‘Rap Sh! t’ by Issa Rae is the show we thought ‘Atlanta’ would be

In 2015, FX announced their new comedy with a simple connecting line: “Atlanta revolves around two cousins ​​on their way through the Atlanta rap scene. This brief summary involved a different kind of show than the one Atlanta turned out to be: a goofy sitcom about a weird couple and their weekly misadventures. Donald Glover’s show turned out to be moodier and less linear than its description – or even its pilot – implied. Seven years later, however, this alternate version finally aired. Rap shit! swaps Atlanta for Miami and cousins ​​for distant high school friends. The series nonetheless shares a starting point with its predecessor and peer, even as it moves in its own direction.

Atlanta isn’t exactly short of successors: shows like Frame and Reservation dogs echo his wandering focus and bittersweet tone, while David is another rap saga led by its creator-star, even if Glover himself doesn’t like the comparison. Neither is Atlanta the only show to which Rap shit! has a more than passing resemblance. Created by Issa Rae, the HBO Max half hour is the highly anticipated sequel to Insecure, who recently completed a five-season run that made Rae a household name. (Rap shit! showrunner Syreeta Singleton served as editor for Insecurethe last two seasons.) The echoes are evident well before the credits: as Not sure, Rap Sh! you follows a deep and complex friendship between two young black women, set in a carefully researched context. Its episodes are even named in a similar style, all sharing the same slang tagline – in this case, “Something for the City” or “Something for the Girls”.

Rap shit! can ride Insecure, but its story is distinct and rooted in reality. The show fictionalizes the rapid rise of rap group Miami City Girls, of which JT and Yung Miami serve as executive producers. (As did Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas, co-founders of City Girls’ label Quality Control.) City Girls exploded in popularity in 2018, catching the attention of luminaries Drake, who featured the two on “In My Feelings,” to Rae, who put City Girls on the Insecure soundtrack before signing up to work with them. Their rise was made all the more remarkable by Yung Miami’s inexperience – she had never rapped so much in a bar before the summer of 2017 – and JT’s incarceration. As City Girls gained momentum, half of the duo were sentenced to two years in prison for credit card fraud; in a somewhat unfortunate moment, JT was released in March 2020.

Such a steep climb and bumpy road is clearly Hollywood catnip. Rap shit! nevertheless makes some modifications to this ready-to-use plan. Real city girls can have their differences – ‘Miami brings the glamor and I bring the attitude,’ says JT The cup– but they largely present themselves as a united front. When we meet Rap shit!of Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (KaMillion), they are not even close, let alone collaborators. Shawna is a dropout who works the front desk of the Plymouth Hotel in South Beach; she only reunites with Mia after several years when the single mother hits Shawna into a desperate bid for childcare. This incident announces Rap shit!is interested in the relationship between economic necessity and artistic inspiration. Rap is a passion, but it’s also a path forward and outward.

In some ways, Shawna and Mia match their real life counterparts. Mia has a lot of hustles, from makeup art to OnlyFans, but rapping isn’t one of them; she’s a rookie like Yung Miami, who also had to balance hip-hop with parenting a young child. Shawna, meanwhile, helps her colleague Maurice (Daniel Augustin) attract guests for extra cash. Anyone familiar with JT’s legal troubles will feel a nagging angst the first time they pocket plastic.

But Rap shit! also plays the contrast between the two to stir up conflict and bring out themes, often requiring some invention. Shawna may be a rapper, but she limits herself to socially conscious snoozers, posting masked videos to make an easy point about objectification. (Watching, a character asks, “Is this for, like, Women’s History Month?” personal and professional insecurity. As he books internships and flirts with classmates, she is still floundering.

Shawna keeps tabs on Cliff via FaceTime and Instagram Stories. These scenes are just an example of Rap shit!The stylistic hallmark of: a fluid, near-constant use of social media, woven seamlessly throughout eight episodes. (Reviews showed six ahead of time.) Pilot director Sadé Clacken Joseph, who has directed music videos and commercials for Common and TI, sets the tone, switching freely between Snapchats, Instagram Lives, phone footage and cam sessions. The show is not entirely set on screens, like friendless or all those special offers on Zoom at the start of the pandemic. Instead, it puts the internet on a par with real life. There are no sudden changes in aspect ratio to mimic the dimensions of a smartphone; the post-production team simply adds a few bars at the top of the screen for a Story, or a yellow button in the center for a Snap.

Rap shit!The use of online platforms is not only innovative. This is the key to the story he wants to tell about a world where influence and musical credibility are increasingly intertwined. Like Yung Miami and JT, Mia and Shawna arrive in a post-Cardi B universe, one where notoriety can come before a real work. Shawna brings the lyrical skill, but it’s Mia who comes with an online following, plus the understanding that everyone is a commodity whether they like it or not. “What’s wrong with niggas staring at you?” she asks Shawna, who prefers to rap about student loans. And for a show about digital natives, leaning into social media is as much a practical measure as it is a statement. After their first reunion, Shawna and Mia have a drunken heart-to-heart in Mia’s car, which they streamed in full on Instagram Live. They start freestyle and find the slogan that becomes their first single: “Seduce and Scheme”.

Whether Rap shit!The protagonists practicing what they preach is another central concern. Mia lectures her followers about not caring about broke suitors, but when the cameras are off, she argues over childcare costs with her daughter’s father. Shawna talks about a big game about female empowerment, but she’s still clinging to Cliff’s approval. (Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t really enjoy his new public persona.) Osman and KaMillion sell the central paradox of their characters. They are capable of confidence and crippling self-doubt in equal measure.

As Rap shit! pilot product, the contrast with Atlanta becomes particularly instructive. In this latest show, Paper Boi’s career takes on a life of its own, with his rise seemingly indifferent to the rapper’s effort or lack thereof. On Rap Sh!t, getting fat takes work— desperate and undignified work, where one small step forward can mean hunkering down. Entire episodes are dedicated to streaming “Seduce and Scheme” at the club or on a playlist. (Spotify, which owns The ring, is almost a character in itself.) If Atlanta is largely interested in the effects of fame, Rap shit! explores the courage and grind that may be the cause, though success is hardly guaranteed. Mia and Shawna start from the bottom. Wherever they end up, it’s a pleasure to watch them try.

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