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Eddie Huang says casting late rapper Pop Smoke in 'Boogie' was 'a blessing'

Pop Smoke was fatally shot in February 2020 during a home invasion.
Pop Smoke, Eddie Huang
Actor and rapper Pop Smoke with director Eddie Huang on the set of their film "Boogie."Nicole Rivelli / Focus Features
/ Source: TODAY

Eddie Huang opened up recently about his decision to cast Pop Smoke in his new movie, “Boogie,” a year after the late rapper’s death.

The coming-of-age film about a teenage Asian American basketball player attempting to balance family and on-court pressures stars Taylor Takahashi, Huang’s former assistant turned first-time actor, as the titular character. Featured alongside Takahashi is Pop Smoke, whose legal name was Bashar Jackson, another first-time actor who made an impact on Huang in a short period of time.

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Taylor Takahashi stars as Boogie and Pop Smoke as Monk
Taylor Takahashi stars as Boogie and Pop Smoke as Monk in "Boogie," a new movie from Eddie Huang.David Giesbrecht / Focus Features

The late rapper’s casting was unintentional and followed a series of events that led to the re-casting of the role of Monk, Boogie’s rival. Following Dave East’s departure from the film after a night-out-gone-wrong in Las Vegas, Huang had four days to find someone to play Monk. He recalled in an interview with Entertainment Weekly the moment when the rapper Despot, whose real name is Alec Reinstein, mentioned that Pop Smoke played basketball and was a top recruit when he was in high school.

Huang reached out to the young rapper's manager in order to get the script over to his team.

"Pop read the script, loved it, thought it was hilarious,” Huang said. “And he shows up at my crib with nine people. He'd just come from Connecticut, just done a show, rolled up to the crib and we all just played basketball. We played basketball, put them on tape.”

Pop Smoke stars as Monk
Bashar Jackson, known by his stage name Pop Smoke, portrayed Monk in "Boogie" and contributed to the movie's soundtrack. His song "AP" is the lead single of the soundtrack album. Nicole Rivelli / Focus Features

The "Fresh Off the Boat" author said he knew within the first five minutes of watching Pop Smoke play basketball that he embodied the role of Monk, adding, “This is a blessing. Like, Dave East, I love you, but it's Pop."

Huang revealed he felt he had a special connection with the late rapper and actor. “With Pop, I really felt a trust between us. Pop had scripted lines, and then he would just come off to the side and we'd talk and I'd throw him back in and he would improv and he would do things. He was a real joy to direct and we had a lot of chemistry. … It's like a quarterback and a receiver that had been playing together for 10 years."

Pop Smoke was fatally shot in February 2020 during a home invasion in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles. Fans speculated that some of the 20 year old's social media posts may have made him a target. In July 2020, four people were charged with murder, including two juveniles. A fifth person involved in the incident was not charged in connection with the late rapper’s murder.

Pop Smoke's posthumous debut album, “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon,” was released on July 3, 2020. The record made history this week after leading Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart for the 17th week in a row, which has been the longest tenure since 1990. The young rapper’s memory will also live on through “Boogie" which was released in theaters Friday.

Huang dedicated his directorial debut to the rapper. "At first I made this film and I was like, 'Look, this is for my family and this is to represent for all of us overseas Chinese in America,' but this is Pop's film," Huang told Yahoo Entertainment in an interview earlier this week "It's absolutely dedicated to Pop. I really miss my brother. Once I met him, the film changed."