On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN welcomed renowned writer and actress Issa Rae to discuss her new HBO series “Rap Sh!t,” favorite movies and TV shows, accomplishments, and more.
Born Jo-Issa Rae Diop in Los Angeles, California, the cultural icon began acting in high school, which proved to be a successful avenue in her later years. As a student at Stanford University, she produced many successful works, including a music video, play, and comedy reality series called “Dorm Diaries.” As a result of this, she was able to connect with Tracy Oliver, who was instrumental in the creation of her acclaimed YouTube web series “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl” in 2011. It ran for two seasons with the second and final being picked up by Pharrell Williams’ multimedia collective, i am OTHER.
By 2013, Issa Rae and renowned comedian Larry Wilmore began collaborating on “Insecure,” which partially drew inspiration from her aforementioned series “Awkward Black Girl,” depicting the struggles of a modern African-American woman. The pilot was picked up by HBO at the beginning of 2015, and the series launched on Oct. 9, 2016. It served as a first for Rae and for HBO — the network had never before had a program developed by and starring a Black woman. Spanning five seasons and a whopping 44 episodes, “Insecure” was lauded by viewers and critics alike, winning and earning nominations for several awards.
In between her hit series, Rae also released her 2015 memoir “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”; launched her very own record label, Raedio, in a joint venture with Atlantic Records; and inked a five-year film and television deal with Warner Media through her production company Hoorae. Over the course of her career, Rae has proven herself to be an independent thinker of the highest caliber who is dedicated to advancing television’s portrayal of Black women. These ideas are also present in her newest HBO Max series, “Rap Sh!t,” which premiered in July. The six-episode series chronicles two former high school classmates who reconnect to establish a rap group in Miami and pursue a career in the music business — a fictional depiction of contemporary rap duo City Girls, who serve as executive producers.
Below are nine interesting facts we learned from Issa Rae’s “Drink Champs” interview. Check them out and be sure to tune into the full episode here.
1. On “Rap Sh!t” being based on the current women in hip hop
Issa Rae’s newest series for HBO Max, “Rap Sh!t,” pays homage to modern-day female rappers whilst delving into the double standards, gender dynamics, and relationships that shape the hip hop industry from the inside out. As executive producers, JT and Yung Miami’s City Girls are fictionalized on the show through main characters Shawna Clark and Mia Knight as they navigate the industry. When discussing the show, Issa Rae explained that it draws influence from numerous women who shaped the genre, both past and present. “Even with this show, we took elements of so many female rappers to tell this story. I wanted it to feel like the now,” Rae said.
“We took influence from Noname, Tierra Whack. Missy [Elliott] is [Mia’s] hero on the show. She’s influenced by the Lauryn Hills,” she continued. “I feel like you can’t discover artists if you don’t have social media. That’s the best way to discover artists. That’s how you know their personalities. I feel like I know these artists better than anything, and I know their personalities more than music. It makes me feel, like, an ownership over them because I’ve seen their rise. I’ve seen their ascension.”
2. On “Insecure” character Lawrence resonating with so much of the show’s male audience
In the first season of “Insecure,” one of the main characters, Lawrence, was Issa Dee’s (played by Rae) long-term boyfriend — until they broke up in a tumultuous fashion due to Issa cheating on him. Since then, Twitter users’ allegiances have been clearly divided between “Team Lawrence” and “Team Issa” up until the show’s finale in 2021. In regard to the series, Rae shared that she was enthusiastic that viewers saw a piece of themselves in Ellis’ character. “I love that so many men found themselves in him, and they felt so betrayed. Like, ‘The nerve of this girl cheating on him … a good man!’ And he is, but he had his issues,” Rae added. The actor also admits that she received a lot of insults on social media following the season’s finale.
3. On not having anything prepared when HBO called to create a series
Despite Rae’s “Insecure” being a major hit within the world of streaming, the actor shared that she didn’t have the idea for the TV series when HBO originally reached out. “I got a call from my managers that HBO reached out and they were like, ‘What do you have? Do you have anything for us?’ That’s when I was like, ‘I’ll get something ready for you guys.’” When asked if she had “Insecure” prepped or anything in mind, Rae revealed that she essentially started from scratch: “No! I didn’t have anything and even what I ended up pitching has evolved so much. It was called ‘Non-Profit’ when I first pitched it.”
4. On getting married privately and whether she plans on having children
Issa Rae has always been private about her personal relationships, and her marriage to Louis Diame is no exception. As early as March 2019, rumors started to circulate that she was engaged to her longtime boyfriend Diame. Rae posted images from her wedding in Cannes, France on July 26, 2021 — along with photos of her strapless gown — on Instagram, revealing the happy news to her followers.
