Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3/5
For most parts, HBO’s Rap Sh!t is piercingly about its women. It lives and breathes their insecurities, dreams, and complex predicament. Beyond those portraits, Rap Sh!t familiarizes us with the strong and emerging rap revolution in Miami, which is an exclusive club and not what it seems.
Creator Issa Rae does a tremendous job of tying up cultural points of the black community and fusing them with subtle comedy. The story of Shawna (Adia Osman) and Mia (KaMillion) takes place within this elaborate setup. But overall, the experience of watching the series is really specific and hardly universal. It seems tailor-made for a certain kind of audience that has prior exposure to this industry and its ways. And even the way the characters interact, and carry themselves; all the touchpoints seemed inaccessible to me.
Rap Sh!t falls in the same category as shows like P-Valley and Atlanta to some extent, though not even coming close to matching their quality, depth, or gravitas. Looking at the show from an objective lens is not readily possible for reviewers, given the above. Season 1 is a bit of a hit-and-miss from that perspective.
Another deterrent stems from how the narrative comes across as rather bland. There is no sense of anticipation or build-up in the storylines. There are hardly any compelling subplots to keep you on your toes. In fact, even when there is a little scope to flesh out an idea or develop a plot point, the show purposely looks the other way.
By doing this, the show misses out on capitalizing upon many interesting characters like Duke and Lamont and what they could represent. Shawna and Mia seem to take centerstage but most of their vulnerability on the screen comes from insecurities about their obsession with social media.
There have been quite a few shows in the recent past that have kept this idea in front of them while writing the episodes. Digital has become a large theme that filmmakers want to explore and base their stories around. To manifest this in the most basic form, both our protagonists – and mostly everyone else – are shown to communicate through the screen of their phones. At all times, there is some sort of recording going on to upload or use on the live stream. This almost becomes an overused stereotype as opposed to something effective. As the season wears on, the use becomes lesser and in hindsight, probably was the right choice.
Rap Sh!t tries to distinguish itself with a strong representation of empowered women making their own decisions in life. The added color of the rap industry and how it works to weed out the weak players gives an exciting dimension for first-time viewers. Mia’s arc is probably the more endearing of the two, although the tables are turned at the start of the season. She begins to sort her life out and discovers her penchant for writing music that has a quick sell value.
Shawna’s arc sort of denigrates through the choices she makes to morph herself according to industry norms, and somewhere loses her way. The ending to season 1 confirms this reversal in fates and if there is a season 2, it will be a contrasting tale.
However pretty or ugly, both character depictions have enough flavor and dazzle to hold the exposition part quite well. As I said, it does feel a bit stereotypical but we haven’t seen characters like this before. Some part of them is real. Shawna’s dreams and frustrations; Mia’s struggling domestic life; Chastity’s wound-up identity crisis; most of these dimensions have a universal appeal that we could all relate to. But they aren’t quite fleshed out to produce consistently probing material.
They are very brief moments in a plethora of other instances and feel drained out. Visually, the double entendre of the iPhone and camera is actually a bit disengaging. There seems to be confusion about which choice to make as both present different opportunities for stylizing the story.
Overall, the first season feels a bit disappointing. It lacks earnest substance and mostly went over my head with almost everything it threw in terms of story, characters, and setting. Rap Sh!t will only please or speak out to a certain kind of audience who are familiar with the culture and the mechanics of this new-age music. For old souls and those looking for somber narratives, this one certainly isn’t for you.
Verdict - 6/10