Barry Michael Cooper is a New York City-born American writer, producer and director, best known for his screenplays for the films New Jack City (1991), Sugar Hill (1994), and Above the Rim (1994), sometimes called his "Harlem Trilogy".[1]

Early life and education

Cooper was born in New York City and grew up in Little Washington Heights between 164th and 165th streets on Amsterdam Avenue. He has stated that the neighborhood was very mixed and that he played with Black, Jewish, and Irish children. When he was ten, his family moved to the Esplanade Gardens, a co-op high rise in Harlem with tenants of various classes and races.[1]


Cooper began his writing career as a music critic for The Village Voice, serving later as an investigative reporter for the New York City alt-weekly from 1980-1989. He wrote "Teddy Riley's New Jack Swing: Harlem Gangsters Raise a Genius" for the Voice in 1987 and is credited with naming the then-new hybrid of R&B and rap.[2][3]

That same year, Cooper's article, "Kids Killing Kids: New Jack City Eats Its Young", published in the Village Voice, brought him to the attention of Quincy Jones, who hired him to rewrite a screenplay about 1970s Harlem heroin dealer Nicky Barnes.[2] Cooper's screenplay was later produced as the film New Jack City (1991), which he set in Harlem after the arrival of crack cocaine in the 1980s.[2]

It was the first film in what has been called Cooper's "Harlem Trilogy,"[1] which also includes Sugar Hill and Above the Rim (cowritten with Jeff Pollack, the film's director, from a story by Pollack and Benny Medina),[4] both of which were released in 1994.

According to Spin magazine's Michael Gonzales, the three films had an influence on "hip-hop culture that can be heard in Jay-Z’s lyrics and seen in P. Diddy’s style."[1]

Cooper wrote all three films after moving to Baltimore, Maryland, where he still lives.[1] In 2005, Cooper made his directorial debut with Blood on the Wall$, a 14-part web series starring Sugar Hill's Michael Wright.[2]

In October 2008 Cooper produced the "Larry Davis episode" for season three of BET's hit crime documentary, American Gangster. Thus far, the Larry Davis episode has been the highest-rated original-series telecast in BET's history.[citation needed]

Since 2007 Cooper has published a blog, "Hooked on the American Dream". In 2011, he published Hooked on the American Dream, Vol. 1: New Jack City Eats Its Young, a collection of his essays and articles from the 1980s, in an Amazon Kindle edition.[5] He is also a contributor to the Huffington Post.[6]

Honors and awards


  1. ^ a b c d e Gonzales, Michael A. (April 2007). "Baltimore Orator: Barry Michael Cooper". Stop Smiling Magazine. Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Hilliard, Chloe A. (May 22, 2007). "New Jack Comeback". The Village Voice. Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  3. ^ Cooper, Barry Michael (October 18, 1987). "Teddy Riley's New Jack Swing: Harlem Gangsters Raise a Genius". Medium. The Village Voice. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (March 23, 1994). "Above the Rim (1994) Review/Film; A Young Man Torn by Good and Bad". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Hooked on the American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young.
  6. ^ "Contributor: Barry Michael Cooper". Huffington Post. 2019. Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  7. ^ Cooper, Barry Michael (May 1986). "In Cold Blood: The Baltimore Teen Murders". Spin. Retrieved June 14, 2019.