Now officially a rap duo, Mia and Shawna struggle to find their footing as collaborators. The two may have drifted apart after high school, but a conversation between Mia and her friends shows that even in school, their personalities were vastly different. Mia’s friends, who were also around in high school, barely remember Shawna, and the things they do remember about her are shady at best. They remark that she was one of those “Well, actually …” know-it-all types, foreshadowing her journey to conscious rap.
Shawna’s latest form of expression involves delivering anti-Establishment-centered lyrics while sporting a halo of natural hair and hiding behind a mask. With raps like “Y’all built this whole country on stolen urban creations, then wanna replace me with some cultural appropriation, and watch the Black barbecue with hopes of initiation,” Shawna’s music isn’t exactly mood lightening, and this is coming from me, someone whose father literally teaches Black studies. The content she covers is important and valid, but in the words of Mia and our favorite Icy girl: Sometimes we just want something for the summertime! Something for the girls to get ready and party to! Not socialist theory and dialectical philosophy. Bars about Rosa Parks are not what I’m trying to hear over drinks with the girlies, sorry.
Mia is not interested in meditating over Marxism and spreading Black power either; her social-media posts range from selfies to talking about seducing and scheming and, most importantly, subbing her baby daddy. Lamont was unable to provide half of the rent payment, but Mia finds out through his IG story that he bought a completely iced-out new watch. Priorities, I guess. But really, like Mia said, if he has an Audemars Piguet on his wrist and no headboard or box spring in sight … run, seriously. Please. Things worsen when Melissa’s teacher calls to inform Mia that Melissa has been acting out in class and asks to set up a conference to discuss. Looking for a much-needed outlet, Mia heads over to Shawna’s house to start working on music.
In her closet, Shawna created a makeshift studio with egg cartons and sound-absorbing panels and bought a brand-new microphone named after Lauryn Hill. They begin workshopping their “Seduce and Scheme” song, and Shawna’s inner Noname leaped out. Staying on the scheming-and-seducing theme, Shawna starts rapping from the perspective of … predatory student loans. Everyone rap it with me: “Getting that education is the American Dream, and I’m that bitch Sallie Mae, I want to seduce and scheme.” Makes you want to dance, right? No. I’d rather pretend student loans don’t exist like the rest of the world.
The session ends with both parties frustrated with each other and retreating in their separate ways. Unable to leave things fractured, Mia meets Shawna at the end of her shift at the hotel to mutually decide on a vision for the group. The conversation that ensues at the bar shows two very conflicting opinions that have always surrounded female rap and femininity in general. Some, like Shawna, believe the hypersexuality imposed on female rappers is essentially “playing dress-up for men on the internet,” commenting how the male gaze is a symptom of patriarchy and white supremacy. Others, like Mia, view pussy rap as a subgenre focused on glamour, agency, confidence, and empowerment. And sometimes music doesn’t need to have substance; it could exist simply to make us feel good. But Shawna doubles down on her point, proclaiming that every female rapper’s success is tied to someone who wants to fuck them (something the bartender vehemently agrees with).
The hard part with this argument is that two things can be true at once, which I know sounds like a cop-out, but nuance is everything. Using Lil Kim as an example, Shawna points out how Biggie and Kim’s relationship was toxic and indicative of the frequent violence toward Black women. On the flip side, if you see things the way Mia does, Lil Kim is also an innovator of sex positivity in the rap game while being a beast at her craft. She held her own with the industry’s top dogs and still was the baddest bitch walking. Her impact paved the way for Nicki, Trina, Cardi, Megan Thee Stallion, and so many more. And this was in a time when a lot of female rappers, like Queen Latifah, were laser focused on challenging sexism by not playing into provocative sex appeal. But to Shawna’s point, despite her unmistakable mark on history, to many, she has been remembered as a perennial side chick in skimpy outfits. Both Mia and Shawna have valid perspectives, but things are never entirely binary.
As Mia says, we’re in a Bad Bitch Renaissance. She questions Shawna, asking if she believes there’s no possible way women can be liberated and have fun and still be a boss. She argues that by allowing the male gaze to dictate her actions, Shawna is inversely letting the patriarchy control her. Mia adds, “You’re so concerned about doing art for them — they got you in a fucking robe and mask. Bitch, we in Miami; it’s hot as fuck.” Welp, that was a read. She urges Shawna to frame their situation as an opportunity to do their own thing without having a man pull the strings and have fun with it. Finally, Shawna concedes, returning to the studio and tapping into her inner bad bitch. Mia adds her verse, thoroughly impressing Shawna with her flow and confidence.
Things are progressing creatively for the duo, but Shawna’s effort to get promo for their viral freestyle from Jill, a friend from college who works for Spotify, doesn’t pan out. Immediately after hanging up their FaceTime, Jill calls another friend, Bebe, explaining how the request puts her in an awkward position as she’s skeptical about Shawna’s seriousness. To be fair, the “Seduce and Scheme” video is getting enough traction that one of Cliff’s roommates saw the video — and recognized Mia as the Ghetto Dominatrix from OnlyFans. They tell Cliff, who is rattled by the information because he eventually wants to run for senator. He raises this concern to Shawna, claiming she’s “giving into industry bullshit.”
But by the end of the episode, after making music with Mia, Shawna feels liberated enough to initiate phone sex with Cliff (in the mask, naturally). Following their intimate moment, Cliff mentions looking for apartments in New York together, saying he feels disconnected. Shawna is reluctant and expresses her concerns about developing a codependent relationship. However, one of Mia’s clients is a rich white man in New York who is toying with the idea of flying her out, and the city has a historic rap scene, so who knows, NYC may be in someone’s future.
Bad Bitch Banter
• Loveeee seeing Dominique Perry, who portrayed Tasha on Insecure, as one of Mia’s friends. Issa Rae is notorious for putting people on, so it’s great to see repeat collaborators. Also, very much appreciate the deaf representation and the incorporation of ASL.
• While creeping on Shawna’s IG page, Mia takes us on a journey through some of the highlights on her profile from her college days. There’s years-old footage of Shawna and Francois making music together and him eventually signing her. Then videos of her working in the studio with an established artist, Francois’s frustrated face reflecting in the glass, marking the beginning of the end.
• Melissa’s misbehavior at school is unfortunate, but we love an astronaut with a nice vocabulary! Lamont, surprisingly, sent Mia the money, with extra on top. For a moment, there’s a glimmer of the love they once had for each other.
• Favorite piece of dialogue in a long time: Shawna: “My art is not for the male gaze.” Mia: “Girl, what the gay niggas got to do with it?”