Young M.A Interview: New Album, New York City, and Staying Consistent

Young M.A Interview: New Album, New York City, and Staying Consistent

It’s been five years since Young M.A.’s “OOOUUU” came out. It’s easy in today’s rapid-fire climate to forget how much of an earthquake that song was. It’s easily one of the most defining New York rap songs of the past 10 years, next to Pop Smoke’s “Dior” and Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga.” It also broke barriers. There’s not a great deal of representation for queer people in hip-hop. Women rappers, especially queer ones, are not given as much attention as their male counterparts. (To be clear: M.A. doesn’t do labels. She just doesn’t date dudes.) Despite all this, Young M.A. burst on the scene with a song that made everyone take notice.  She’s a bully on the mic. Rapping like 50 Cent with a twinge of Shmurda will do that to you. She pauses after every bar so you’re waiting for what she will say next. You have no idea what’s coming, but when it hits, the jab is quick. “OOOUUU”’ has punchlines that bludgeon you, playful lines about oral sex, and mind buzzing metaphors. At one point she volleys a sinister boast: “Like we ain’t in these streets more than sesame?”

Young M.A. is New York incarnate. She moves quietly, but when she speaks you can hear it ring out throughout the boroughs. It’s quintessential New York: Your job is meant to be done without telling people what that job is. Ride the train and make your money. Don’t tell anyone what your name is. Represent your neighborhood. Keep your circle small. These are New York virtues. Sinatra had it. Jay-Z had it. Derek Jeter had it. Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks team had it this season. Young M.A. has it and prides herself on it. For example, even after a chart-topping hit, she didn’t oversaturate the world with new music. She’s quietly dropped once each year. Last May she gave us Red Flu, and now she’s back with Off the Yak.

On her latest record, she has the same mentality as she did when she first dropped. She’s as clever as can be while still threatening. On “Henny’d Up” she says her Draco is the same size as Lil Uzi Vert, which is as menacing as it is devilishly funny. She’s becoming a better songwriter, too. She takes a page from Lil Durk on “Nasty” while still being rooted in her gun moll talk. And if the music isn’t enough for you to see that Young M.A. is already a legend, listen closely when you are riding the New York City subway, and you might hear her voice. She’s one of many local celebrities to record their voice to announce subway stops — alongside Jerry Seinfeld, Desus and Mero, Robert De Niro, Whoopi Goldberg, and fellow emcees Cam’ron and Jadakiss.

Over Zoom, M.A. is appreciative but still humble. We spoke about New York, the summer of “OOOUUU,” how the subway  came about, and drinking cognac. 

What’s the mindset on Off the Yak compared to Herstory and Red Flu?
Herstory was like one of those albums where a whole bunch was leading up to it. Red Flu, it’s all different comparisons. Red Flu was during the pandemic — just the name alone sets the tone for what was going on at that direct moment. And of course, I always have to release music. That’s just who I am. Off the Yak is more of mixtape vibes. I don’t really like to call it an album, because it’s really like mixtape vibes. The only vibes Off the Yak, off the cognac, just getting in my vibes, getting in my bag, no filter, just talking that shit.

“Henny’d Up” felt reminiscent of some of the tracks you dropped in 2016, like when you first got put on.
Yeah. You know what I mean, that’s the vibe we got. Plus I got my supporters that’s always like, “We want that old M.A., where’s the old M.A.?” They want that mixtape M.A. and stuff like that. So that’s kind of what I was trying to deliver, but at the same time, not trying to fully give it mixtape vibes, because you still want to be able to be playing on the radio. You still want to be playing in the clubs. You still want that vibe. So I tried to put a blend on it, blend it between, kind of bridge the gap with that.

What’s your recording process like?
It depends. It depends on my mood, nine times out of 10. I could be in a funk and I want to write something about what I’m going through. I could be happy and I want to turn up and I want one of those type vibes. So it all depends on my mood. I’ll play a beat and I’ll just catch a vibe from the beat and kind of distinguish what direction I want to go on a song when I hit it. And it’s that first line for me. Once I get that first line in, it’s like I can just go from there. And that’s just usually the case. It’s not really too much of a technique, but it’s just off emotion. And sometimes I could say some shit and can’t stop saying it, like I can’t stop. And then sometimes I get writer’s block. 

Talk to me about your collaboration with fellow Brooklyn rapper Fivio Foreign on this album.
Yeah. Shoutout to Fivio. That’s the homie right there. We linked up on his joint “Move like a Boss” first. A good record for the streets. Brooklyn, they rocked with it, so it was only right for me to put him on mine. A lot of people like it when we collab, for some reason. Well, I know there’s a reason, because he’s got that dope vibe. But at the same time, a lot of people respect it, and I don’t know, I just seen it a lot. So I just felt like it was only right to have him on the project, somebody from Brooklyn that’s definitely hot right now. Homie from the towns, we know people, that’s just how that works. Just genuine vibes, genuine music.