“He’s a very strong man, yes. [The wedding] was in Cannes, France,” Rae remarked. Later in the interview, she shared whether she plans on having children, “It feels like it’s an all or nothing situation so I don’t know … Even when Cardi B was pregnant, people were like, ‘The b**tch done ruined her career’ and that’s not true. But that’s how I think about it.”
5. On Pharrell Williams funding the second season of “AWKWARD Black Girl”
Issa Rae’s acclaimed series “The Mis-Adventures of AWKWARD Black Girl” ended after two seasons in 2013. Season one of the comedy series was seen by over 12 million people on the original channel before it was picked up by Pharrell Williams‘ i am OTHER YouTube channel. Rae revealed that the artist and entrepreneur provided funding for it and did extensive promotion for the show’s second season.
“He watched the first season of ‘AWKWARD Black Girl’ and just gave it so much love, and was like, ‘I’m doing a venture.’ It was a top-secret venture at the time and he was like, ‘Yo, if I do this, I would love to bring this on.’ I was like, ‘That’s amazing because we don’t have any money to do a second season, so if you can make that happen …’ So, he took ‘AWKWARD Black Girl’ under his i am OTHER umbrella and we just got our entire second season funded,” Rae explained. “He was promoting the s**t out of it, and that’s when other bigger outlets got wind of it, and it just gave us press on a bigger platform. Shout out to him, he’s just always ahead of the curve with everything that he does.”
6. On feeling like she has so much more to accomplish
Issa Rae has been making waves in the entertainment industry ever since she first hit the scene thanks to her critically acclaimed online series and its accompanying New York Times best-seller, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” Since then, she has become even more well-known thanks to her role as creator, co-writer, and actress in “Insecure,” for which she has been nominated for several awards. Though she has already opened doors and paved the way for many young actors, Rae believes she is destined for much greater things.
Speaking on her career trajectory, she shared, “I feel like I have so much more to do. I’ve only written one TV show — now two. All that I have right now has come from a web series and one TV show. I haven’t done a movie yet. As far as me as a creative, I haven’t done so much, so I feel like there’s just so much more for me to do and do well — and even outside of the entertainment industry. I feel very much like I’m just getting started.”
7. On the Betty White controversy at the 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards
People on social media were seemingly outraged when Rae was filmed checking her phone as Betty White took the stage at the 2018 Emmys after receiving a standing ovation. Following the events, Rae explained on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” that she looked down at her phone as White was talking because her family texted her. She confirmed that she was indeed paying attention despite Twitter users saying otherwise. Later in the interview, the entertainer briefly detailed the situation and the aftermath of it all.
“I was at the Emmys and my family was texting me like, ‘Yo, you at the Emmys.’ I think I had just lost or maybe my award was coming up and I was responding to them, and then Betty White was on stage. But I was still very present, but I got a lot of backlash like, ‘You disrespecting Betty White you b**ch,” she revealed.
8. On her mom accusing her of producing porn with “Insecure” and “Rap Sh!t”
“Insecure” has proven to be a global success owing to its realistic depiction of Black culture in the modern world, and the sex scenes interspersed throughout contribute to that authenticity. While viewers and fans of the series may like the provocative scenes, Rae’s mother does not. The actress revealed that her mother was displeased by the show’s sex scenes in season two — to the point that she completely stopped watching it:
“My mom is very like, ‘I didn’t know this,’ but she’s conservative low-key when it comes to sex. I was sitting next to her at the premiere of ‘Rap Sh!t’ … First of all, for ‘Insecure,’ it was me. I’m in it. Growing up, we couldn’t watch PG-13 movies if I wasn’t 13. I did [sex scenes in ‘Insecure’], which was new to me. With ‘Insecure,’ the moment where she stopped and where she texted and was like, ‘I’m not going to watch it because you’re basically making porn’ was probably around season two. She was like, ‘I’m not watching it anymore,’ and that like hurt my feelings low-key.”
9. On getting to do the vocal performance for Spider-Woman
Issa Rae has officially entered the Spider-Verse. The actress was cast as Jessica Drew, or Spider-Woman, in the sequel to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. The film is set to premiere in 2023 and will include returning voice actors Shameik Moore as Miles Morales and Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy. Midway through the conversation, Rae discussed landing the role and how the opportunity arose.
Speaking about working on the animated film, Rae told N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, “I’ve been a Spider-Man fan since I was in the third grade. I’m Spider-Woman. We have done a lot of the work, they’ve done most of the animation, I have one more … well, I don’t know if it’s one more session. What’s great about those directors is they’re constantly making it better and better. I’ve done a couple of sessions, but the film is great, and they’ve divided it into two parts …”
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