Featured Alumni Stories

From Bebop in Barcelona to Screenwriting in Hollywood

In Barcelona in the late '80s, there wasn't any access to current pop culture from the U.S., like music and film. Because of this, Cheo discovered a love of classic jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and developed an interest in bebop. The year in Barcelona discovering music he wasn't accustomed to is where his path to being a music critic truly started. Over the past two decades, Cheo's career has soared to include screenwriter on his résumé, but he has never forgotten his SYA roots. SYA English teacher Gary Hendrickson , who Cheo credits as the one who made him fall in love with his own writing voice, is fondly remembered as another inspirational influence during his year in Spain.

After graduating Stanford University, Cheo worked for the Los Angeles Times as a pop music staff writer and wrote the May 1997 VIBE cover story "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" about the murder of rapper Christopher Wallace (the Notorious B.I.G.). Cheo later wrote 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. In 2003 Cheo published his first book, The Life, Death, and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G., based on exclusive interviews with both Wallace and his family members.

Following his very successful career in music writing, and ready for a new challenge, Cheo's thoughts turned to screenwriting. He produced a script for the film Notorious based on his earlier book, wrote and produced the TV shows Ray Donovan, the Showtime series featuring Liev Schreiber; the human cop/android drama Almost Human; the hit show NCIS: Los Angeles; and SouthLAnd, for which he won a 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Writing for a Dramatic Series, and was part of the team that earned the show a 2012 Peabody Award.

ost recently, Cheo has been tapped to serve as executive producer and showrunner (responsible for the day-to-day operations for a TV series including writing and script editing) of Marvel's Luke Cage, the third of four Marvel dramas picked up by Netflix. Marvel's Luke Cage follows Daredevil and Jessica Jones and precedes Marvel's Iron Fist. All are set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sharing continuity with the films of the franchise. The four will lead into the miniseries Marvel's The Defenders. Cheo is writing the first two episodes, which will premiere in 2016 on Netflix.

Cheo also feels that increasing his understanding of the Spanish language improved his English. Of SYA he says, "You learned to express yourself in another language. You learn that if you could do this once, you can do other things. I might not know everything, but if I can learn the language of whatever environment I'm in, I can figure something out." This is a sentiment that Cheo finds translates to both his every day and his professional life.

Read an article about Mike Colter, the actor who plays Luke Cage.