“Mind you, I had just gotten off a yacht with Issa Rae,” says Aida Osman. She’s telling me about a day a few weeks ago, when she was feeling blue even though things could not have been going any better. At just 24 years old, Osman was already an established comic presence, having written on Netflix’s Big Mouth and HBO’s Betty, and cohosted the culture podcast Keep It! A new trailer had just come out for Rap Sh!t, the HBO Max comedy executive produced by Rae that stars Osman as an aspiring rapper in Miami. There was the aforementioned yacht party, in celebration of it all. Life was up. But Osman was down.
So she took herself out on the town. Got her braids done. Decided to go shopping. The mood boost was marginal. But then, it happened: She saw Solange.
Osman describes her random celebrity sighting the way a fasting friar would describe a holy vision of the lord. “This bitch appeared to me like an angel from the sky!” she shouts, clapping between each word. You don’t understand—Solange has been there for every important stage in her life. “When I got fired from a job, I turned on A Seat at the Table. When my brother passed, I would go back and listen to her first album, Solo Star,” she says. “I have been obsessed with Solange my whole life.” On this glum day, Osman had been wishing for a new album, a single, something to help her cope, and instead, she ran into the singer herself.
The date was also auspicious: June 24. Solange’s birthday. Right at the start of Cancer season. Osman is a Cancer. “I had to call my mom and be like, ‘Maybe this Allah shit is real,’” she says. Life, she realized, was divine again.
Osman, now 25, tells me all of this over Zoom, sitting in the parking lot of a gas station in her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. “This is my office today because my mom just got surgery, and she wants the house to be quiet,” Osman explains. She’s wearing glasses and a pinkish cardigan over a tan tank top, her braids still fresh from Solange Day.
Her mom is fine, she assures me. “She’s running around the house trying to make ga’at right now,” she says, referring to a traditional Eritrean breakfast dish. Osman is Eritrean American, as am I, on my father’s side. (The community is so interconnected that while writing this story, I learn both our fathers are from the city of Keren, and have apparently known each other for years.)
Osman is also Muslim and nonbinary, using she/they pronouns. “It’s really so fluid for me,” she says of her gender identity. “It’s hour to hour, day to day. It depends on how long my shirt is. Long shirt? They/them. Short shirt? She/her.”
The trip home comes right before Osman is scheduled to get back on the road for Rap Sh!t, flying to different cities and festivals to promote the Miami-set series. Osman plays Shawna, a conscious rapper penning lyrics about Black power and the ills of cultural appropriation. By day, she works unhappily as a concierge at a South Beach hotel. Then one day, she has a chance reunion with Mia (KaMillion)—an old high school friend with a steady online following who’s also interested in music. They decide to form a rap group—the musical equivalent of, say, Noname and Megan Thee Stallion joining forces—capitalizing on their easy chemistry and respective ambitions. The uphill battle to stardom begins.
Rap Sh!t, with Insecure alum Syreeta Singleton as showrunner, marks Osman’s first time starring in a series. After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2018, she originally planned on going to law school, but deferred to pursue stand-up comedy. She built a following on Twitter and, in 2019, dropped a nonchalant rap about pegging that went viral, earning her representation and a gig writing for Big Mouth almost instantly. “I went from working at a bar in Lincoln, Nebraska, trying to do jokes and begging for stage time, to sitting next to Nick Kroll, pitching the same jokes,” she says. Big Mouth led to Betty, which solidified Osman’s relationship with HBO.
So she was fairly confident that she would get hired at least to write for Rap Sh!t. It’s a series about 23-year-olds who can rap; Osman was a 23-year-old who could rap. She had also recently moved to Miami with a partner, and loved the city. When Rap Sh!t popped up, Osman says, “it just felt divine.”