This piece contains spoilers about the Season 2 premiere of The Chi
Emmy-winning writer and producer Lena Waithe brought the Season 2 premiere of Showtime's The Chi to Los Angeles on Monday night, one day after the murder of rap artist Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed Sunday in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood.
"Black joy is so fleeting," Waithe said on a panel alongside the show's stars in reference to Hussle's death. The rapper's murder shocked fans and even city government officials (like police commissioner Steve Soboroff, who was set to meet with the rapper Monday to find solutions to gang violence) and set off an outpouring of love and support in remembrance of the late star. Waithe was among those who tweeted in tribute to Hussle, revealing he had previously read for the part of Ronnie on The Chi.
At Monday night's premiere, Waithe couldn't hide her grief, noting that the rapper was like many black men in environments like South Los Angeles or the South Side of Chicago who not only have to find ways to be successful but also stay alive. Too often, she said, tragedy strikes when their stars are burning bright — just like in the case of Hussle, who would have turned 34 this summer. These types of death, she said, "[are] something black people have had to deal with for far too long," and it's one of the reasons stories from this world are reflected on The Chi. "You have to bleed on the page," she said.
A lot of people don't know this but he auditioned for Ronnie. He was so good he got a callback. We talked about the fact that he didn't drink or smoke. He was so cool and sweet. His lyrics were vulnerable and gritty at the same time. This one hurts. #FarewellNipsey pic.twitter.com/hghjyqemVM— Lena Waithe (@LenaWaithe) April 1, 2019
As it did last season, The Chi will tell tales that are equal parts encouraging, hilarious and absolutely devastating in Season 2. In the first episode, characters are still dealing with the consequences of Coogie's (Jahking Guillory) death — not least of them his brother Brandon (Jason Mitchell). It'll also show how Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) became an alcoholic shell of himself and how Kevin (Alex Hibbert), Papa (Shamon Brown, Jr.) and Jake (Michael Epps) are going from boys to men. Though no one (thankfully!) dies at the outset, the premiere does get dark, violent, and then shocking as characters experience the everyday brutcomesy and harshness of their environment.
One of the most heartbreaking stories involves Brandon, who'd been enjoying the fruits of some very hard entrepreneurial work, finding it snatched away in an instant by someone in his neighborhood — not a cop or a white guy, but another black man in the same environment as him. Though The Chi's characters are, of course, fictional, their collective experiences put the unique highs and lows of black inner-city life on full, three-dimensional display, giving fans a way to see themselves reflected but also cope with traumas, like Nipsey Hussle's murder, that come with the territory.
It's ground Waithe previously said she hoped to cover more in Season 2, telling TV Guide The Chi aimed to "go deeper" and be more rooted in the community.
"I want people to look at it and see themselves," she said.
Season 2 of The Chi premieres Sunday, April 7 at 10/9c on Showtime.
(Disclosure: Showtime is owned by CBS, parent company of TV Guide.)