In a Grittier Season 2 of Issa Rae’s ‘Rap Sh!t,’ Aida Osman and KaMillion’s Hip-Hop Duo Get Closer to Their Dream
Chasing after dreams has become its own cliché. But because it’s so human, it rarely fails to grab an audience. “Rap Sh!t” premiered last year as a classic underdog story set in the Miami hip-hop scene told with the authenticity of a documentary. Created by Issa Rae, it’s the kind of series where characters engage much more than the recognizable storyline. You have to like a dreamer to root for them. Aida Osman and KaMillion are wonderfully driven, flawed and brimming with talent. They become relatable while tapping into that frustration of having great talent that is yet to be appreciated. Season two has even more infectious energy as it returns to that timeless lesson of “be careful what you wish for.”
We’re back with rap duo Shawna (Osman) and Mia (KaMillion), who have built a following the best way new artists know how, online. They’re about to go on tour while still seeking a real spotlight. For now, the pair gets to dance in the music video for Reina Reign (Kat Cunning). For Shawna, it’s frustrating to essentially be the backup act for a lesser rapper. Heightening the pressure is that Reina’s producer, Francois Boom (Jaboukie Young-White), is having a cocky standoff with Shawna and Mia’s manager, Chastity (Jonica Booth). He keeps making fake promises about recording an EP and making millions. As every artist knows, real life also has a habit of intruding. Shawna is now a person of interest in an ongoing fraud investigation into her former workplace, Plymouth Hotel on South Beach. The situation only makes her enthusiasm wane despite the upcoming tour. And, at home, Mia is getting no respect from her drunken mother (Bobbi Baker).
It’s always refreshing to watch a show written with the idea that it takes life seriously. Visually, “Rap Sh!t” dumps a lot of the flashy social media aesthetic from last season, because now that Shawna and Mia’s dreams feel ever closer, they are also being shaken sober by reality. Shawna knows she can out-rap Reina, whose music video is a ridiculous riff on the hyper-sexualized, gun-toting nature of street rap. But it’s easy to get distracted by problems like the fraud investigation. At least she has a partner like Mia to endure everything they now have to face. Playing second fiddle means dealing with filthy hotels and the misogyny overwhelmingly present in the rap world. Male rappers like to play abusive games on female groupies in concert venue green rooms that test Shawna’s patience. Reina can barely sound coherent while doing radio interviews. Inevitably Shawna and Tiffany get lost in the middle of nowhere because opening acts are easily forgotten by big-headed artists. The comedy keeps it moving with wit, or just plain hilarity (“a Proud Boy is trying to fuck me!”).
There’s a great scene where Shawna and Chastity are stuck on a roadside and Shawna yells, “This is not my dream! It shouldn’t be this hard!” Anyone who has ever pursued an artistic career can relate to that statement. There’s still plenty of room in the tight writing for matters of the heart, such as Mia feeling conflicted about her relationship with her child’s father, Lamont (RJ Cyler). The fraud investigation leads to wrenching moments between Shawna and Maurice (Daniel Augustin), who she knows might go down for their credit card scheme. Social commentary is also expertly included. A shotgun-wielding Karen scares Shawna and Chastity with bitingly funny results. Once the tour kicks off and Shawna and Mia open for Lord AK (Jacob Romero Gibson), the series explores the very nature of social media advertising. No matter what hardships or annoyances the women face on the road, their social media pages make the tour look like an endless, glorious party. Mia also falls into a new relationship that might get derailed by one easy texting mistake.
Music is, of course, key to the atmosphere of this series, with the rap group City Girls still serving as executive producers, though the most memorable track might be Reina’s absurd hit, clearly satirizing artists like Iggy Azalea. But what we care most about are Shawna and Mia and how changed they will be at the end of this season. “Rap Sh!t” returns as an even stronger celebration of the Black American female in hip-hop, while universally channeling the harsh realities of chasing a vocation that requires more than just a job application or degree. These women have the talent, but life isn’t always fair, the less talented can rise faster and one bad decision can ruin everything. The beats are killer but it’s the heart of this series that makes it a hit.
“Rap Sh!t” season two begins streaming Nov. 9 with new episodes premiering Thursdays on Max.