over New York. When we did You Hear First on MTV News. Jasmine Richardson, my producer at the time, introduced me to Chike. I remember Chike was doing motion graphics. Me and Kanye had an idea, but didn’t know how to execute it, so I hit up Chike. I said, “We ain’t got no money, but we got a great idea.” Chike jumped right on board.
Q. Is that how Coodie & Chike started working together?
CHIKE: Pretty much. We were kickin’ it for a while before we did anything together. Coodie was really hanging out with my roommate who was working at HBO at the time. My roommate was an introvert and he didn’t go out that much, but Coodie had him out in the streets, so I was like this guy got to be cool if he has him out like this. When he showed me Channel Zero, I could really see how talented he was, so we started talking about film and things we wanted to do in film. That’s when we realized we were on the same page. That’s when I thought the trust in each other went even faster and we started hanging out. Our trust in each other’s taste was in film.
Q. How did Coodie & Chike become a filmmaking duo? After doing Through the Wire with Kanye, was it just an instant thing?
CHIKE: I was part of a filmmaking collective with a few other people from MTV. We young, we hustling. We had this multimedia company we created. When Coodie came along, I was like, “we gotta put him on,” but Coodie understood his value, he wasn’t going to just come in this collective. We already had a hierarchy to this collective based on when people came in and who started it. Coodie understood his value; if I come on, I want a piece of the pie. (laughs) I got it and understood. I valued how he valued himself in the same manner. We had already worked together and I saw how people reacted to him. I was like, “either we bringing Coodie in like this, or I’m moving on with Coodie.” They didn’t get it the same way I did, so I left. That’s officially how we became Coodie and Chike.
Q. What were your early beginnings for the business of Coodie and Chike like?
COODIE: We wanted to change the game. I’ll let Chike speak on that with the videos and the look.
CHIKE: Like I told you before, I was really inspired by Hip Hop, growing up in New Orleans with bounce music, so Hip Hop was super close to me. I always loved Hip Hop, but I was inspired by elements from going to private school and other forms of music and ways music was being visualized. In our videos, what I didn’t see was a hybrid. I was mad that we don’t do that with Hip Hop and I was passionate about taking the game into that arena. We were being dominated and over-saturated by all these videos that were degrading to women, and to me, just very low brow. It wasn’t like we can’t have those, but to me, it was like those were bottom-of-the-barrel creative wise. You can have people who have more respect for their craft in the music, if the videos were way more creative and had more thought to it. Coodie and I had many conversations about where we wanted to take things. Even after we did Through the Wire and as successful as it was, people still wanted us to do the typical video. Our first video was far from typical, so what made you think we would want to do this video? We passed up a lot of money. We knew the type of visual impact we wanted to make and what we wanted our names to stand for. We started aligning with artists who met the same criteria, but I still feel as far as the time we were getting into Hip Hop, we wanted to make that change, but Hip Hop didn’t want that change. Regardless, Hip Hop wanted to be exactly what it was. Hip Hop, Rap, the industry at that time, whatever you were promoting with all those crazy videos of the girls half naked and all the violence, all the labels…That is what they wanted.
COODIE: And they wanted it for a real low budget.
Q. What were some of the videos you did?
CHIKE: One of our most popular was Window Seat with Erykah Badu. We did Pitbull’s first video Culo. Mos Def was one of my favorite collabs. We did Lupe Fiasco. It’s hard to name because we launched our own network while doing over 200 videos for artists. Joey Badass, Rick Ross, not every artist, but definitely hundreds of artists.
Q. You start a channel doing videos the way you want to, what made you decide to go into the documentary arena and what was your first doc?
