Photos by Ebru Yildiz
It only takes a few moments of the video for ‘Ooouuu’ for you to realise you’re watching someone special.
Once an intro of Young M.A – the 24-year-old Brooklyn rapper who’s taking the hip hop world by storm – sitting at a table surrounded by Chinese food, dollars, Hennessy and champagne fades out, it’s replaced by a woozy synth line and doped-out stuttering 808s. Then M.A’s voice drops in: a hoarse low tone, rasping rhymes, grinning and showing off a set of gold grills along her top set of teeth. It’s stunning.
‘Ooouuu’ is one of the best hip hop tunes to have appeared in a long time, but there’s more than just the music to talk about. “Baby give me head; that’s a low blow” is one of the first lines in the track that makes you sit up and take notice. We’re nearly a year on from the release of that track so it’s almost staggering to take in that twelve months previous, Young M.A was practically the first openly gay rapper in the mainstream talking this explicitly about sex. And she didn’t give a fuck.
And she doesn’t give a fuck now. Going from strength to strength with the likes of ‘Hot Sauce’ and grabbing the attention of NYC hip hop royalty, Young M.A is simply a rapper, no labels. Ahead of her forthcoming debut London appearance at M.I.A’s Meltdown, we spoke to M.A for a bit more background.
I ask Young M.A if being from New York means that the influences on her style are from that city. “Yeah I’m from Brooklyn,” she says, “so definitely New York rappers. I mean, I listened to a lot of music from all over but New York was my biggest influence from 50 Cent, to Jay-Z, to Eve.”
But rapping was also in the family. M.A’s mother was a rapper who grew up around Roxanne Shante, but the Brooklynite plays this down. “Umm she wasn’t really a rapper,” says Young M.A. “She did a little rhyming every now and again but never really did any shows or anything.” However, Young M.A’s mom was a big influence on the rapper when she decided that music was going to be her path. “I was nine when I realised I wanted to rap,” she begins. “I never wanted to do something else and my mom definitely supported me. Anything I needed for music she supported me, anything I wanted she bought me. She bought me a karaoke machine, books, tapes, CDs, whatever I needed to do what I wanted to do.”
At the age of nine, the young Young M.A sat down and began to write: “I definitely wrote lyrics, wrote rhymes. I wrote songs!” she exclaims. “And I used to record them on the karaoke machine, on to cassette tape….” Does she still have some of those recordings? “Unfortunately no I don’t have anything,” sighs the rapper. “They was in storage and ended up being auctioned off…my mom wasn’t paying for it cos we weren’t living in that town no more. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t have from my childhood that I wish I still had today.”
A lot of fuss has been made over Young M.A’s sexuality and while of course she stands as a
role model and appears happy to do so, she still dismisses chatter over her sexuality and how it might have affected a blossoming career: “I didn’t really care, you know,” she asserts. “I didn’t care what people thought of my sexuality. Music is something that I did and loved and I honestly didn’t care what people thought about my sexual preference.”
Yet there’s still challenging material here for the hip hop community; notoriously homophobic and overtly-masculine, lines like “I swallow pussy like I can’t chew” (from ‘Body Bag’) address head-on decades old issues. But it’s all second nature to Young M.A, nothing here is calculated. “Oh yeah, definitely. It definitely comes naturally,” she affirms. “I just have to express myself and be honest, you know what I mean? I don’t like to analyse or look at things too much, I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I just look at myself as someone who expresses themselves to people in general so I use music as my outlet to catch everybody in the raw and let off a lot of stress.”
Alongside knocking down gender roles and stereotypes, Young M.A is revitalising some worn-out hip hop tropes. “Yo bro, I think I had too much Hennessy man…I’m a little drizz, but we in the club, man, OOOUUU” are the opening lines to the excellent ‘Ooouuu’, with M.A’s rasping delivery over drunk beats putting life back into rhymes about drinking, dollars and the club. “I hear that a lot, you know,” says M.A of her freshness. “People tell me I’m something different, something fresh…but I don’t usually see it the way other people see it because I’m always just being me. I’m used to being myself, dressing this way, whatever. But I hear it a lot, I’m inspiring to a lot of people. It’s crazy cuz it’s not something I was trying to do, it really just happened as I was trying to express myself to the world. I wound up doing something that actually made sense…and it’s working, you know what I mean?”
Boy is it working. From Beyoncé dancing to Young M.A’s music on Instagram to supporting Queen Bey and meeting Jay-Z, the young rapper is already in exalted circles. I ask if it sometimes all gets a bit too much to take in. “Wellll, that was pretty much the goal, you know what I mean?” she says in the most relaxed voice. “To be heard and to be talked about, to get support…and when you get recognition from Jay-Z or Beyoncé or anybody in that category it’s definitely a surreal feeling because it happened so quickly! Usually it takes time for Jay-Z and Beyoncé to recognise new talent, especially when there’s so much talent coming out at the same time. To be one of the few that they recognise means a lot. I’m just grateful for it.”
“I use music as my outlet to catch everybody in the raw and let off a lot of stress.”
I ask Young M.A if she can see a point where all this seeps into her music, where it’s all guest spots and rhymes about being famous. “I’m not that type of person,” she fires back.
“I’m kind of in a shell a lot. I like being on my own a lot. I mean, I love meeting people, new people but I’m one of those types of people who keep a wall up. I don’t trust a lot of individuals… I don’t let a lot of what’s on the outside of music affect my music. I just have to have the confidence and motivation… but them [Jay-Z and Beyoncé] having an influence on me. Those are legends, man, so hell yeah, definitely.”
As it comes time to draw the interview to a close, I return to one of the rappers Young M.A raised at the start of our conversation, 50 Cent. I make the point that 2003’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ appears to stand the test of time and remains a marker for commercial and critical success, and perhaps can act as a blueprint for Young M.A’s future. “Absolutely!” agrees the rapper. “I’m excited to release my first album and show the world what I’m really capable of, to create a body of work, to touch people’s lives in an inspirational type of way. 50 Cent’s first album was such a success; just like me he was something fresh, something new… everybody loved his swag, it was dope. He was a big influence on my music, and he played a part in what I do and how I do it today.”
There seems little doubt that Young M.A is heading in the right direction; she’s already got the acclaim… get rich? No doubt.