Underground rap diehards first discovered Young M.A through the raw grit of 2014’s “Brooklyn (Chiraq Freestyle)” and Sleep Walkin’ mixtape. But it was 2016’s monstrous “OOOUUU” that propelled the Brooklyn artist to rap’s forefront. For all of the doors it opened for her, the hit single cast a long shadow.
While some artists — due to conventional industry “wisdom” — might have cranked out follow-up reprises to match past successes, the problem with such a strategy is that too often the gravy train runs out of gas. And besides, the rapper (whose real name is Katorah Marrero) is not one to play by the rules. “M.A”, after all, stands for “Me, Always” — and she’s in hip-hop for the long run.
So she took her time to release a proper full-length, and despite big label offers being waved at her, remained independent. As singles like “Car Confessions” and “Petty Wap” (both released last year) kept fans engaged, there was still no sign of her long-promised debut. Consequently, voices of doubt about Young M.A’s future emerged.
But she shut those doubters down loudly in 2019. It began with the relationship-themed “Stubborn Ass” and continued with “BIG”, her irresistible musical flex that has finally managed to supplant “OOOUUU” as her signature song, and wrapped with the September release of Herstory In the Making — her first LP. It displays a variety of sounds, from upbeat melodics to raunchy, street bars many have come to associate her with. If people are surprised by that range, M.A says, that’s because they haven’t been paying attention.
Young M.A is a New York City treasure — so it only made sense that she was included in the lineup of Rolling Loud’s inaugural New York edition this month. After a wild set that included female fans being pulled onstage to twerk to “Petty Wap”, and cardboard cutouts of M.A’s “Big Drip” bobblehead artwork handed out in the crowd, Billboard sat down backstage with the gifted rapper.
Is there something special about this huge all hip-hop festival being here in New York?
Of course man, being from New York City, we don’t get this all the time because our city is so umm… disciplined, and police take over a lot. You know what I mean?
Yeah, we’ve seen some evidence of that today! [Five artists were removed from the festival’s lineup due to NYPD concerns.]
That’s unfortunate, but I just feel like, at the end of the day this is not a place to start violence. This is a place to express your talents, and give the people a good time, and a good show! I mean it’s New York City, man. The birth of hip-hop. You know what it is.
Some people think of New York as having a real traditionalist streak. And we’ve talked before about the supposed generation gap between the more melodic young artists and older heads: more traditional, lyric-oriented folks. But here at Rolling Loud, at least in New York, it feels like there’s something for everyone — like a big tent
Yeah, yeah. It’s very versatile out here. And it’s fortunate that it’s in New York, for the first time, and I am definitely proud to be a part of it. But you just see that’s it’s all different people and styles of music. There’s traditional and at the same time, there’s like new millennials. I feel good just to be a part of that, bro. Millennials and OGs all coming together in one place.
Do you feel like in a way you’re a bridge between the two, because on the one hand you’re not 19, but on the other…
Oh yeah, there’s definitely a bridge with me. Because I know what it is to sound like the new shit, and I know what it is to sound like the OG shit. I’ve studied both. I’ve grown up on the late-90’s, early-2000’s hip-hop, and I’m still young so I know what’s going on right now. So I know how to finesse that and appreciate both sides.
Because it’s definitely changed. I can appreciate the OGs, because it was more effort with them than with these new kids now — where it’s all about streaming, putting numbers up now and being popular. But that’s the time we’re living in, so you can’t knock nobody for doing it, because it is what it is.
Speaking of variety, there’s so much on your record. There are tracks on your album that I don’t know if people would have expected from you. For “Kold World”, I think it’s got such a nice vibe to it, that feels like something different from you. Or “Smoove Kriminal” maybe.
Feels like something different — why, though?
Just an unexpected sound?
But I’m versatile! And that’s what people don’t get. This ain’t nothing new. It’s something I always did, always wanted to do, and always had in me. The only difference is, y’all never got a full body of work from when I crossed over and became famous. But mixtape-wise and EP-wise, people know this was me from the jump. I had auto-tune type songs, where I sang on the hook. And I had songs where I was raunchy, speaking that hood shit.
So with this album, I delivered the same shit! Now I have new fans, and I want them to know like this has been me from the get-go. Just because you locked into one thing and thought that was me in general — no! I go through problems like anybody else and I express it in the music.
There’s a line in “Smoove Kriminal” about how “this industry is fake”? We’ve spoken before about your insistence on staying independent. Has your view on the music industry changed in these past few years?
No. The industry is fake as fuck! [People] ain’t gonna say it, because they fake too! But I’m the type of person that I tell it like it is. It’s not supposed to be on some regular shit. It is made to kiss ass — you know what I mean? That’s how you get over in this industry. And it’s not something I didn’t know, I knew this already. It’s not for me, but at the same time, I get it. I don’t knock it. Because the industry is about relationships, it’s about pretending that you rock with somebody just to get over on somebody. Whether motherfuckers want to admit it or not, they know what it is in their heart.
“Stubborn Ass” has been out for a while now, but I love that song so much because it’s got such a realness and intimacy to it. Is it hard for you to be that vulnerable?
Nah, it’s not hard. That’s my life. That’s what I go through. Stubborn women that I’ve been in relationships with, and I’ve been stubborn too. I know how it feels to witness it, so for me to speak on it is nothing new. It’s just basically telling my story.
Are relationships a struggle for you?
Nah. I’m in a relationship right now! But you know, you go through emotions. I’m an in-the-moment type person. I know what relationships come with. I’m an adult. You know what I mean? I’m not a little-ass kid. I’ve been through a couple, so I’m gonna speak on that. And sometimes you be like, “Fuck love! Fuck relationships!” It’s just how you feel about shit.
“No Love” is this beautiful track on the album that talks about the fake love that young people think they find on the streets, and how it’s not real. It reminds me a bit of your previous  song “Through the Day.”
Absolutely. And I’m happy that you mentioned “Through the Day.” A lot of people that interview me never mention that song, and for you to recognize that it relates to “No Love” – I respect that. I had “Through the Day” on Sleep Walkin’, and it’s is kind of a cousin of “No Love”. And with them songs, it’s about relationships I’ve been through, of course, but about things that’s really going on in the streets and life itself.
You can’t trust a lot of people, man. And there’s a lot of people who go through life’s troubles and tribulations where they can’t get through the day sometimes. These motherfuckers that you think love you, they turn their back on you or cross you. And on both those songs I just kind of wanted to give people my understanding of what I’ve been through, and school ’em on not just trusting everybody. You know, just ’cause somebody show you love don’t mean it’s love! There’s a difference between love and loyalty.
On a lighter note, you brought some ladies up on stage tonight for “Petty Wap”.
And they was twerking that ass!
How do you choose who comes up? Can you just tell who’s gonna be able to do it?
I mean, I let the bros do it. I can’t really pick everybody, because I’ve got to perform the song at the end of the day. But like, if you ain’t coming up here to twerk, you got to get off of the stage!
I feel like “BIG” has almost in a way pushed “OOOUUU” to the side as your theme nowadays.
Yeah, because we lit. That’s what it is.
I heard you tell [Genius artist relations head] Rob Markman there might be a video for “No Love”?
Yeah, not just a video, but a movie. A short film. It’s coming soon. I can’t tell you when.
So, with a full plot, you’re acting in it?
I’m acting in it. You’re the first person to know that!
Do you want to do more acting?
I’m doing something right now! Something coming out real soon, you don’t even know. I’m doing everything!