Rap Sh!t, the newest HBO Max comedy from Issa Rae, made it’s splashy debut on Thursday night and let me just tell you right now: we’re in for a fun AF ride.
As you all very well know by now, the show is loosely based on the popular rap duo the City Girls (who also serve as co-EPs) and tells the story of two estranged high school friends from Miami who reunite to form a rap group. Fans were blessed with the first two episodes last night that did well to set the tone and premise for what we can expect as the rest of the series unfolds. So let’s get into it, shall we?
EPISODE 1: Something for the City
In episode one, we’re introduced to Shawna (Aida Osman); a struggling, woke AF rapper who’s waiting on her next big break while working the front desk at the Plymouth Hotel to make ends meet. After achieving viral success with one rap video two years ago, and after a deal gone bad with a manipulative manager, Francois Boom (Jaboukie Young-White), Shawna’s near her wit’s end and holding out hope that her friend—who works at Spotify—will be her gateway to success.
After her coworker, Maurice (Daniel Augustin), shows her a video of a successful, Black-fishing, white culture vulture rapper named Reigna Reign—whose done-up body, ass-shaking, and horrible baby-hair laced braids annoy the hell out of her—Shawna takes to IG Live to declare her retirement from the rap game. In doing so, she laments at the fact that most people are lying when they say they want to see something different from women rappers and argues that they only want to hear the same old, same old (a.k.a. pussy rap). She later reiterates her sentiments to her long-distance, wannabe Obama-esque boyfriend, Cliff, who’s studying up north at NYU. After the two argue, Shawna is left to spiral inwardly but not before she uploads credit card information that she stole to an anonymous connect in the hopes of getting some cash. (Shawna Thee Schemer in full effect, you’ll understand what I mean later.)
At the same time, we also meet Shawna’s future rap partner-in-crime, Mia (Kamillion). She’s the epitome of the modern “Instagram baddie,” with the high follower count, stellar hair and makeup skills, and a thick body-ody-ody to match. She’s also struggling to co-parent her young daughter with her aspiring music producer and mostly hands-off baby daddy, Lamont (RJ Cyler.) On the outside and on social media, Mia presents herself as a confident woman who doesn’t and won’t take no shit from a man who won’t do for her. But it’s in stark contrast to what she’s actually living, as she works three jobs to make ends meet while still essentially begging and waiting on Lamont to do the bare minimum to take care of his child.
When her baby daddy fails to come through yet again, Mia hits up Shawna as a last resort to watch her daughter at the Plymouth since she’s been hired to do makeup for a bachelorette party there. After Shawna reluctantly says yes, the two briefly reconnect and update each other about where they are now in their lives and respective careers. When Mia tells Shawna that she’s been keeping up with her raps, Shawna thanks her but not before going back into her anti-pussy rap rant about how bogus it is for girls to be out here shaking their asses but still expect to be taken seriously in the industry.
“The game is the game,” Mia retorts with a shrug before leaving to do her job. (That notion serves as a precursor to their eventual central conflict, but we’ll get more into that in episode two.)
The two reconnect later over drinks and a wild night out at The Office, a popular Miami strip club. They then drunkenly go on IG Live in the car after the festivities end and discuss a myriad of things—including the reasons why they fell apart after high school and their collective disappointment in how both their lives have turned out thus far. In an effort to lighten the mood, Mia urges Shawna to freestyle and she obliges with the catchy-ass song “Seduce and Scheme.” (Shawna thee Schemer plus Mia is the Seducer, let’s see how this pans out). The two then decide to start a rap group and are reaffirmed of their choices when the video of “Seduce and Scheme” goes viral on TikTok.
Episode 2: Something for the Girls
In the second episode, we see Shawna and Mia trying to capitalize on their newfound success. They meet up at Shawna’s makeshift studio to officially record “Seduce and Scheme,” but they run into a roadblock when the two can’t seem to agree on the direction of the song. While Mia wants something fun, sexy, and “in yo face,” Shawna is adamant about making a song that speaks to people’s lives. (OK, that’s all fine and dandy but, girl—rapping about Student Loans?? Hell no, dead that immediately.)
When Mia leaves out of frustration, it becomes abundantly clear that the two can’t and won’t see eye to eye unless they get clear on their motives. They also need to come to terms with how they want to present themselves to the public as a rap duo. The concept of public image comes back around when Shawna receives a phone call from Cliff who warns her of being seen with Mia after he discovers that she does OnlyFans on the side (I told you the girl has 3 jobs). Though Shawna rebuffs his insinuations, this stark contrast further adds to the conflict between our two newly reunited besties.
Over in Mia’s neck of the woods, she and Lamont attend a mini parent-teacher conference where they learn of their daughter’s affinity to anger outbursts but also her extreme smarts. This triggers Mia, and she’s instantly taken back to her own childhood and later laments to her mother about how her life would’ve turned out has she had teachers that “gave AF” about her.
Later, when she and Shawna meet up over drinks, they get into a mini argument about their rap group trajectory with both ladies standing strong on their stances. While Shawna asserts her refusal to make music that caters to what men want and want to see from female rappers, Mia challenges her when she argues that even in her quest to do so, she’s inadvertently still letting men control what she does. The ladies eventually agree to start over which sets the stage for the next six episodes.
Overall, this series is full of Twitter finger-worthy fodder and does well at exploring the double standard women in rap face. It also touches on the fractured relationship dynamics and how those can affect any and everything around. The myriad of subject matters are also often cleverly portrayed through the lens of social media which speaks to the somewhat performative nature of both our characters and society in general. And while the show moves pretty fast and has a lofty amount of topics it’s trying to cover, all in all, the sophomore show from Issa Rae is already proving to be one of the most fun, must-see TV shows this summer. Scoot over Hot Girl Summer—we’ve now officially entered Seduce & Scheme Season.
Rap Sh!t premieres Thursdays at 9p.m. ET only on HBO Max.