Any artist will tell you that “making it” is a myth. Whether it’s music, dance, acting, writing, or anything else — there’s no point at which most people with a creative passion feel it entirely achieved and therefore no longer a priority. Ambition is a hungry beast with a growing appetite, and the standards for success change at every level — and differ between friends and collaborators, testing them every step of the way.
It’s a truth baked into Issa Rae’s “Rap Sh!t,” which premiered its second season on November 9. Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (KaMillion) are officially going on tour as a group, still miles from the kind of fame and acclaim they dream of, but clearly moving forward, even with a few steps back. “Rap Sh!t,” like “Atlanta” before it, doesn’t shy away from the girls’ increasing respect and access, but reminds viewers that the hardship isn’t over. While so many stories about struggling artists arbitrarily knock them down to build them back up, “Rap Sh!t” pushes its protagonists forward and finds new obstacles in their path.
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Another show that parallels while not directly mirroring this is “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” where Midge’s (Rachel Brosnahan) star rises over the course of the series. Much of the adversity she faces is from being a woman performing standup in a time where there were few others, which allowed the series to find various hindrances to her big break over the course of five seasons. A key element of this was that Midge made enemies; from Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) to Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), she let her ego stand in the way of her talent and where it could go.
An early scene in “Rap Sh!t” Season 2 shows Mia trying on dresses with friends who warn her that money goes fast — even tens of thousands of dollars that she didn’t have a week ago. There’s a pragmatic side to Mia, who notes that she has prepaid rent and tuition and signed up for all the streaming services — but also a side like Midge’s, one that just can’t envision a world where she and Shawna aren’t co-signed by the famous rapper they’re opening for, leading to more opportunities, more partnerships, and more checks. It’s the side that starts rubbing people close to her the wrong way.
For Mia, the shift between Seasons 1 and 2 is less financial and more internal. She struggles with the idea of selling out, of working with Reina Reign (Kat Cunning) and dressing up in aprons, pretending to cook crack on camera. She takes every critical comment personally because it hits right where she’s vulnerable — on the growing fear that she’s compromised her artistic integrity in favor of a wider audience and networking opportunities. In a way, her approach is the opposite of Mia’s; one of them lives and acts like she’s already made it, while the other feels like she never will and might no longer deserve to.
That disconnect might be at the core of the growing friction between them, which manifests in some unprofessional pettiness in Episode 2. Mia effectively ditches Shawna on stage and joins Reina in the spotlight, undermining their team philosophy. The tension also comes from Shawna pushing for the tour in the first place, a tour in which the girls don’t even get to perform both their songs and answer to Francois (Jaboukie Young-White), whom Mia and Chastity (Jonica Booth) don’t trust. But even that decision comes down to the same philosophical divergence: Shawna thinks of herself as a starving artist — even uses that exact phrase — and Mia thinks of herself as a star. The reality is in between and the girls are still recognizing that.
As Francois points out, the girls have built a following in Miami — perhaps leading to Mia’s overconfidence — but the professional rap scene is far bigger than just one city. The same path was laid out in “Atlanta,” with Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry) rising to fame in his community, and then the series followed along as he became a genuine international sensation — recognized on the street, but also not immune to the occasional harrowing episode in the woods or phone theft motivated by unbridled jealousy.
On “Rap Sh!t,” Shawna and Mia hit those milestones in their own way; currently important enough to get all-access passes at a concert, but still being questioned for credit card fraud. If the two of them and Chastity continue to diverge on key decisions and how they position themselves in the rap community, the road to success (whatever that means) will be an even steeper uphill battle. $30K and a tour is no slouch, but with the combined talent and tenacity of these three, the sky’s the limit.
“Rap Sh!t” airs Thursdays on Max.
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