Aspiring rappers Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (KaMillion) have a hard time winning others’ confidence in Issa Rae’s new HBO Max series, Rap Sh!t. Mia’s mother doubts her daughter’s dedication, her friends are wary of the impetuous Shawna, and their only connection in the music industry is skeptical of their ability to secure wide appeal. One of the few people who stands by their side with no quid pro quo expectation is Mia’s ex, co-parent, and best friend, Lamont, whom RJ Cyler infuses with a low-key confidence, wry humor, and quiet steadfastness. As the music producer who adds a professional touch to Shawna and Mia’s songs “Seduce and Scheme” and “Nann Badder,” Lamont is a key part of their team as the duo becomes more popular in Miami’s nightclub scene.
Cyler — who was a scene-stealer in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and has since co-starred in the western The Harder They Fall, socially minded thriller Emergency, and TV series Scream: Resurrection — gives Lamont a casual coolness that belies a deep affection for Mia and their daughter, Melissa. As the season progresses, Lamont transforms from absent father focused on his music career to a reliable partner, jazzing up Shawna and Mia’s tracks and helping Mia get over a social-media scandal. Although Lamont is disappointed by Mia’s romantic rejection at season’s end — Cyler hopes the forthcoming second season will track their new dynamic — he’s one of the only men in Rap Sh!t who supports Shawna and Mia without begrudging their success. Cyler’s relaxed performance emphasizes that sincerity.
Was filming Rap Sh!t your first time in Miami?
We got family members there, so we would go and see them when I was younger. If I wasn’t on set, I’m out somewhere. Me and my queen ended up outside this sideshow where people spin their cars and do burnouts. It’s the best 30 minutes of my whole life. Roller skating in Miami was cool. I had a nice little skate vibe when I was out there; boats and Jet Skis, of course. And I did buy a lot of shoes. I spent at least 10 G’s on shoes.
Yeah, sneakers. I always buy my girl what I buy me, so that’s where half of it went.
Were there any musicians or producers you listened to to help you get into the Lamont mindset?
Thank God for our writers’ room, because they didn’t allow Lamont to just be a hip-hop producer. He put accordions on a track — he’s a musician. He knows what he’s talking about; he’s not just good with the DJ-ing or the mixes. I can hop on some drums and mess it up right now, you feel me?
When it came to the music and his playlist, I had everything on there. I got a few friends that are fathers who make music, and a lot of it is about their kids. I listened to those or ones I made myself; I had a lot of Nariah Francois going through my playlist. And IshDARR. I had Sage the Gemini, “Red Nose” and “Put Me On.” I didn’t know about some of his underground stuff until after I met him. I had a lot of KaMillion on there. Tobe Nwigwe, definitely. Erykah Badu and Jill Scott — those are my skate queens. They understand the melodic nature of RJ’s inner soul.
Lamont helps punch up “Seduce and Scheme,” and he produces “Nann Badder.” Do you have a favorite between those two?
I think “Nann Badder.” I like the way that mug rocks. That’s literally what got me through chest press yesterday, because it’s on my Spotify workout playlist. But “Seduce and Scheme” — the bass line of it is so hard, and I got 12s [speakers] in my trunk, so if I want to be heard, which is most of the time, I’m playing that.
Social media plays a big role visually and narratively in Rap Sh!t: Many characters are inseparable from their phones, and some episodes are shot as if through a live broadcast. Lamont is one of the only characters who separates himself from social media as the season progresses and encourages Mia to do the same. What inspires him to do that?
To be an artist, you need a following, and if you need a following, you need engagement, and that engagement has to be mostly positive unless you want to be one of those “any publicity is good publicity” types. Lamont recognizes that Mia is better than what she’s allowing herself to be rocked by. He’s seen her go through worse. He’s recognizing the bigger picture: “You’re raising a kid. Give yourself a little more smoke under the heat, Mama, because it’s literally just social media.”
It’s like that with some of my sisters, my little cousins. They’re on their Instagram thing, and Boo Honey, you do not want to get less than 50 likes. They gonna delete the post and come back the next day with a new caption. I’ll be like, “Baby, just let it go! It’s okay!” I’m on social media to ingest, but I did recognize when I was taking in too much. Social media is probably one of the only choices this generation has, and it seems to be, “Oh, we don’t have a choice but to be on it.” But you do. It’s okay. I know that when you put your phone down, you have to deal with your own thoughts, but it’s not that scary up there. Trust me, I’ve tried it. It gets a little dark and sunken for 30 minutes, but then you fall asleep and you wake up and you’re good.
That final conversation between Lamont and Mia in the finale is a heartbreaker. Do you think there’s space for them to reconcile?
There’s so much space. As we see the arc of Lamont, we see him learning constantly. His adjustments are very fast. Let’s say they don’t end up together, but they do end up understanding each other. With them listening to each other more, Lamont creates that space: “Hey, talk to me, or talk to somebody.” He wants to lighten that pressure she might be feeling. Even if they don’t end up together, they’ll still end up being great co-parents, which is more realistic nowadays. We don’t have to be toxic with each other because we’re not together. The child doesn’t deserve that.
How did you and KaMillion build your chemistry?
KaMillion is from Jacksonville, Florida. I’m from Jacksonville Florida. Then when we actually got to meet, I come to find out I grew up with her younger brother Xavier. He’s half of my heartbeat. I was like, Dang, the universe — it will just tie it together.
Me and Mills started being friends, because that’s literally who Lamont and Mia were before Melissa. Lamont know Mia like the back of his hand, so it’s like, “Word, I understand where you’re coming from. I got you.” The same way I’m going to look out for Xavier, I’m going to look out for Mills. When it came to scene work or a note she might need when we were in a scene, I was like, “Don’t be nervous. When you’re on set with me, I’m the one that will take all the nerves away. Be the character you built, and I can assist in that.” She just blossomed. What you’re seeing on-camera, that’s literally how me and Mills are in real life. Once we connect, it’s our job as other Southside, Duval County people to make sure the other makes it. And we made music together just chilling.
How did you go about making music on your own?
Me, Aida, and KaMillion went to the mall, and this was the first time I ever bought expensive stuff just because — they motivated me (#goodpressure). I never do that type of stuff for myself. After that, we went to the studio and made this song that all of us — Me, Aida, KaMillion, and Jonica Booth — are on now. We tried to work on it last time Mills was in town, but we ain’t get to finish it. Miami brings a different energy when you’re making music. You can breathe much easier. I was breathing through bars. Usually, when I play in L.A., it’s a little dry; after every few words, I gotta sip. But in Miami, with a full session, I’m good!
What was the item that you were bullied into buying?
I would say more “ushered” into buying. It’s these Dior slides. The dude ones had just come out, and I was like, “Ooh.” They’re black and thick on the bottom. They look like Jesus sandals — if Jesus was rich and had sensible footwear. Like the Jerusalem 18s.
That would’ve helped as he was traveling around.
I think that’s why he got caught, because he didn’t have the right footwear.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.