I heard you over the loudspeaker on the subway one time. How did that come about?
Yeah, New York Nico, I guess they reached out, or whatever the case, and you know, c’mon, New York City’s own, it was only right for me to be heard in the city. Plus my logo is actually a token, and before trains even had MetroCards, they had tokens. So that’s where my logo and my piece is actually inspired from, it’s inspired from New York subway tokens. So I just felt like, shit, it was only right you had me on that subway talking.

So, people have been talking about this online. As a true New Yorker, do you have a favorite subway station?
Oh, people were talking about that? Nah, a favorite one? I would say I had a favorite seat. Like, making the new trains was cool, don’t get me wrong, just the modernness, the newness of it, the freshness of it, the cleanness of it was cool. But the only thing I liked about the old trains was that seat that you could sit next to the window, that was my favorite seat, with the orange and yellow. I liked the corner seat. On all the old trains. Yeah, I used to sit right by the window and just be chilling, listening to my music, vibin’ til it was time for me to get off at my stop. Because I know one thing about that, sitting on the new seats, everybody’s looking at each other. I don’t like that. When I used to be on a train, I used to either stand up and look out the window, stand by the door, hold on to the pole on the train, or sit on the corner seat and just play on my phone or some shit like that. I hated to sit across from people. Because people used to stare at you on the train. They had nothing else to do. Old people, you know what I mean?

It’s been five years since “OOOUUU” came out. What are some of your memories of the song around that time? Because it came out in May and then it ran the whole summer.
Yeah, my memories of “OOOUUU” are crazy, man. It’s almost a blur. I guess everything was happening so fast, so rapidly. That’s when fame hit. It was a lot of success, of course, it was all new, it was all fresh to me, just witnessing those moments and stuff like that. But to me, what stood out the most, was the shows, the shows were the best thing ever, just performing and just seeing people singing your song word for word to the point where you ain’t have to perform. So I would say that those are the best memories for me. The excitement of the shows, and feeling the energy. “OOOUUU” itself did a lot of success for me that made me who I am today, as far as just knowing the industry and understanding the business and stuff like that.

So you take a little bit of time with each release. Why is that?
I don’t oversaturate things because I really take the music into consideration. I really take that seriously. So when I’m working on a body of work, I have to take my time. I have to make sure I like it and it’s right. At the end of the day, I don’t want to just put out anything. But now I feel like I’m gonna be a little more consistent, because of the way the game is moving, the game is moving so fast, it’s not even funny. Like, when I first came out, it was still a little at ease. But nowadays, it’s just so much. You got TikToks now, you got so much stuff to promote music and how music is now, and so many artists and so many people just wanting to do music, that it’s becoming like a friggin’ ant hole, a bunch of ants just running around the game. Not to call them ants, but it’s just crazy. There are so many artists. Like people be like “Have you ever heard of such and such?”, and I’m like, “Who? When’d he come up?”

Yeah. And I think when you first dropped, it was still SoundCloud that was the major driving force. And now you got TikTok.
It’s just coming, it’s just going. So you got to stand out. I put myself in a position where I got to stand out, because even with TikTok, sometimes a TikTok could be a hit or miss, in the way of saying it could be a hit, but then eventually it could be a miss because that could be all you get. You get a TikTok song, then you could be done after that. You’re just known for having that one TikTok song and then nobody cares for you after that. So it’s almost spooky with the game. So it’s like I just like that I already put myself in a position where I already got my fanbase locked in, so when I do drop music, I drop music how I drop music. The TikToKs is cool, some of my shit go viral on TikTok, too, but I just appreciate where I set myself, where I set my tone. You got to kind adapt, but still put yourself in your own position, you got to adapt to what’s going on, but still, put yourself in your own position.

What advice do you have to the younger generation about how to escape New York? Maybe not escape New York, but persevere through the city.
I tell people all the time, some people just don’t have that aura of knowing when something is just too much or it’s time to leave or time to go, situations … like, I’ve always had that intuition, I’ve always had that feeling where I feel like, “Nah, this ain’t it, this ain’t the vibe, we should go now.” A lot of people don’t do that, people get so caught up and want to be so involved and following things, instead of being their own person. A lot of that goes on nowadays, a lot of people are just manipulated or just … I don’t know, just wanting to be down with certain things. A lot of people don’t have a mind of their own, everybody wants to be involved. So I’ll just say, if you that type of person, just be yourself, ain’t nothing wrong with that. Don’t feel like you got to fit in with everything. And that’s how I am. I don’t feel like I need to fit in with anybody, so that’s what keeps me out of trouble.

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