Type keyword(s) to search

Recommended: Rap Sh!t on HBO Max

Issa Rae's new series about rising female rappers is morally complex and fully engrossing.
  • Aida Osman and KaMillion in Rap Sh!t (Photo: Alicia Vera/HBO Max)
    Subscribe to Primetimer's Recommended newsletter and get our guide to the very best series, movies and specials in your inbox every Friday.
    Rap Sh!t Season 1 | HBO Max
    Half-Hour Dramedy (8 Episodes) | TV-MA

    What's Rap Sh!t About?

    Estranged high school friends Shawna and Mia are both living dead-end lives in Miami, so when a video of them rapping goes viral, they reunite to chase success in the music industry.

    Who's involved?

    • The series is created by Issa Rae. With Insecure having just ended on HBO, she's using this HBO Max project to create a drama with touches of comedy instead of the other way around.
    • Aida Osman, a writer on HBO's lady skateboarder series Betty, makes her acting debut as Shawna, who regrets dropping out of college years ago to pursue a rap career. She wants to make socially conscious music, but she knows the industry prefers women who sexualize themselves.
    • Real-life rapper KaMillion, who appeared on Love and Hip-Hop: Miami, plays Mia, a former stripper who's working several jobs and running an OnlyFans page while she raises her young daughter.
    • Stand-up comic Jonica Booth, who appeared on Oxygen's reality series Bad Girls Glub, is Chastity, although everyone calls her Duke. She's a club promoter, a pimp, and an all-around hustler who wants to become Mia's manager.
    • Devon Terrell (Netflix's Cursed) is Cliff, Aida's long-distance boyfriend. He's in school in New York City, living the kind of upwardly mobile life that Shawna imagined for herself.
    • RJ Cyler (Scream: The TV Series) is Lamont, a music producer and the father of Mia's child. He seems like a king on social media, but in real life he's dead broke and running out of hope.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    HBO Max is calling Rap Sh!t a comedy, but while it certainly has jokes, it's probably best described as a half-hour drama about people trying to escape their stultifying lives. It's compelling because it's so uneasy, creating a world of artistic strivers who make dangerous and self-defeating choices in the name of their dreams.

    Take Shawna: She's a receptionist at a nice hotel, and she makes extra money by selling guests' credit card information. Meanwhile, she posts videos of herself rapping about politics and feminism, uses her friends and acquaintances to try to boost her career, and does her best to stay connected to Cliff while he's off doing exciting things. Osman plays her with earnestness and anxiety, which makes her an empathetic character you want to yell at to pull her life together.

    Meanwhile, Mia is frank, funny, and kind, but she's being used or undervalued by everyone in her life. When she starts rapping with Shawna, we see her light up with confidence, yet the show makes it clear she's going to have to fight hard to break away from the people who take advantage of her. One of those people is Duke, but by episode three, we're shown enough of her own rough personal life to appreciate why she's scrambling so hard to get ahead.

    Duke embodies the show's refusal to villainize or mock its characters, which makes it all the more engrossing and complex. This is not a soap opera like Empire or Nashville, where the music business is a backdrop for deliciously over-the-top shenanigans. It's a raw investigation of how professional ambition can embolden and warp us in equal measure. Anyone who's ever chased a creative career will likely see shades of themselves.

    The filmmaking adds to the discombobulation. In the first two episodes especially, many scenes are depicted as social media videos and livestreams, which makes it feel like we're only seeing how these characters perform their identities online. When moments of un-curated reality break through, they're jarring, and as the season continues, these "real moments" start to dominate the visual language. It's a tantalizing suggestion for how the series itself will make its characters face the reality of getting what they want.

    Pairs well with

    • Hustle and Flow (available for purchase on Amazon), the Oscar-winning and affecting 2005 film about a pimp who's trying to rap his way out of poverty.
    • Look at Me: XXXTentacion, Hulu's documentary about the late, troubled rapper that also uses social media videos to make some of its arguments.
    • We Are Lady Parts (Peacock), a brilliant, hilarious, and under-seen comedy about Muslim women who start a punk band.

  • Rap Sh!t (Season 1)
    The first two episodes premiere July 21 on HBO Max. New episodes Thursdays through September 1.
    Created by: Issa Rae.
    Starring: Aida Osman, KaMillion, Jonica Booth, Devon Terrell, and RJ Cyler.
    People are talking about Rap Sh!t in our forums. Join the conversation.

    TOPICS: Rap Sh!t, HBO Max, Aida Osman, Devon Terrell, Issa Rae, Jonica Booth, KaMillion, RJ Cyler