Inside the making of Rap Sh!t 's bops

·8 min read

Mia Knight (KaMillion) just took a big step forward as a rapper on Rap Sh!t.

Mia is more known at first for her vibe than her writing, so the new song "Nann Badder" marks a moment in her journey as an artist. "The song was originally called 'The Anthem,' and the original notes on it were for it to be a strong moment for [Mia] to stand up in her power and say who she is," music supervisor Sarah Bromberg explains. Issues with her baby's father, at work, and in her personal life, as well as a bust-up during a recent trip to New York, all play a part in this powerful moment for her where she steps into her talent. As a result, she creates what becomes a second potential hit song for her and Shawna Clark's (Aida Osman) burgeoning rap duo on their way to success.

Creating the music that Shawna, Mia, and the other characters perform is a huge team effort. Bromberg and her fellow music supervisors Philippe Pierre and Stephanie Diaz-Matos work alongside music consultant and Raedio President Benoni Tagoe, Rap Sh!t creator Issa Rae, and showrunner Syreeta Singleton. After Shawna and Mia's specific artistic vibes were established, songwriters were brought in to write bars for each — in addition to camps where the writing process for many of the songs began. For example, Shawna is into wordplay and clever bars, so Rae thought "Body" singer Dreezy would be a great fit, so she became the voice of Shawna as a rapper.

We spoke to Bromberg about the influences for Rap Sh!t's music and the inside story of the first season's pair of bops from its central duo.

<i>Rap Sh!t</i> aims to honor the South

"We wanted to root the sound in Florida. But also the south," Bromberg explains.

In its first episode, iconic Florida rappers including Trina, Trick Daddy. and Rick Ross are featured. The show also highlights newer and rising Florida rappers, a list that includes Saucy Satana, Tokyo Jetz, and Hood Brat. "All of these Florida rappers are living in that sound right now and we dive further into that as the episodes go on," she says. Hearing music from artists like Pooh Shiesty and Key Glock is part of Rap Sh!t wanting to showcase "a larger scope" of artists from the South.

With Shawna and Mia as the central duo, it is also important to the creative team to feature the rap songs made by women in the genre. "The show is about female rappers and it is rooted in the female rap journey," Bromberg says about music from Latto, Ruby Rose, Enchanting, Big Boss Vette, and other rappers heard on the show.

Rap Sh!t
Rap Sh!t

Shawna's wordplay was influenced by artists like Rapsody

Shawna comes into the picture as a conscious rapper who has very specific ideas about what she wants to bring to music. "[Shawna] doesn't want it to be about sex of her body. She wants to talk about world topics and be a serious artist," Bromberg examples. In terms of reference points of her style Noname, Rapsody, and Tierra Whack, artists known for their lyricism and focus on current issues, were influences. "Rapsody's ability to have those clever wordplay in her bars as she speaks to those topics was very much a reference for [Shawna]," she explains. As Shawna's view on her music evolves, her voice expands a little bit, but those core references are still present and seen through her own metaphors and wordplay in her lyrics.

Rap Sh!t
Rap Sh!t

For Mia, confidence was key

Mia's story is one about her stepping into her artistry (which we see in "Nann Badder"), but at her core she's the confident life of the party. "Everybody who gets out there is confident in their sexiness, and are never shy about that because to me they have a voice that is very take it or leave it," Bromberg says about how Cardi B, Lil' Kim, and Megan Thee Stallion are among the influences of Mia's sound. Her story begins as a woman who is going after her dream, but the self-confidence is there from the start. "[Mia's energy] is, I'm going to talk about my pussy. I'm going to talk about sex in a very visceral way and you either take it or leave it," Bromberg adds.

Rap Sh!t
Rap Sh!t

Together, Shawna and Mia's story honors women in rap

"Obviously, City Girls, they're all over the show. They worked with us on the sound, they're executive producers on the show, so they're everywhere," Bromberg says about the real-life Miami rap duo who serve as inspiration in season 1 for Shawna and Mia's group.

While those two and several others have found levels of success in the music industry, the road to get there is often a long one — and often a harder one for women, especially in this genre, women including Missy Elliott, Trina, and Nicki Minaj. Rap Sh!t is love letter to those who paved the way. "It's an homage to all the female rappers that came before them. The stories of these legends and everything they went through is something that the voices of Shawna and Mia are trying to say because you see what they go through to get where they are," Bromberg explains.

Rap Sh!t
Rap Sh!t

Hit "Seduce and Scheme" took months to get right

Bromberg calls the creation of the duo's first song "Seduce and Scheme" an "odyssey." "It went on for over four months, multiple writers and a lot of people laid their hands on it,," she explains.

The four-month process began with a writing camp in L.A. that included staff writers as well as Rae and Singleton. They create a song using a sample, which was part of a story line, and had even found a hook they were happy with — but then the sample fell through. "We kept as much of the verse as we could, and we had to search for a new sample," Bromberg recalls. Sampling Khia's "K-Wang" was Rae's idea. "[Khia isn't] from Florida, but she was raised there, so [Issa] liked that connection and she liked the song," Bromberg shares.

With a new sample in place, they reworked lyrics and created a hook. With Dreezy already on board to write in Shawna's voice, PineappleCITI worked on both Mia's verse and the hook. "This hook took like seven rounds of revisions. We had a hard time landing it and it was important [because it's the] moment where the group is formed and where we draw the audience into believing in this group," Bromberg says about the need to get the hook to be just right. Once they did, producer Danja recorded Aida and KaMillion in Miami, while PineappleCITI worked long distance on it. The process came down to the wire, as the production had to roll cameras on the fictional duo putting the song together.

Rap Sh!t
Rap Sh!t

Here's how we got that bop from Reina Reign

While Reina Reign's existence rightfully frustrates Shawna, Bromberg is a fan of the outlandish character's music. "I do like that song. PineappleCITI was the writer on that one and it's a bop," she says about the track. Reina is a controversial character, a white rapper who is positioned as ethnically ambiguous and is being promoted by Shawna's former producer Francois Boom (Jaboukie Young-White). The version of the song viewers hear on the show is PineappleCITI's original version — no changes were made after it was written during the writing camp. Because it comes from Reina, viewers are not supposed to love it, but sometimes a good song is a good song. "She's making music that Francois is producing and we have grown to hate him on the show because of what he did to Shawna, but he's out here making hits. He's making songs you want to dance to, so you hate that you love it, but you love to hate it," Bromberg says.

Rap Sh!t
Rap Sh!t

With "Nann Badder," Mia creates an anthem

"Nann Badder" is a song that allows Mia to shine. Starting as more of the duo's hype woman, she faces various obstacles throughout the season that set her up to write the group's new song. During a trip to New York City, she finds herself in a dangerous situation with a man she was seeing, and there's drama with Shawna, who's upset with Mia after she gets into an altercation at a Spotify event. She uses what's happening in her life to write her own bars and step into her power as an artist.

Since the song, which was originally called "The Anthem," means a lot to Mia's story, it was important to get the lyrics just right. Written by A. Chic and PineappleCITI, the song used a sample of beloved Tricky Daddy and Trina track "Nann N***a." While the team loved the original's concept and sample, the verses and hooks weren't the story points. "[The lyrics] weren't quite where we needed them because the song is supposed to be a huge in-your-face moment for Mia," Bromberg shares. In the end, the pair of songwriters, with an assist from producer Danja, delivered the powerful track that becomes Mia and Shawna's second song together.

Rap Sh!t
Rap Sh!t

Rap Sh!t airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO Max.

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