‘Rap Sh!t’ stars talk making Issa Rae laugh, chemistry and rap

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“Rap Sh!t,” Issa Rae’s new HBO Max comedy chronicling the upcoming hip-hop duo Shawna and Mia, does the most — in a good way. It’s a show about the hustle and bustle in Miami neighborhoods that you don’t see in Will Smith’s videos. It’s a show about how social media can be both your universe and your downfall. It’s a show about how friends rub against each other to buff or grind each other.

There’s a lot going on every half hour, but the message comes through like the opening beats of the girl group’s social media hit “Seduce and Scheme”: everyone’s trying to secure the bag. Rapping, trapping, going to law school? It’s all part of the game, and the show’s two main actors start at the “go”.

Starring Aida Osman as Shawna, the conscious rapper turned hotel concierge, and real-life rapper KaMillion as Mia, the single mom with as many hustles as there are bills to pay, “Rap Sh! t” is at its most sublime when the pair are together.

“I remember getting in the elevator and saying ‘g–d—, it’s Mia and Shawna,'” Osman, also the show’s screenwriter, said of his first read with KaMillion in front of the show’s producers who had Rae “cackling”. Osman and KaMillion spoke to The Washington Post about this instant connection and how it plays out on and off screen.

Q: Every character in the series works overtime, jostling each other to get ahead. Tell me about what it’s like for young women of color in the entertainment industry. Do you feel that too? Work twice as hard to be recognized?

Aida: Let me tell you why it’s a Milly [KaMillion] question. I like to rest. I like not to work. I love him so much. I love being in the writers room and filming our show, but beyond that, that entrepreneurial spirit is all about KaMillion. She’s going out now. I’m in my pajamas at 2 p.m.

KaMillion: If you don’t work and you don’t work these days? You’re broke, you’re miserable and you become a hater. Everyone tries to do it.

Q: But the show doesn’t take hustle culture as the norm. There are serious drawbacks.

KaMillion: People have this good face in public, but behind closed doors, everyone who invests knows that [it’s] hard to keep yourself in mental space to do so.

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Q: Social media is its own persona on the show. Has the series changed the way you operate online?

Aida: I’m sure the HBO Max promo team would be like “post more”. But for me the amount that I’ve changed as a person trying to control my own narrative and being like, I only post once every six months, with the show you can promote this thing amazing and beautiful that you’ve been working on for months and you have to learn to accept being seen. It’s in tandem with Shawna’s journey where she has to take off the mask and agree to be seen. I think I have the same background with my presence on social networks.

KaMillion: It’s real.

Q: KaMillion, you’re already someone who knows how skilfully navigate your online life. How have you changed? Have you ever wanted to be like Aida and not post for six months?

KaMillion: Even though I’m pretty savvy because I use it, technology is constantly changing, so now I have to learn another way. …I felt like I couldn’t live without it because I look at it like it’s my showcase. If I post a picture, for me it’s 20 bands [$20,000] for a reservation or a show. To me, it’s not just vanity, it’s my store, it’s how I make my money. But me and Aida are a lot alike, so I get it. Sometimes I want to be home and relax too, but I have to go to work.

Q: Talk more about your relationship off-screen, because on-screen it seems so simple. How was your first meeting?

Aida: I was so afraid of her. She was so cool. During the chemistry reading, she was just tucked away in a corner in that dope-a– red outfit, cross-legged, on her phone just a deep, thin, scary breath. I’m sure there was a lot of emotion in her at the time, but she kept that really cool, powerful face. And I was really drawn to that. For me, the best friendships, the best love you can have for people is when you say to yourself “I want to be like this person”.

KaMillion: I love you too. Even if we look a lot alike, we draw from a completely different atmosphere. … We simply complement each other and we also exchange roles. I love seeing her in her element. The other day she took me to this place where they make facial products. Just a few other s—. That’s what I like about her. She is doping. She is doping.

Q: Drawing from each other is another major theme of the series. For the most part, Shawna and Mia’s relationship is a boost for both of them. What can the series teach audiences about friendship?

Aida: It teaches people that we are not free from the influence of the people we hang out with, the people we share time with. See how much Shawna changes when she spends time with Mia? Physically, spiritually, emotionally, she changes. And this is also the case with Mia. You can see her becoming more in touch with her emotions and intellectual side and trying new things and learning how she deserves to be treated. Shawna teaches Mia how to be in her heart and Mia teaches Shawna how to be in her body.

KaMillion: I like this. I like this. What she said. She said it all.

Q: On the show, Shawna talks about how she saw her twenties turn out differently. What vision did your young people have of you? And are you there?

Aida: This is going to sound crazy: I thought I would be more successful than this. I’ll be honest, I thought I would have had a full-fledged career in music. I thought I would be on tour. I just had a different path for myself. But something happened in college where I decided I wanted to do stand-up instead. Acting and writing started to work for me. Then I magically found this show where I could do both things at once. Life chooses for you. You can just push in the direction you want to go, but you don’t become the person you wanted to be at 12. Otherwise, I would be Doja Cat.

KaMillion: [My younger self] looks like you did. It’s so crazy, but when I was a kid, that’s what I wanted to do. Where I come from, a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to grow it like that. It was definitely a dream. I used to be at my grandmother’s house, always singing into a brush. My life is really manifesting. And I feel like God is making it even bigger than I thought for myself. I do it. She would be proud of me.

Q: Speaking of protesting, tell us the names of your favorite female rappers who aren’t getting the shine they should.

KaMillion: Dolce isn’t getting the shine she should. I didn’t get the shine I should.

KaMillion: But we’re changing the narrative on that one. There are a lot of girls who are really fashionable, the girls score points on the board and do not attract the attention of the girls who stay on the blogs. Jucee Froot, Lakeyah, Latto. We all deserve so much more.

Aida: I love punk girls in rap. Bby Mutha and Bby Africka. These women who push the boundaries of what femininity looks like.

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