While comedian Mike Epps is known for bringing big laughs, fans of him have the opportunity to be introduced to another side of the star – and his amazing wife Kyra – through their special Buying Back the Block. On the HGTV special, which recently premiered, the couple take viewers inside their passion project, which is revamping homes that Mike purchased on the block he grew up on in Indianapolis. The two make clear that they are not house flipping, which is buying property to sell it quickly for a profit. Instead, they’re showing tender love and care to properties his family has a connection to that they will keep, allow loved ones to stay in, and in the future, possibly share for another family to live in. The overall goal of the show though, is to let people see all the effort they’ve put into restoring these properties and to let viewers know they too can do it.
We talked to the Epps about their shared passion for rebuilding his old neighborhood in Naptown, what it’s like working together on camera and off, and how HGTV ended up coming along for the ride. Here’s what they had to say.
ESSENCE: Mike, how long have you been doing house renovations and what inspired you to get into it?
Mike Epps: I started buying these houses, maybe about 20 some years ago. I bought one house 20 some years ago, and I just started adding on, and I chipped away at it. I didn’t completely finish the houses because they were in gentrified neighborhoods. They were in neighborhoods that weren’t completely revitalized. Then I met my wife. We got married. I showed her the houses and she was like, “No, no, no, no. This ain’t going to work.” It needed a woman’s touch.
Kyra Epps: It did. There was way more potential there, and like Mike said, the neighborhood was, when he bought the property, super crime ridden, a lot of drug infestation, and that’s when Mike was growing up there. By the time he had bought them, he bought them for little to nothing. So fast-forward 15, 20 years later, we get married. We create our home base there, and we were thinking, “The neighborhood’s changing. They’re bringing more grocery stores around and the economy is turning a bit in this neighborhood,” and we wanted to be a part of that and we didn’t want to move out. We didn’t want to sell our properties. We didn’t want to leave the legacy, and so we started knick-knacking a little bit at each property and pretty soon, before we knew it, we were like, “We can do this. We can make this a good thing.” But when I did see them originally, they were still great. They were fantastic. Mike did such a beautiful job. You could tell it came from his heart.
They were awesome, but I just knew. I was like, “We can elevate this just a little bit.”
Kyra, what is it about when he showed you the homes, when you guys were newly married, what made you want to be involved in this and how did you become passionate about it?
Kyra Epps: That’s such a great question. Mike is so passionate about that city, and I knew nothing about it really before I came there, and I got to really love it and understand it, and I met his grandmother, and she gave me such a thoughtful piece of something before she left us, and it was like she gave me a blessing.
Mike Epps: Yeah, handed her a ceramic shoe.
Kyra Epps: Yeah. She gave me a shoe before she passed, and it was so sentimental to me, so I think what makes me so passionate about this block and of Indianapolis in general is that my kids are from there. I had my son there in the same house as his father, and he’s his junior, so it’s our legacy, and it’s our story, and it’s a lesson for our children. They got to see us do this brick by brick, nail by nail. They got to see a hole in the ground to an actual beautifully designed home. My daughter can walk through this house like a realtor and say, “Okay, here we have four bedrooms and this is the second bathroom.” She can do that, and she understands the process, and it’s just beautiful. It’s beautiful to not only be in a marriage, but to actually build something together, so that’s what we’ve been doing, and that’s why I’m so passionate about it.
I love that. How did that turn into, “This could be a great HGTV series”?
Kyra Epps: This guy right here! I have a background in television. I’ve been producing for 12 years, and then when we came home, we went back to Indianapolis during a very trying time, COVID in 2020. I was pregnant at the time and I’m from Chicago, so we wanted to be close to our family because in Hollywood it was desolate. Nobody was doing anything, and so we went back to Indianapolis, and we started doing little things at the time and Mike was like, “We should pitch this over and they should see what we’re doing because this is pretty cool,” and so he made a phone call.
Mike Epps: Yeah. It’s all about capturing the moments and sometimes Instagram, Facebook, it ain’t enough. To do what we just did, we needed this platform to tell this story.
Kyra Epps: And it was so much more than design. This was about family. This was about Black people owning properties and keeping it in the family for 60 plus years. His grandmother had lost the property. He went and bought it back, and then after he bought it back, he was like, “Well, I want the one next door, and let me get the one next door to that,” and now you’re trying to get the one across the street, and I’m like, “Hold on. Slow down.” It’s the thought process. I think that we thought about, “Okay, yes. We can design these homes beautifully and we can aesthetically make them pleasing,” but the story was so much more deeper and we knew we had that to tell.
And Mike, can you talk about how… I asked Kyra about her being passionate in this work. Buying up your whole block that you grew up on and you’ve seen transform, why does that mean so much to you?
