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In less than a decade, Issa Rae has shifted the culture in entertainment. Utilizing technology and her vast network of creatives, the Inglewood native has built an empire by creating culturally relevant content; and facilitating dreams in digital, TV, film and music.
Born Jo-Issa Rae Dio, the talent began acting in high school and followed that passion into college where she began making music videos, writing, and directing stage plays and even creating a reality TV show. She is a shining example of using what you have to make your dreams come true.
The power of YouTube helped Rae bring the visions in her head to life and it gained her a loyal following that has only multiplied over the years. Essentially, she created her own network, and produced talk shows and behind-the-scenes content following the success of “The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl.” This breakout web-series was the recipient of the coveted Shorty Award for Best Web Show in 2013.
At 35 years old, Rae now has two Golden Globe Awards nominations for Best Actress and a Primetime Emmy Awards nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her hit HBO show “Insecure.” She’s made Forbes “30 under 30” and Entertainment Weekly’s “Breaking Big” lists. Her first book is a New York Times Best Seller, and she’s starring as the lead actress in the romantic drama The Photograph.
While she’s yet just beginning to build a legacy, here are seven reasons Issa Rae is already a legend.
1. She’s Creating Jobs for Black People in TV and Film
Remember when Rae said the infamous quote, “I’m rooting for everybody black” at the 2017 Emmys? Well, she’s putting her money where her mouth is by working to make room for more writers and directors, who are typically underrepresented.
Her production company, ColorCreative, was founded in 2014 with the mission to create more visibility and opportunities for women and minority writers within and outside of the existing studio system. Rae and her partner Deniese Davis make opportunities accessible to emerging talent through various events, workshops, contests and a referral network.
In 2018, Columbia Pictures signed a multiyear production pact with ColorCreative as a part mentorship program/part studio diversity initiative allowing selected participants to work with the star and the studio to bring their original ideas to life. “Love in America,” a romantic musical, is the first feature film from ColorCreative.
2. She’s Self-Made
Rae acts, produces, directs, and writes. And as impressive as that already is, she continues to add titles to her resume and cross industries. In 2019, she launched her own record label, RAEDIO, in partnership with Atlantic Records.
Rae’s flagship artist, TeaMarrr, who is a Haitian-American singer-rapper, caught her eye after her independently released single “One Job” gained 1.2 million streams. Upon signing, TeaMarr performed her debut single on the RAEDIO imprint, “Kinda Love,” at the 2019 Soul Train Awards. Rae actually stars in the music video for that song — almost as a co-sign.
Fans can feel the impact music plays in Rae’s career from the computer screen to the TV. Since her dorm room days at Stanford University, she has been finding her place in the music industry by producing freestyle rap videos with her classmates. Song titles include “F*uck You, Bitch” and “Nani Pop,” inspired by Trina, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, according to Issa herself. So, pretty much the mirror raps we hear her spit in “Insecure” are more than comic relief for her on-screen character. They reflect the real her from way back.
Her business ventures continue to expand beyond entertainment. Whether you’re a “starving artist” lacking a proper workspace or you’re burning the candle at both ends and need a pick-me-up to get through the rest of your day, coffee is the one thing that brings many creatives together.
Naturally, Rae — who says she’s done all of her writing in coffee shops — joined forces with LA co-founders Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos to open two Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen locations: One in View Park and in Downtown Inglewood.
In an interview, Rae spoke of the Inglewood location: “I’ve always wanted a coffee shop in my neighborhood. Coffee shops facilitate productivity in so many ways, they facilitate collaboration.” She continued: “It always disappointed me that there weren’t any that were black-owned (or) people of color-owned in my neighborhood… I just feel like it’s so important to have these spaces where you feel safe where you can be creative, and have a sense of comfort. To know that it’s your space.” That’s why you’ll find quotes painted along the 3,500-foot cafe that read, “Keep your head up” and “We’re all in this together.”
3. She’s Woke
From her natural hair to her social media clap back game, Rae’s third eye is wide open and she’s not afraid to show it.
Following the police shooting of Baton Rouge man Alton Sterling in 2016, she helped raise $714,413 to create a college fund for his children. The hyphenate leveraged her influence to spearhead a GoFundMe campaign with an original goal of $200,000. The campaign quickly caught attention and collected $100,000 in donations in only six hours.
Stunned by the response, Rae updated the page with this message: “My mom, upon hearing about this fund, called this new movement a form of #EconomicAnger. It’s clear that our dollars (whether through boycotting or through united contributions) are sometimes the loudest way to make our voices heard. We will stand together and we will help our own until we’re able to effectively change this system for the better,” she said.
Similarly, at the top of this year, Rae made headlines for an off-the-cuff comment that rang too true to overlook. As she was presenting the list of nominees for the Best Director category of the 92nd Academy Awards she said, “Congratulations to those men” drawing attention to the fact that there wasn’t one woman nominated in the category. She has a way of calling attention to injustices that make people listen and we stan a woke queen.
4. She’s Educated
Issa Rae is Ivy League, okay?! She earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Stanford University in 2007. The institution ranks as one of the world’s top universities due to its competitive nature with a 5 percent acceptance rate and 94 percent graduation rate.
Rae stayed true to her roots and majored in African-American Studies. This self-awareness helped influence her art early on. As a student, she produced her first series ever, “Dorm Diaries.” The reality TV-style show documented the experience of being black at Stanford.
Other famous black alumni include recording artist Jidenna, professional golfer Tiger Woods; and the first black woman to travel space, engineer and NASA astronaut Mae C. Jameson.
5. She’s a Household Name (and Voice)
Imagine Rae waking you, telling you the weather or reminding you of your to-do list for the day. Well, she’s one of a select few celebrities to lend her voice to the Google Assistant. After 40 hours of recording “random sentences,” artificial intelligence allows her to offer quotes, sing a song or even provide dating advice at the sound of your voice.
You mix this fact in with her successes — and future ones — in the TV/film industry and Rae is on the fast track to being a global entertainment phenom.