Issa Rae is no stranger to the spotlight.
The actress and writer shot to stardom as the creator and star of HBO’s Insecure, which ran for five seasons from 2016 to 2021 and earned her four Emmy nominations, and she’s used that meteoric ascent as inspiration on her new show Rap Sh!t, which premieres July 21 on HBO Max.
Rap Sh!t follows the the journey of Mia (KaMillion) and Shawna (Aida Osman), two estranged high school friends in Miami who reunite to form a rap group. As Mia and Shawna gain popularity, they become entrenched in the constant battle to have a dynamic social media presence in order to establish relevancy. It’s a struggle that Issa knows all too well.
“There is definitely that pressure on the personal side. I tend to be online more when I have something to promote,” Issa exclusively told E! News. “When I don’t, I like to live and not really think about that.”
Issa and Rap Sh!t both recognize the power in controlling your own social media narrative—with the understanding that it’s often just a façade.
“It can be deceptive. We’re all just comfortable with that kind of deception,” Issa said. “There’s something fascinating about playing in those areas. We watch Shawna and Mia navigate that. Shawna is miserable that she is where she is, and she has to get on posting and putting on a great face like, ‘This is my music!’ She’s tired that she’s not getting the engagement that she would normally get.”
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The prevalence of social media also makes it much more difficult—or impossible, in some cases—to hide.
“That’s new for this era. Other artists would be like, ‘I’m playing little venues, I have a different metric for success,'” Issa said. “But now we have a public metric of success and we have public crucifixion. There’s a different standard.”
Rap Sh!t showrunner and former Insecure writer Syreeta Singleton argues that entertainers are no longer permitted to be private and one-dimensional, which has led to a shift in how art is discovered.
“I think it puts pressure on artists to be good at so many different things,” she told E! News. “There’s so much to juggle and so much to manage. One thing I noticed is that I was starting to discover artists’ stories before their music, like, ‘Oh, this person is known because they did this thing or they were in this fight,’ and that’s what I hear before I actually hear the music.”
Issa has confronted the same thing in seeking out artists herself.
“I remember this dude whose music I really liked, I started to follow him and research him and I was like, ‘Oh, his follower account is really low,'” she said. “Questions pop into your mind like, ‘Why don’t more people know him? What does that mean? Is his music not really that good?'”
While Issa no longer needs to rely on social media in order to introduce herself and her art to the world, she also understands that immediate reaction online can make-or-break a new show.
“People are going to look at the comments and look at what other people are saying. They might affect how they feel about it,” she said. “If they liked it initially and they see that someone else they respect doesn’t like it, that changes. There’s this unspoken, but spoken, discussion that happens with social media criticism and media consumption.”
Find out if Mia and Shawna make it out alive when new episodes of Rap Sh!t drop Thursdays on HBO Max.
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