It’s summer 2022 in Miami. The heat is thick, margaritas are being passed around, and y2k fashion is making a comeback. As everyone becomes more immersed in a digitalized world, artistry and hustle meet the main characters of “Rap Sh!t”: Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (KaMillon). Despite sharing a love for rap, they’re on opposite sides of Miami’s hip-hop culture. Inspired by the careers of the City Girls, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, Issa Rae’s “Rap Sh!t” is the latest comedy series on HBO that shows the ins and outs of being a female rapper.
After much anticipation, Issa Rae fans and “Insecure” fanatics finally tuned into HBO’s release of the first two episodes for “Rap Sh!t” on July 21. The episodes open with Shawna (Aida Osman) working as a hotel receptionist, and Mia (KaMillon) a social media influencer with a complicated relationship with her daughter’s father behind the scenes. The two collide when Mia asks for Shawna to watch her daughter, which prompts Shawna to invite Mia out for drinks.
After a night of drinks, laughter and strip clubs, Mia and Shawna retreat to the car where they start an Instagram live. Midway through, Mia opens up about why she fell out with Shawna — both women had drifted into different paths with Mia being a young mother, and Shawna getting a record deal that was unfortunately sabotaged. The heartfelt moment lead to the duo’s freestyle rapping, which later gets uploaded and goes viral.
With the success of their video, Mia and Shawna decide to form a rap duo. There’s conflict however as both women have different styles — Mia wants to create fun music to dance to, and Shawna wants music with a message that doesn’t rely on being hyper-sexualized.
Eventually, the pair goes back to the drawing board and creates a fresh rap where both of their styles shine through. The second episode ends with the excitement of their new rap as they prepare to take off with their new possibility of being rap sensations.
One of the strengths of “Insecure” was its ability to depict average people, while zooming in on their quirks and hurdles. “Insecure” also served as a breath of fresh air for its display of Black 20-somethings’ in various careers and interests. With the heart of LA’s culture as the backdrop, “Insecure” allowed Issa Rae to build a story around a distinct community of career-driven, Black millennials without forcing a message of discrimination many Black-centered shows tend to do.
Issa takes this same tactic with “Rap Sh!t,” except this time she adds a new lens into the mix: social media. The most noticeable flair of “Rap Sh!t” is how social media is the 6th sense in the show. It acts as a watchful eye as each character goes through their day. Whether it’s FaceTime or Instagram live, the viewer gets to take on the role of a voyeur.
Integrating social media into the storyline is a clever way to get into the minds of the main characters. In some scenes, we get snippets of Shawna rapping on her TikTok, and in others Mia is dressed in lingerie, performing for her Only Fans crowd. Since the viewer is given clues on what each character desperately wants and regrets, they’re able to form an intimate bond with the characters.
“Rap Sh!t” doesn’t shy away from heavy topics either. Rap is a genre with a complicated past decorated with accolades and misogyny. Female rappers like Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim had to fight their way through the industry, all while suffering at the hands of shady producers and colleagues who only saw them as sexual conquests.
By understanding the cultural context, Issa Rae managed to create an unbiased dialogue on the varying opinions. Like “Insecure,” female friendship is the most important factor. Rae takes two women from completely different backgrounds and lets a natural bond form as they overcome quiet battles in their personal lives. Through their differences, Mia and Shawna can learn from one another and expand their perspectives beyond their individual experiences.
“Rap Sh!t” understands the complexities of its female characters and pays careful attention to their backstories. Mia represents the many Instagram influencers that preach lavish lifestyles and do not care about men. Yet, she’s still given vulnerability and respect rather than being just another sexualized influencer.
The complicated reality of being a Black woman is that most spaces will demean her regardless of how she looks or acts. That’s what makes the topic of empowerment and over-sexualization double-edged swords for Shawna and Mia. No matter what they do, the industry they both love will try to strip them of their autonomy and put them in boxes.
Even though “Rap Sh!t” does make a point to show the bleak reality that comes with leaning into one’s sexuality as a female rapper, the show still makes sure to keep a neutral tone by reminding viewers being respectable won’t win Black women redemption.
“Rap Sh!t” is an experimental comedy already making waves for its commentary. The show is an excellent blend of being socially aware while simultaneously embracing Miami’s rap culture. The season is expected to have tons of twists and turns as Mia and Shawna embark on their quest to be influential female rappers.
“Rap Sh!t” is available to stream on HBO Max.
By Adia Carter