Why Brooklyn’s Drill Music Is the Heartbeat of My New Film

Eddie Huang discusses his directorial debut, and what it was like working with the late Pop Smoke

For the past decade, Eddie Huang has maneuvered with the passion of a mixtape rapper. Whether through memoir or food, the author-chef-restaurateur-producer-host-attorney used that mentality to produce generation-defining projects that highlight his experiences as the first-generation son of Taiwanese immigrants. And now, he can add “film director” to the list.

Huang is less than a month away from the release of Boogie, his directorial debut. It tells the story of Alfred “Boogie” Chin (played by actor and former yakitori chef Taylor Takahashi), a basketball player living in Queens who dreams of NBA stardom. The late Brooklyn drill rapper Pop Smoke also makes one of his last appearances in the film.

While preparing for February 18’s Hennessy-sponsored X.O.OX Lunar New Year Celebration fundraiser for small businesses impacted by Covid-19, Huang discusses not only Boogie but prepping for a year of good fortune by preparing his favorite Lunar New Year dish, Lion’s Head Meatballs.

Lunar New Year is a spiritual time for me.

I pray to my ancestors, clean my house, open the doors, sweep out the bad luck, and welcome the new year. Like dumplings, the gold-coin-like shape of lion’s head meatballs symbolizes good luck and wealth. I make a whole fish dish, too. Symbolically, luck comes in the mouth, and it’s held throughout the fish.

Overall, though, my goal with Boogie, [my restaurant] Baohaus, [book-turned-ABC show] Fresh Off the Boat, and [the Viceland-aired foodie docuseries] Huang’s World has been to allow other immigrants to see reflections of themselves in my inspirations. Boogie represents my most complete and finished work. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and represents the culmination of “act one” of my creative career.

The film was a gift from the universe. I originally wanted to use a “boom-bap” rap vibe to encapsulate it, similar to how Raekwon used John Woo’s The Killer to narrate Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Raekwon doing that meant a lot to me [when I was a kid] because it was like, oh shit, [Wu-Tang Clan] really fucks with Asian culture, using Asian cinema to narrate Black music. That’s the type of American intersectionality that I originally wanted Boogie to reflect.

When Pop passed, he was the king of New York rap. Anyone who disagrees can go fuck themselves. I loved him and what he stood for. As a person — and as an actor in Boogie — Pop Smoke blessed me, and I received that blessing.

Once I met Pop Smoke, I did what I think a good artist should do. When a person comes along that brings something so powerful — like Brooklyn drill music — it has to become a part of your story. Your plan, ideas, vision, and ego have to step aside.

I take pride in finding people, like Pop, with talents that other people may not see. Pop Smoke was a special person who took your breath away, man. When Pop passed, he was the king of New York rap. Anyone who disagrees can go fuck themselves. I loved him and what he stood for. As a person — and as an actor in Boogie — Pop Smoke blessed me, and I received that blessing.

Boogie was made while Brooklyn drill was a burgeoning new sound going bananas. If you were in the street and into rap, [Brooklyn drill] was undeniable. You were feeling and hearing powerful artists [like Pop Smoke]. The sound is the heartbeat of this film. It defines the generation by capturing its energy and moment, similar to how the G-funk of [Warren G’s] “Regulators” defines Above the Rim.

Like everything else I’ve made, Boogie is a coming-of-age story — told in a specific and authentic manner — about coming to America, then finding your voice and identity.

— as told to Marcus K. Dowling

Creator. Curator. Innovator. Iconoclast.

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