Issa Rae is back! This time she won’t be in front of the camera, but the acclaimed writer and actress’s newest project, Rap Sh!t, is here, and I’d like to invite you all to join me as I recap this colorful and sharp comedy.
One thing that made Insecure such a hit was its strong and distinct voice specific to Black L.A. Rap Sh!t’s Miami setting has that same feeling. From the eclectic guests at the Plymouth to the Miami slang (okay, “git”!) to the gorgeous B-roll of the city reminiscent of the cinematography on Insecure, it feels like a friend showing you around through their lens as a native. It’s hard not to compare Rap Sh!t to Insecure, as it was Rae’s breakout hit that catapulted her to A-list status, but the lively voice and energy of the show are entirely different. The series has a directing style that incorporates virtual communication; we’re included in the character’s FaceTimes, texts, and social-media activity through immersive graphics, giving the effect of experiencing the story in real time.
The series follows Shawna and Mia, recently reconnected besties, on their journey to becoming a rap group while living in Miami. If this story sounds vaguely familiar, you won’t be surprised to find that Miami’s own rap duo City Girls, Yung Miami and JT (Careesha Brownlee and Jatavia Johnson), both serve as co-executive producers for the series. Fans of the City Girls may notice that the series’ name is also the name of a song from the group’s 2018 debut mixtape, Period.
Though the story is loosely based on Yung Miami and JT’s early days, the main characters, Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (rapper KaMillion), are not exact replicas of the City Girls’ personalities. For me, Shawna’s vibes are giving a woke-ified Issa Dee from Insecure, and Mia’s seems like an amalgamation of JT and Yung Miami. The first episode begins with the two former high-school friends reuniting after years of drifting apart. Shawna works at the concierge desk at the Plymouth hotel, meagerly trying to revive the brief moment she had as a viral rap artist before getting dropped from her record deal. Mia is a makeup artist with a robust social-media presence, a deadbeat baby daddy, and charisma for days. When Mia is unable to find child care for her daughter, Melissa, she reaches out to Shawna as a last-ditch effort since her gig is at the Plymouth anyway. Shawna reluctantly agrees and watches Melissa.
After a long day at work that included not only babysitting but illegally stealing credit-card information (another nod to the City Girls, as JT served jail time for credit-card fraud), Shawna turns to social media to vent about the current state of female rap. Earlier in her shift at the hotel, her co-worker and friend Maurice shared a video of white rapper Reina Reign, who is working with Francois Boom, the producer who signed Shawna. Reina Reign is a typical culture-vulture comparable to white women like Iggy Azalea with a music video that’s an almost minstrel performance featuring Black women dancing in the back as props. Shawna’s rant continues as she opines about the lack of substance in mainstream female rap and the hypersexuality expected from female rap artists, going on to announce her retirement from the game.
Still irritated and overwhelmed by her strained long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Cliff, who is attending law school in New York, Shawna hits up Mia in the hopes of having a girls’ night out the next day. Mia, on the other hand, is preoccupied with creating content for her OnlyFans. Mia reminds me of a lot of women I grew up with: charming yet relatable with personality for days. There are different iterations of Mia in all Black communities, whether it be your sister, friend, auntie, neighbor, or even yourself. She has a large social-media following because she’s beautiful and fun, but also because, well, her ass is fat. She posts makeup tutorials and thirst traps but spouts poignant advice with enough attitude to be assertive and enough sweetness to make you actually want to follow it. For example, on one of her IG lives, she reminds us men only know two things: pussy and money. Mia, my role model, says, “They both go hand in hand, if you got one, you can get the other.” Remember, seduce and scheme! The new bend and snap.
Lamont, Melissa’s father, is an aspiring producer and typical bum absentee dad. Over a FaceTime call, we get a taste of his attitude and their relationship dynamic. He’s late giving money to help provide for his family, his attention set on advancing his career (and partying at the studio). He constantly belittles her feelings, at one point even reprimanding her for raising her voice at him. How is it possible to be both patronizing and a deadbeat? He has the nerve to tell her, “You catch more flies with honey.” Don’t get me started on how Black women are constantly told to soften themselves to deserve the bare minimum. When Lamont gives Mia empty promises and bullshit excuses, she hangs up and decides to take Shawna up on her offer.
First, Shawna brings Mia to a restaurant called Freehold, which, yes, I looked it up and it is real and really cute, but it’s clearly more of a pregame than the main event. Mia takes control of the evening, and after a few drinks and a stop at the liquor store for some cheaper alcohol, the ladies venture to the strip club, the Office, another very real Miami location. Here, the turnup begins. Shawna, who’s never been to a strip club, proclaims, “I didn’t know their whole coochies were gonna be out like this!”
Very lit from their evening, Mia and Shawna end the night in the car, goofing around on Mia’s IG live. They reminisce about their high-school days and eventually begin having a heart-to-heart. Mia expresses that she felt Shawna dipped out on their friendship and started acting brand-new after graduation. Shawna says she didn’t mean to drift from their relationship and that she dropped out of college when she got the opportunity to work with Francois. Mia reveals that life after high school wasn’t easy for her either; she worked at the Office as a dancer and her dreams of making it big didn’t pan out. To lighten the mood, Mia turns on the 2000s rap hit “Get Fucked Up” by Miami rap group Iconz. Now back to having fun, Shawna freestyles on the live with Mia providing ad-libs, and her followers eat it up. The next morning, Shawna awakes to see the freestyle going viral on TikTok and the episode ends with her FaceTiming Mia, ready to take this rap shit to the next level.
Issa Rae delivers another instant hit with Rap Sh!t. The writing and directorial choices allow viewers to feel like we’re indulging in a “Girl, guess what happened today” type story with one of our good friends. It’s light-hearted while still tackling themes around feminism, sexual liberation, and sisterhood. Osman and KaMillion’s chemistry is evident, with both newcomers embodying their characters. This pilot hit it out of the park, which is not surprising considering the standard Rae’s other work has set, and I’m elated to be on this Rap Sh!t journey.
Bad Bitch Banter
• Did any of my fellow Insecure fans peep Sarunas J. Jackson, who played Dro, Molly’s married love interest? This episode has other guest appearances, like Jaboukie Young-White and rapper Guapdad 4000 (if you see this, feel free to slide in my DMs).
• On her way home from work, Shawna does some creeping on Cliff, and there’s a little too much of this Fatima woman for my liking. Specifically that arm touch!
• Shawna’s grievances with the female rap game are valid, but from a fan perspective, I see things changing. I love living in an era with so many different female rappers that have a multitude of styles, flows, and aesthetics. From Doja Cat dominating rap-pop fusion to Rico Nasty embodying a punk aesthetic to Megan Thee Stallion taking pussy rap to the next level, there’s something for everyone. Up-and-coming artists like Flo Milli, Baby Tate, and Doechii all make rap music that boosts confidence while still letting us shake ass. It’s an exciting time to experience.