There's a line out the door at Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen in Los Angeles’ Inglewood neighborhood, but Issa Rae, the creator and star of HBO’s Insecure, strolls right past it, nonchalantly making her way in through the crowd. “I love working out of coffee shops. It always bothered me that I had to leave my neighborhood to do that,” says Rae. So a year ago, when she purchased a building for her company, Issa Rae Productions, she decided maybe she should open her own inside it. Her business manager “was like, ‘Cool. Are you going to be serving the coffee? When are you going to have time to do that?’ ” Rae says with a laugh. So she partnered with Hilltop’s owners for this location, less than two miles from both her office and The Dunes, the apartment complex where her character, Issa Dee, lived for the first two seasons of Insecure. “The vision for it was always to service communities of color that don’t have these spots,” continues Rae, settling into a broken-in leather couch. “It is a way to foster networking, collaboration, and it’s a community space that’s ours.”
Rae, who is 35, grew up in Los Angeles’ affluent black neighborhood View Park, and her love for her city shines through on Insecure: She frequently shoots at classic Angeleno spots like the now-closed music venue Maverick’s Flat and late-night diner Swingers, and she chooses songs by local artists like Derrius Logan and Overdoz to bring the show’s narrative to life. Insecure’s music synchs — from Leikeli47’s “Girl Blunt” in the Coachella episode to Daniel Caesar’s “Blessed” in the final scenes of season two — have become its trademark, often directly shaping how Rae will write a scene.
On this morning at Hilltop, Rae is wearing a sweater printed with the phrase #TellBlackStories. It could easily serve as a thesis statement for every Rae venture — including her newest, a major foray into the music industry. In October, Rae and her longtime business partner Benoni Tagoe launched Raedio, which Tagoe describes as a “five-vertical” audio content company comprising publishing, live events, music supervision, a music library and a label that’s a joint venture with Atlantic Records.