SPOILER ALERT: This article contains some details of tonight’s Rap Sh!t premiere on HBO Max at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET
“I was really drawn to an Odd Couple dynamic,” Issa Rae says of the heart of her new half-hour comedy Rap Sh!t, whose first two episodes drop tonight on HBO Max, followed by one episode weekly.
“So, for the show, as the starting place to establish and forge a new relationship, friendship within this business experience really appealed to me,” the Insecure co-creator adds of the Miami hip hop scene-set series starring Aida Osman and KaMillion that she executive produces.
In the eight-episode first season of the Syreeta Singleton-showrun series, the duo play two old friends who reconnect in the hopes of grabbing the famed golden ring in the music industry. An ambition that, among other things, forces Osman’s once viral sensation Shawna and KaMillion’s Mia to confront stereotypes, their own identities and talent.
Bathed in the South Florida vibe, Rap Sh!t also features City Girls’ JT and Yung Miami as executive producers, with Rae’s audio content company Raedio handling music supervision for the series.
In the warm aftermath of a triple shot of Emmy nominations last week for Insecure, Rae chatted with me over her approach to the new show, Rap Sh!t’s unique use of social media within the confines of the series and pushing HBO Max to a place it has never been, on more levels than one. The busy Hoorae Productions boss also spoke about those Emmy noms, what a second season could look like now that Rap Sh!t has received some big tax credits from the state of California this week, and how friendship is a fluid force.
DEADLINE: RapSh!t is your first big foray back to the small screen since the end of Insecure late last year, what’s that like for you?
ISSA RAE: I’m really excited. You know, I wrote it during the last season of Insecure, and I wanted to create something that made me feel like female rap music feels to me. Something that felt fun, that really chronicled the music industry and this time as a creative right now.
DEADLINE: Are you worried Insecure looms too heavy?
ISSA RAE: I want people to kind of divorce themselves from Insecure, in a way. Just experience these characters, these actresses kind of independently from that, but I know that that’s impossible, but I feel good. I feel happy, and I’m excited for them.
DEADLINE: In that, you’ve got a new show debuting, you are in the Barbie movie, AppleTV’s Roar, some Spidey, your ColorCreative Management, and Hoorae Productions are blowing up. That’s a lot of a lot …
RAE: I am in performance mode. I’m in performative mode. I’ve spent the last month just being myself and head down working, you know, with the exception of a couple pop-out appearances in there. I tend to be more of a recluse, and love to not be seen when I don’t have to be. Then when I do, I show out, and I’m very aware of how performative that is.
I’m very aware of, like, you know, how I can be perceived during those times, and in some ways, like, you know, it’s a game. It’s a system. It’s part of what it means to be a creative now, and I’m conscious of that, and I’m also fascinated by the way that other people use that. I could only be that for a limited amount of time, if at all, you know?
DEADLINE: Still, timing is looking pretty good for Rap Sh!t with a handful of Emmy nominations for Insecure, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Nice synchronicity, no?
RAE: (laughs) It feels amazing. I’m not even going to lie. Like, I wasn’t expecting a nod, much less three, and to have that is one thing…
DEADLINE: All well deserved.
RAE: Thank you, but to get it is one thing. Then, I’m excited about the platform to be able to speak about the new show, because that can’t be discounted. Like, the Emmy’s nomination, win, whatever, like, you get a whole new platform and obviously, some sort of industry validation. I think that that only helps to boost the other people that I’m trying to put a spotlight on, the other projects that I’m trying to put a spotlight on. So, I’m very happy.
DEADLINE: And Rap Sh!t seems to have taken an unconventional release path, at least for HBO Max? It’s like a meld of linear TV and streaming, if you know what I mean?
RAE: I’m so glad you highlighted that. We are the first show on HBO Max that’s going to have a weekly time. I love linear television. I loved that we were airing weekly, and I wanted people to experience the show together. So we’re airing at 6 p.m. Pacific / 9 p.m. Eastern every week, and that’s not standard for steaming shows. Usually, a show will drop at midnight and call it a day. So, I feel very special that we have this chance, that we’ll see how it works. We’ll see if it makes any difference in people watching, but you know, I wanted that blend.
DEADLINE: Watching the early episodes of Rap Sh!t, one of the things that we see evolve between KaMillion and Aida in their characters is the multiple levels of this friendship.
DEADLINE: An old and frayed friendship that become a professional relationship and then, of course, becomes a new kind of personal relationship. That’s a topic that you as a writer, as a producer, as a director, as a performer, come back to. How it was different dealing with those issues in Rap Sh!t as opposed to in Insecure?
RAE: I was really drawn to an Odd Couple dynamic. I love the idea of a friendship in business and also a strange old friendship in life. Like, you guys have had this history, you went to high school together. You were friends in high school, and you have a very specific idea and a very dated reference of your relationship, their respective personalities.
Like, I just reconnected with my middle school best friend…
RAE: Yeah. I had my certain impressions of her, but now, as I’m looking at her as an adult mother with children, it’s a whole new relationship. So, for the show, as the starting place to establish and forge a new relationship, friendship within this business experience really appealed to me,
DEADLINE: The gaze, fascination and fixation of social media play a huge part in Shawna and Mia’s personas, intentionally, as well as that of the narrative of Rap Sh!t. I have to say, I rarely see it used effectively in shows, it’s often treated as a gimmick, but here social is a character unto itself in many ways
RAE: Well, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to use the social media narrative to introduce our audience to these characters. Because, in so many ways, that is the way that we interact with people. That’s the way that we keep up with people, and that’s the way that we discover artists during this time.
So, presenting these superficial layers of them initially through this particular lens throughout the episodes, I wanted to peel back the layers on who they are as they start to rediscover each other. So, you’re learning more about them, and you’re learning more about their particular journey, as they’re learning more about each other, and as the story progresses and as their relationship attempts to deepen.
I would say the music industry serves as the backdrop of almost informing who they are or putting pressure on them to be a certain way. You have this façade that you’re presenting to the industry or to the audience that you’re building, that you’re almost forced to keep up, while you’re also trying to maintain this authentic friendship. There’s this push and pull dynamic or who you’re presenting to the outside world and who you’re supposed to be within this friendship, that we’re going to see explored over the next couple of episodes or the next part of the season.
DEADLINE: Talking about this season, let’s talk about next season. There’s been nothing official from HBO Max, but you guys did just score some nice tax incentives from the California Film Commission to relocate to the Golden State for a second season. So, what will a second season out West look like if it does take place?
RAE: (laughs) I can’t give you a sense without giving spoilers. I think once people get to the final episode, it’ll be very clear. So, get to the final episode. That’s my general call-out. I’m like, people, watch the show.
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