You need to start watching “Rap Sh!t” yesterday.
Created by Issa Rae, HBO Max’s new comedy series follows the story and perspective of Shawna (Aida Osman), an aspiring Miami rapper working at a hotel for the time being. When she teams up unexpectedly with Mia (KaMillion), their impromptu freestyle becomes a viral track and the start of a promising collaboration.
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“Rap Sh!t” is hyperspecific, laugh-out-loud funny, and deeply engrossing. Osman and the cast shine with Rae’s once-again winning team of writers and directors. It’s a breakout comedy series that isn’t to be missed.
Here are five (more) reasons to watch “Rap Sh!t” on HBO Max.
1. The Artist’s Struggle
In the very first episode, Shawna laments the state of the rising rap community online, a cacophony of influencers, social climbers, and the appearance-obsessed, all notably lacking in the talent she knows she has. “Rap Sh!t” nails what no other show has quite captured: The specific anxiety and peril of being an artist in the digital age.
“Y’all’s favorites are out here doing the bare minimum with no originality while I’m over here living and breathing this rap shit,” she says in a social media rant. “You don’t support me, you don’t support us. Y’all listen to the same shit over and over again, it’s tired.”
But when someone tells her “The game is the game,” there’s also no denying it; this is how audiences find and engage with art now, whether it’s music, dance, visual art, theater — the list goes on. Shawna’s dilemma is that she posted a viral rap years ago and hasn’t been able to recreate that momentum, and it’s an impromptu improvisation on Instagram live that puts her in the position to harness it once more.
2. Real B*tches
In the first episode, Shawna unexpectedly helps out Mia, a high school friend she’s no longer close to. Once they part ways, the interaction sticks; Mia promises to return the favor, and Shawna finds herself drawn to Mia’s social media because she puts herself out there without diluting her personality or views.
“Real bitches rock with realer bitches,” Mia says on Instagram Live. It’s enough for Shawna to immediately message her to get drinks.
Their bond quickly becomes the heart of “Rap Sh!t,” an unlikely friendship that turns into a creative partnership as they form a rap group. Whether they’re out at a club, freestyling, laying down a track, or meeting with industry contacts (while taking all their adventures Live), they rock with each other through thick and thin. They slide right into the rhythm and camaraderie of the best TV friendships, like Issa and Molly, Abbi and Ilana, Ann and Leslie — old or new bonds that end up getting these characters through critical years in their lives.
3. The Female Gaze
Part of Shawna’s hesitation to play the influencer and industry game is that she worked closely with a male producer (Jaboukie) who ended up exploiting and ultimately dropping her. She doesn’t want to be the kind of songwriter or performer that caters to men’s directives, desires, or view of what makes a woman successful or attractive, but Mia challenges all of that. She’s a makeup artist, a former stripper, and goes live on OnlyFans. She takes pride in having control over her body and sexuality. She doesn’t have a problem with men or anyone looking at her, and the way she sees it, Shawna is the one being controlled by men, inhibited by their actions and opinions.
“All of us wanted to talk about the fact that our bodies get politicized so much and policed; women’s bodies in rap become intellectualized before they become celebrated,” Osman told The Hollywood Reporter. “Any young woman trying to make it in the rap game is not going to be free of those critiques and she’s going to have that inner monologue and have to figure out what she feels about it.”
Shawna and Mia argue about these sensibilities in Episode 2, and something about the conversation strikes a chord with both of them. They may be working with someone who doesn’t share the same instincts, but they respect each other enough to look for a middle ground.
4. Scratch That “Insecure” Itch
It might not have her face on it, but “Rap Sh!t” is quintessential Issa Rae to its core. Familiar faces pop up here and there, but cultivating fresh and promising Black talent has always been part of Rae’s ethos. This time she enlists short film director Sadé Clacken Joseph and a writing team including “Insecure” alum Syreeta Singleton and Osman herself.
“Insecure” fans will also recall one of the best TV playlists in history, not to mention original raps (often between Issa and her reflection). “Broken Pussy” walked so “Seduce and Scheme” could run; Shawna and Mia’s original track is instantly sassy, sexy, and catchy, and the rest of the soundtrack is packed with bangers from a wide range of artists.
5. The Tech Angle
Technology and social media are deeply woven into the fabric of “Rap Sh!t,” from Shawna’s viral video and freestyle to posts and lives from other characters, shared music videos, FaceTimes, and even OnlyFans. The show decides to depict most of this horizontally, which feels weird at first but ends up surprisingly impactful. The content in our phones hits the way it does because it takes up the whole screen, and by presenting it horizontally for this TV show, “Rap Sh!t” achieves the same.
The show explores how Shawna creates her music, but also how it and other rap songs or artists are received by the audience and the Miami community. At one point Shawna reacts on Live to a white woman rebranded as a light-skinned Black rapper. She reads comments and tracks likes. Upcoming episodes include beef between influencers and a brutal argument that gets documented on Live before altering one character’s entire path.
It’s a rare gift when a show debuts fully-formed, confident and charismatic in today’s teeming TV climate. “Rap Sh!t” does that and more, and it’s catchy as heck.
“Rap Sh!t” is streaming on HBO Max, with new episodes every Thursday.
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