‘Something for the City’
We’re in Miami and the party is just getting started as we open episode 1 of Rap Sh!t, At the Plymouth Hotel, receptionist Shawna Clark is identified as “that girl from the rapper video” by a customer. Shawna explains that she keeps on releasing new music under The Vision.
A peek into her Instagram shows Shawna as a serious-minded and plain rapper focused on her lyricism, instead of showing skin. She even wears a mask to cover up her face while recording her videos. She is a struggling artist and hasn’t caught a break yet. Jill Griffin is an acquaintance who works with Spotify.
Shawna messages her asking about the progress on the clip she sent to Jill to give to Crystal. The next person we meet in the first episode is Maurice, Shawna’s fellow receptionist, and good friend. He jokes around with the people staying at the hotel and is a jovial character.
Chastity is next. It is difficult to comment on her personality and the way she is because her appearance is brief. But she seems like a hustler, trying to get the VIPs staying at the hotel to hang out with her. She is more affably called “the Duke of Miami”.
During her lunch break, Shawna receives a call from Mia Knight, an old high school friend who she doesn’t keep up with. Mia asks if she is still working at the Plymouth and requests Shawna to watch her daughter while she does makeup for some clients at the hotel. Shawna has no option but to accept, being put on the spot like that. A trend in the first episode, at least, is that every new character we meet, we are introduced through their Instagram account.
First, we saw Jill, then Chastity, and now Mia Knight. Maurice and Shawna record a reaction video to Reina Reign’s new rap song. They watch the video and hardly recognize Reina, who has gone through plastic surgeries and has even gone the Michael Jackson way to darken her skin color. Maurice laments Shawna’s lack of putting herself out there, physically.
With her talent, writing & rapping skills, she’d easily go viral. Next in line is Cliff Lewis, Shawna’s boyfriend who studies law at NYU. Fatima Assan is a fellow student in Cliff’s class and flirts with her in the Instagram video.
When Shawna revisits Reina’s video, she also notices Francis Boom. According to Maurice, he is a producer and helped Reina get out there. Shawna and Francois have some unforgettable history, which we will know about probably later in the series.
Shawna is distraught with her lack of success and the public response to her evocative work. She lives the “rap shit”, while the public’s favorites (like Reina) are doing “the bare minimum with no originality”. She is tired of being stepped on and ignored by the people. And by the end, she announces her retirement from rapping. Cliff video calls her while she records and misconstrues her changing clothes as their night for virtual sex. But Shawna shoots him down, saying she doesn’t feel like it and that they’re meeting soon anyway. The mood deteriorates a bit as they fight about Fatima and Cliff’s photos.
Shawna opens a video on her laptop from the hotel where a customer picks a fight with her and screenshots the details on her credit card. It is a side hustle that she runs with an “anonymous” partner of taking money out of the cards illegally. Shawna sees Mia’s Instagram videos from the day doing makeup and asks her out for drinks. Mia receives the message but switches tabs to a live stream chat app where she performs for her adult viewers.
She angrily calls Lamont, her daughter’s father, but he is busy recording a video and deflects his responsibility. They fight about his involvement and the lack of monetary support he is giving them. Mia replies to Shawna that she will come along. They have drinks, then visit a strip club.
The adventurous and fun night ends with Shawna live streaming a conversation she has with Mia. The two friends were distanced after high school. Mia felt like Shawna considered herself above others because she was different and went to college. Shawna reveals that she was never able to finish college, though.
The reason was Francois Boom, who manipulated her at the time and took advantage. Mia also confesses that she strips at The Office to make extra money. It is an honest moment between the two friends that hits you hard. The close is even more precious as the two bond over the “Seduce and Scheme” rap that they did when they were younger.
The next morning, Shawna sees the immense response the live stream video got from the people. “The game is the game” is an extremely powerful truth bomb that Mia delivers in the first episode. It sort of sets the tone for the show – the struggle of talent vs. what people want to see. What this also does is expose people’s hypocrisy. They say they want to try something different and see more powerful rappers but continue to ignore their works at the same time. The very preference to see mainstream, commercially sexualized works over the “woke” stuff, while demanding something “woke” bares it all.
The Episode Review
Rap Shit’s season premiere starts off with electric energy. Issa Rae’s fun-filled tone is inspired by the age of the internet. Everything we see is through the lens of platforms like Instagram stories and videos, FaceTime, and adult live streams. The language of communication has changed drastically.
First impressions are now gauged through online profiles and the type of content one puts out and likes. Rap Sh!t is aware of that and introduces us to each character using that medium. KaMillion and Aida Osman hit it off together in the first episode. Their partnership that bookended the first episode can be the start of something amazing for their characters and the viewers. Even before I started watching it I felt it might be something like Atlanta for female rappers. But to my surprise, it is not as serious-minded and chooses a completely different path of storytelling.
There is a slight undercurrent of more solemn themes but it is not strong enough to overshadow the zany, wonderous spirit of living life. Miami will prove to be a happening destination and we can already see how it changes the vibe. Episode 1 gets straight to the point and is kind of a renaissance moment in modern television. It is something new and instantly exciting, holding a lot of promise for the remainder of the season. A great start!
You can read our full season review for Rap Sh!t here!