The end of an era is just the beginning for Issa Rae.
In an interview for TODAY’s first digital cover story, Rae said what she’s most proud of in creating and starring in HBO’s Emmy-winning series Insecure is her legacy. Rae said throughout the series, and since it ended earlier this year, “Insecure” has changed career paths for everyone involved.
“To be able to have people hone their skills on ‘Insecure’ and then watch them show themselves and prove themselves to the point where other projects are now demanding them… that’s great for me, because that’s what I saw on black TV shows growing up,” Rae said. “You start to build a foundation: a group of people that you came up with, and we’re the ones who give each other our second chances, and our third jobs, and then our fourth jobs. And they in turn do the same with their extended circle of people. I think it’s a mentality that will make us care about each other again.”
The legacy of “Insecure” helped pave the way for what Rae, 37, is currently working on just six months after the iconic show ended with three new Emmy nominations in addition to the 11 she received earlier this year would have.
Rae’s second show, Rap Sh!t, premieres July 21 on HBO, and she produces several projects through her companies Hoorae and Raedio, acts in films, and writes some of her own.
Set in Miami, the miniseries follows two estranged high school friends as they try to become a hot rap duo. Rae said she’d always wanted a rap-centric show and nearly launched “Insecure” down that path, but compromised by simply doing Mirror Issa. But she resurfaced the target when HBO asked her what she planned to do after “Insecure.”
“When I think about that time in music, it just feels different,” says Rae. “There are so many female rappers killing it. There are beefs here and there, but for the most part they all seem to be having a good time. They support each other and this world felt interesting to me. So I just started thinking about the music industry and what the come-up would be like, and the come-up specifically through the lens of the internet.”
Rae brought someone from her “unsafe” family into this project. Syreeta Singleton started in the industry five years ago as a writing assistant at Insecure. Now Singleton is the showrunner for “Rap Sh!t”.
Rae’s production company Hoorae Productions produces two HBO shows: Sweet Life, which she created and executive produces, and the Emmy-winning A Black Lady Sketch Show, created by friend and colleague Robin Thede. The sketch show just received five new Emmy nominations.
Thede told TODAY in an interview that her show only ended up on HBO because of Rae.
Thede said her talk show on BET, The Rundown with Robin Thede, had just been canceled in 2017 when she received a call from Rae.
“Issa called me right away and said, ‘Congratulations. What are we going to do together now?’” Thede recalled that Rae had asked her. Thede recalls feeling sad about losing her show, but Rae didn’t let her get discouraged.
“She said, ‘I don’t care. Now we have the opportunity to work together because you are indeed free and you are never free.’”
Thede told Rae she had a sketch show she wanted to do and a network had already picked it up, “but the money wasn’t right,” Thede said.
Thede recalled telling Rae, “I want it to look really amazing and I wanted to create the most beautiful sketch show ever. So she said, ‘Take it to HBO.’ We went and met them and they bought it on the spot.”
A Black Lady Sketch Show premiered the first season in August 2019 and the following year, Rae Hoorae launched in September and began producing the show starting with the second season.
Raedio is Rae’s audio production company and record label, which she founded in 2019 in partnership with Atlantic Records. The Company performs music mentoring, audio publishing, podcasts, and events, among other things.
As of last November, the company has signed four artists and landed two Webbys for the “Looking for LaToya” series. More than 100 of Raedio’s productions have been featured on shows such as And Just Like That…, Power Book III: Raising Kanan and Sweet Life: Los Angeles.
Raedio President Benoni Tagoe first met Rae while they were working together on their critically acclaimed web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Tagoe said in an interview with Forbes last November that he and Rae talked about starting an audio company while working on the web series.
Tagoe said fans have spoken as much about the soundtrack to episodes of Awkward Black Girl and Insecure as they have about the show itself.
“Record labels realized that getting an artist a seat on the show was like hitting the holy grail, leading to more streams and money,” Tagoe said. “That’s when we realized we’d hit something. At that time we saw an opportunity to help develop our label Raedio by combining her artistic expertise with my experience in the music industry.”
Main roles in films
Rae stars in the upcoming film Vengeance, which premieres July 29, with Ashton Kutcher and BJ Novak, who makes his directorial debut on the film. The film follows Ben Manalowitz (Novak), a journalist and podcaster who travels from New York to Texas to investigate the death of a woman he previously dated.
Rae is also starring in the new Barbie movie which is in the making and the team was very excited about it. Rae said she was initially hesitant to join the expansive cast, but director Greta Gerwig convinced her.
“I was like, ‘That sounds crazy, but okay. Just let me read the script,'” Rae recalled as he said a compromise. “When you read the script, you’re like, ‘Oh, I see!’ It’s very funny and it’s just very specific to her…she was absolutely amazing to work with.”
She writes her own films
Rae has already written her first screenplay and now it’s just a matter of getting the production started.
“It’s part of the next chapter. I want to film one soon,” she said.
As for starring in her own film, she’ll make that decision the same way she usually does: “I’ll see how that goes,” she said, laughing.