“Put this on novice level for me,” Aida Osman jokes when she joins a call with me to discuss her new series, Rap Sh!t, in which she stars alongside Florida rapper KaMillion. It’s the 25-year-old actor and rapper’s first time doing press in a serious way for the new HBO Max series, produced by Issa Rae, along with Yung Miami and JT of City Girls.
On Rap Sh!t, which comes out July 21, Osman plays Shawna, a rapper who works the front desk of a Miami hotel by day and pens rhymes by night at home—behind the privacy of a mask and a stage name. Until one day, she and her estranged high school friend, Mia (KaMillion), are goofing around on Instagram Live and come up with a little ditty on the spot. “Seduce and Scheme” becomes something of a hot girl anthem, eventually bringing them to the top of the streaming charts.
Years ago, Osman wrote her own pilot that was, funnily enough, also about a couple of young Black girls who form a rap duo. She had never acted professionally before Rap Sh!t; she was first hired to be a writer for the show. (When she was asked to audition for the role of Shawna, she figured she’d never get the job. “I never considered acting to be a reality of mine,” she tells me.) On top of that, Osman was a musician before she even considered becoming a writer. “Sometimes you can’t fight how cosmic shit is,” Osman says. “Rap Sh!t feels like I had a conversation with god and crafted the exact show that would’ve been perfect for me to do as my first television [project]. I’ve been a musician, rapper, songwriter, and certified goofer my whole life.”
Growing up in Nebraska, she and her brother (who passed away in 2017) communicated mostly through Tigrinya music from Eritrea. “All my family lives in Africa, still. A lot of them are refugees living in Sweden and Italy, some are in Canada,” Osman says. “I’m the only American-born child, along with my brother, and my brother was epileptic and autistic. He was totally nonverbal. So the only bonding time I had with him was, like, jumping around.”
She started playing the drums, joined show choir, and performed in high school musicals. After college, her irreverent social media presence and a co-hosting gig on pop culture podcast, Keep It, landed Osman in the writers rooms for Big Mouth and Betty, before she was hired to write for Rap Sh!t. “I’m doing so much more reflection and remembering who I was in high school, and that person is always in me. I’m a weird Black girl from Nebraska,” Osman says. “I’m still the kid who got kicked out of pep band rehearsals for giggling, I’m still the kid who got kicked out of show choir rehearsal for making blowjob jokes. And now I’m just making a career out of giggling and blowjob jokes and music.”
Writing on Rap Sh!t proved to be the perfect path for Osman to transition into starring on the show. “We’re writing this 23-year-old, college-educated Black girl who wants to explore all sides of herself, is very career-driven, is goofy, is aloof, is sweet—sometimes to a fault,” she says of Shawna. “I was giving her so many of my own personal stories—experiences I’ve had with shitty producers, moments I’ve had backstage at shows with rappers. She was becoming me because I was the only 23-year-old musician in the writer’s room. I figured if I was going to ever be an actress and capitalize on my own perspective, I was gonna have to write it.”
As for the rapping requirement of the gig, she had recorded some stuff with friends for fun, or posted clips on Twitter, but had never laid down tracks in a professional capacity before joining Rap Sh!t and working with writers like PineappleCITI and producers like Danja. Being incredibly vulnerable on screen, appearing in nude scenes, and rapping about scamming dudes could be tough territory for an actor of any experience level, let alone someone who just started. “It’s complicated,” Osman says. “I’m excited to meet who I am when the show comes out. I’m learning a lot about myself. I had to learn how to pretend to masturbate in front of Issa Rae. So no one can hurt me.”
And speaking of Rae, one has to wonder if the woman who revolutionized the Internet-to-TV pipeline with Awkward Black Girl and Insecure is the best boss any first-time actress could ask for after being scouted from the Internet. “She’s gonna be so mad I said this, but that’s TV’s Beyoncé,” Osman says with a laugh. “That’s TV’s Beyoncé, TV’s Rihanna, TV’s everything. She’s talented and respected and knowledgeable and funny and the most perceptive and quick-witted person I’ve had the honor of observing. I feel like I’m getting a crash course in how to be a dope Black woman in the industry.”
If Rap Sh!t is the first time you’re seeing Osman, rest assured, it certainly will not be the last. She tells me about filming with Random Acts of Flyness creator Terence Nance and Ramy Youssef, and that she just wrapped Tayarisha Poe’s The Young Wife, with Kiersey Clemons and Leon Bridges, before ticking off work from the minds of Michaela Coel, Donald Glover, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as inspirations for the type of writing she’d like to pursue in the future. “I’m grappling with that feeling of surrender and allowing audiences to perceive you and your art however it’s packaged. But also, fuck that—please like me,” Osman says, semi-jokingly. “Please be motivated and inspired to produce your own tracks and write your own music and explore different avenues. We all have different modes of artistic expression in us. We’re all creative people and we’ve all sacrificed creativity to pursue jobs and survival. And if Rap Sh!t does anything, I hope it encourages you to revisit some dusty dreams that are still alive and well.”