Before Marvel’s Luke Cage was released on Netflix in 2016, the character was already a man of the people. Fan driven social movements like #CagedHova and #MistySoLit drove anticipation for the lauded "hero for hire" to make his on-screen debut. Just months after seeing Black Panther in action in Captain America Civil War, blerds across the world united to break Netflix when Luke Cage finally premiered. Buoyed by its hip-hop infused DNA (in everything from the episode titles to the score), Luke Cage was hailed as a perfect addition to Netflix’s arsenal of hero shows, which now includes Jessica Jones, Daredevil, The Punisher and Iron Fist.
RELATED: 100 Black Comic Book Heroes RANKED
After teaming up with Iron Fist, Daredevil and Jones for The Defenders, Luke, Misty Knight and company are back for season two and the anticipation is even higher than before thanks to the success of Black Panther in the theaters and the arrival of new shows like Black Lightning in the hero space on TV. As soon as signs went up around Harlem with the tell-tale “Tiara” code word written in ink, fans knew shooting had commenced and Cage’s return was imminent.
So how do you follow up a great debut? Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker is well aware of the sophomore jinx, but was inspired more by the flawless follow-ups of his hip-hop roots.
“You know with me everything is music, everything is hip-hop. So my question is, how can this season be the sophomore album that elevates things?” he tells BET.com. “My whole goal before we started anything was I wanted to make this season Low End Theory, The Score, Death Certificate…that second record. Yes you liked the first record because the first one was a hit, but it’s the second record that makes you go in deep and make you say this is a group I’m going to follow. Yes, it is a television show, but frankly it’s a bulletproof version of [Beyonce’s] Lemonade. It’s one big concept album. When you see how we use music and how it flows with the dialogue and characters, it’s basically like watching an album.”
Where the episodes of season one were named after Gang Starr songs, this season’s 13 segments are named after Pete Rock and CL Sooth cuts. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are back to provide the ominous score, and guest performances run the gamut of Black music. So when breaking down the evolution of his characters—and introduction of new ones— Coker can’t help but carry the musical metaphor all the way through.
“Luke as an MC, he’s Phife. You go from ‘Mr. Dinkins could you please be my mayor ‘(on the first Tribe record) and you’re like ‘Yeah, Phife’s cool.’ But when he comes with ‘Microphone check one two what is this…’ You’re like, woah, Phife’s an MC. And that’s what Mike is. Yes Mike did an incredible first season but he goes deep in season 2. You really understand not only Luke Cage as a character, you also see the depths of Mike Colter as an actor. He steps up in every single possible way.”
After the death of Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and the imprisonment of Luke’s brother Diamondback, a new villain joins a crowded field that includes Mariah Dillard and Shades in the battle for Harlem, Bushmaster, played by Mustafa Shakir.
“Bushmaster is Busta Rhymes,” says Coker. “If season two is [A Tribe Called Quest’s] ‘Scenario,’ Bushmaster is coming in Rah Rah like a dungeon dragon. It’s already one of the best posse cuts ever, but then there’s one MC that steals the entire thing and that’s what Bushmaster represents. He is disruption, he’s pride, he’s power. It was very important for us that he be Jamaican. Because when you talk about Jamaica, it’s one of the roots of hip-hop culture, being that Kool Herc came from Jamaica. It was kind of a combination of him coming to America, coming to The Bronx and bringing elements of that experience and bringing elements of that experience and changing it.”
Shakir has some big shoes to fill, because fans are still reeling from the season one death of Cottonmouth, played exquisitely by Mahershala Ali.
“What people don’t understand, and this is important, Mahershala Ali was just coming off of House Of Cards and he knew that he didn’t want to be tied to a television series. So part of the appeal for Luke Cage was that he would be able to come in on a limited basis. So he was actually happy that we killed him off, not because he didn’t love the show, but because he really didn’t want to be tied to a show. So the fact that he could get in, do his seven episodes and be out, he loved it. I don’t think either he understood or I understood in terms of what we were creating that he was gonna become so powerful in that, that it’s gonna be one of those things that follows us forever. The business is, it was always designed that Cottonmouth would die.”
Cheo goes on to confirm that there will be no resurrection of Cottonmouth via magic or mystic arts and Tweeted playfully that fans should cut him some slack after seeing how many heroes died in Avengers: Infinity War.
“Everyone was mad because we killed ONE character, and I’m like if you watch the latest Avengers a LOT of people go," he says with a chuckle. "So I was like come on really. And I think it was cathartic. I had so many reactions from that tweet and people were like 'Yeah, yeah, we forgive you enough to, at the very least, give season 2 a chance. So hopefully so.”
Marvel's Luke Cage Season 2 drops on June 22 on Netflix.
Photo by Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images for Netflix