COODIE: I can say this, my whole thing was documentary coming from Chicago documenting Kanye, then we did a doc for the gangster called Nooney G out of Chicago. He was this gangster who became a politician. We lost creative control because he was a gangster. He “gangstered” the movie, but that’s how we started, between that and then a Honda commercial we did with an agency that “gangstered” our creative. We started our company Creative Control and named it that for that very reason. We started Creative Control TV with Damon Dash. Then Ben Wilson, the basketball player out of Chicago, in 1984 was the number one basketball player in the nation. He and Michael Jordan were the best two players that summer, then one night before his first game in his senior year, Wilson got shot and killed. His little brother wanted us to do the movie. We thought, we about to make it! We signed with William Morris. We about to blow up! We about to do some movies because that was the goal, to do some movies.
We had a screenplay written by Kenny Young. Since we were first time directors, we could never get the movie sold. We were up for many movies like Next Day Air, but being first time directors, we would never get it. So we started Creative Control and we did short films and put them on our channel and Keith Clinkscales, once President of Vibe, now with ESPN knew of our site. We met with him and we had Benji (the Ben Wilson film) and ESPN had 30 for 30 (30 one-hour films by 30 filmmakers).
This guy Mike Walden was like, “you should do 30 for 30 on Benji” and all of this happened. God just made everything happen. Everything happens for a reason. Mike called me and said, “Keith wants to meet with us.” We already had it packaged up because we wanted to do a movie, so we had a sizzle. Keith said, “several people already pitched Benji; what you two gonna do different?” I broke down the story. Two of us growing up in Chicago and Benny could of been me. Keith green-lit it and that was our first documentary and that’s how it started.
Q. You go from Benji to doing MLK, one of the most important icons of all time. How did that happen?
CHIKE: We took that same energy from Benji right into that. That’s why we feel God directs our videos because this stuff fell in our lap. My girlfriend tells me that your gift will make room for you. I think because we’re operating from our gifts, God is working with us. All these projects came, the King project, the Muhammad Ali project…These weren’t projects we conceived and said “let’s go pitch these.” Like with Stephon Marbury, we had all these other projects we were trying to get off the ground, which is major because these are icons. We became the documentary directors of icons. You know what I’m sayin’?
Q. You two won a NAACP Image Award for Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ and your latest is on Netflix, A Kid From Coney Island about Stephon Marbury. Tell us about those two projects?
COODIE: We always say, “Don’t let your imagination get in the way of God’s manifestation.” I bring that up again because Chike wanted to an NBA player and the next thing you know, he’s documenting the first African American to play in the NBA, Earl Lloyd. We got to meet and kick it with him, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, then the next thing you know, we doing Stephon Marbury. We on the court doing a thing for Michael Jordan. Chike you made it! (They both laugh.)
Q. What’s next for this dynamic duo?
CHIKE: Right now, we are sifting through a lot scripted projects, long form projects. We’re developing our network. We have our own distribution platform and launch projects in a unique way, but we’re still so far from where we’re trying to go. We have our head down; everyday we are just creating, moving on faith, moving with God.
Q. You mention God and faith. How important is God and faith to what you are doing?
COODIE: How important is God and faith to the earth? (They both laugh.) Everything! Without the Creator who created everything in abundance…Think about air, what would we do without air?
Q. What would you tell the next crop of young filmmakers coming up?
CHIKE: If you can believe and conceive, you can achieve. You gotta do what we did. You can’t think about the bigness of what you actually end up doing. It would be overwhelming. If somebody told you to climb a thousand stairs and you look up at how far you have to go, you’d probably defeat yourself after you walked one step. Put your head down and just go and before you know it, you’re at the top of those steps. Allow God to get you there. You gotta have faith!
COODIE: One of the main things Chike is saying is, you gotta know if you wanna get up to the top of those thousand stairs. You gotta have a destination and then you start taking your steps to that destination, but you have to know where you want to go.
CHIKE: Two things: faith and work. Without faith, the work is dead. With vision comes provision, but you have to have the vision first, then God will provide the provision.
COODIE: You gotta know you wanna get up the thousand stairs, then you have to put it into action so you can start walking up those stairs. You gotta have faith that you gonna get to the top of those thousand stairs, even if you fall a couple of times.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief: Musa Jackson @iammusajackson
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