Mike Epps: It’s a lot to grow up in that neighborhood and watch it change. Before, when my grandmother arrived there, they were nice, family neighborhoods, and there were interracial families. There were different ethnicities in the neighborhood. Then it took a turn. The people who were money makers, and shakers, and bakers in the cities didn’t want to live in the inner city anymore. They started moving to the suburbs.
Now people that live in the suburbs, they’re tired of taking these long commutes to work. They want to ride their bike to work. They want to walk to work, so they’re back in the city. I watched it change a lot, and now it’s coming back to what it was in the beginning, and like I said, Black people were thriving back then. But of course, when the drug trade came, it tore our neighborhoods up. So when I started buying the houses back again, that was the aftermath of all of that that happened, so now we’re trying to bring it back. We want to make sure we inspire our own because we want our own to be able to enjoy the revitalization of this neighborhood and community.
Nice! Kyra, as you mentioned, you are somebody who has worked in production. That usually means you’re behind the camera. How is it being in front of the camera?
Kyra Epps: It’s very different because I know how to prep somebody else for a show. But I know how to tell a story, so I think that’s what makes it a bit, I won’t say easy, but it streamlines it for me. That’s what I know how to do, but it’s different. But Mike has made this such a breeze for me because he’s a jovial person and he’s fun. He’s always lighthearted, and the biggest thing he told me, it was like, “Just be raw. Be you. You’re awesome. Let it show.” I realized that the more authentic I am, the better I’m received and the better I feel, and so I’m just doing that. I’m just being authentic and showing my personality.
Mike Epps: You don’t have to work hard at it.
Kyra Epps: Yeah. I don’t have to work at this thanks to this guy.
Mike Epps: Thank you. We both play a very important part in each other’s life and in these projects, so it take two to make everything all right, as Rob Base used to say [laughs].
You guys complement each other well on the show, too. He’s very light and funny, and then you’re like, “We got to get down to business, too.” How is it as business partners in a sense, and also in business on television, too?
Kyra Epps: I don’t have another person I would rather do business with than my husband, and I’m so proud of him and who he is. He’s a legend.
Mike Epps: Well, thank you.
Kyra Epps: He’s amazing. He really is. He’s a legend. He’s a creative genius. He’s so good at what he does, and I am really honored to be able to work with him, seriously and truly. I have always, always been so proud of his work and it’s been a great honor to work with him. It really has, and I wouldn’t work with anybody else. Now on the truthful side, it’s not easy because…
Mike Epps: Hold up now. Things was going good.
Kyra Epps: Not like that! And I say it because it’s not easy because what I’ve had to learn is that you have two very different perspectives. Mike has pushed my envelope a lot in design and work ethic because I’m very black and white. Mike is super unconventional in his work ethic. He does things. He gambles. He’s like, “I’m going hard and I’m not stopping until I get what I want.” I’m like, “Wait.” I’m slow. I take my time. I’m meticulous, and so he’s helped me to make quicker decisions, be more confident in my decisions, so I’ve learned a lot, but that was hard. It was a growing pain for me, and that’s what I mean when I say it is been a journey. But I’ve learned so much. I’m very grateful and he’s awesome to work with.
Mike, what have you learned from working with her in this capacity?
Mike Epps: Well, you know what? I actually feel the same way she feels. I feel like I’m so lucky to have a woman that I can work with because that could be one of the hardest things in the world is to work with your soulmate sometimes, but like she said, “We’ve been lucky enough to learn each other enough.” Because Kyra is very, very, like she said, “strategic,” very smart. She knows what she wants and I’m all over the place, so it makes a great peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Because if she was like me and I was like her, we wouldn’t get sh-t done. You know what I’m saying? We’d be clashing for real.
Lastly, knowing all the personalities that are on HGTV, what do you guys want people to know they’re going to get from watching Buying Back the Block? Mike, we know you’re hilarious, but people are going to see a different side of you, so what can you say that they can expect from watching?
Mike Epps: I think they’re going to get to know a little bit more about who I am, what my wife’s about.
Kyra Epps: And what you stand for. You can do anything. You can get on private jets. You can fly around the world. You can travel, but this, what we’re doing is monumental for the culture, and I think, too, it’s not we’re doing this and come live in a place. It’s like, “We’re doing this. Start thinking outside of the box. You can do it, too.” That is the thing, right? It’s not like, “We have these gifts to give.” It’s like the gift of seeing this and the actuality of really watching this, is saying to yourself, “Where’s my home on my block that I grew up on? What am I going to give to my kids? How am I going to be a homeowner? How am I going to pass down legacy?”
That’s the gift. That’s the inspiration. That is what you’re watching. The watch is we are doing something and we’re normal people, and if this is important to you and you understand the message, it is very much so open for you to do it as well.