Young M.A’s raspy voice and effortless, casual flow lorded over New York this summer with “OOOUUU,” a warm weather anthem that speaks to the reality of life in her native borough of Brooklyn. On the NY Bangers-produced track, which has been remixed by both French Montana and Remy Ma, and across her growing list of releases, 24-year-old M.A establishes herself as a quintessential New York MC — clever, boastful, and occasionally a little dark.
Though her given name is a mystery, it seems impossible that she would be called anything other than “M.A,” an acronym she retrofitted to stand for “Me, Always.” The pseudonym speaks to the authenticity of her persona and music, through which she explores her life as a young Brooklyn storyteller, cultural arbiter, and impressive entertainer. On a humid August day, M.A spoke to The FADER about what it’s like to hear yourself bumping out of every car, the importance of speaking your truth, and how she intends to hustle eternally and never look back.
Tell me about your summer in New York. What's it like to have your shit blasting out of cars all the time, hearing your song be the song?
It's crazy, man. It's still surreal to me. It be times when I come out the crib and somebody’s driving past playing it. I would’ve never thought that'd happen for a while. I can’t really explain it. It more so motivates me to keep going. It's like, OK, this is official, this is the lock-in. Let's keep it moving now. Let's keep giving ‘em this fire and let's not stop this. I don’t like to get comfortable. I don’t like to be like, Oh, my song is all over the place. I'm lit. Nah, it makes me wanna keep working.
What is it about this summer that made it your summer?
I ain’t gonna lie, it kinda came by surprise. Because when we work, we don’t set goals. Me and my team, we go by this rule: we just keep going. We don’t set goals because goals [are basically like] you preparing to stop. We keep going, we keep moving, and whatever comes just comes along the way. I ain’t nowhere yet. I have gotten nowhere near what I wanna be, so for everything to be coming the way it is, it’s like everything happens for a reason. This is how it was meant to happen for me and if this is my time then this is my time. You know how long I been saying, “Yo, this year gon’ be my year!” You always have that confidence within yourself until the time is really your time. And then you know.
What have you learned about the industry? Now that you're here, what is a priority for you going forward?
I had to basically look at it [from] a business standpoint, like not really focused on the streets anymore. I had to look at it like, OK, this is what I’m gonna do and this is how it’s gonna be done and it's gonna be done right. I gotta make sure my team, the people that’s around me, [are] the right people. There’s a lotta people I had to cut off. It comes to that point sometimes because if it ain’t bringing good energy into what you're trying to do, you get rid of it.
Especially in the story of New York rap, we've watched so many young stars get there and then just...
People get lost and shit happens because when you reach a new life, you wanna bring everybody with you.
The streets is the streets. It’s the people there that matter, of course. But if people genuinely love you, [they’re] gonna be happy for you no matter what. If this is something you've been wanting all your life, things start to change for you. Now you got new things coming. You always kinda wanna go back just to show people that you made it and you wanna put other people on. That’s understandable, but if they not on the same level as you or they not tryna be in the same position or they just basically just tryna feed off what you do, you gotta separate that.
If they ain’t thinking like you, you gotta leave that alone no matter how long you know a person. If they love you for you, they [won’t] care how far you got. I'ma always stick to my roots but whatever life brings, that’s what is meant. I’m thinking ahead. I'm thinking about making sure my little sister is good. I gotta make sure my mother's good, that my nieces and my nephews don’t even have to worry. That’s where my mind is at. I'm not looking backwards.
The way you go about telling stories is very Brooklyn. Do you draw a lot from your own life? How important is it to you to tell those stories authentically?
When I tell stories, it's either what I’m going through, what I’ve been through and experienced and seen, or someone else experienced around me. Or just what’s going on in the world period. I try to make music for people to relate to and I like to keep it realistic. If I'm not driving a Ferrari or a Lambo, I'm not gonna talk about it in my raps. None of my friends [are] driving a Lambo so I'm not gonna talk about it.
I just feel like being realistic is so underrated, like people are scared to be real. I don't even like to use the word “real” because everybody jacked that. Everybody jacked being real so I’ma say that a lotta people don't like to tell the truth about themselves. Everybody wanna pretend to be this way or be rich and feel like they got money and that don't always be the case. I don't mind talking about me driving in a Hyundai. I ain't got a million dollars — I'm in the thousands. I know it's a lotta people out there that's in that position with me and they'll listen and relate to it. There's more people in that position than there is in the higher position. When I start getting Lambos and Benzes and stuff, then I'ma talk about it.
“I try to make music for people to relate to and I like to keep it realistic. If I’m not driving a Ferrari or a Lambo, I’m not gonna talk about it in my raps.”
Did you work up to being able to speak your truth in hip-hop and be like, “I know y'all gon’ compare me to the men” or did you always know like, “Fuck it, this is who I am.”
Before, I didn't really know. I looked at the music industry as what they displayed it to be. It was always the female rappers that looked like female rappers and it was the guys. That's what I grew up to see, so in my mind I [thought] that's how it’s supposed to be. Until I got to a point where I had to find myself.
Once I found myself, I didn’t care about what the industry wanted or what people thought they wanted to see or whatever the case may be. I just did what I did and I felt like if it's meant for it to happen, it's gonna happen. People who love me are gonna love me. If they don't, they don't. But I'ma still do what I gotta do. I never look at it like I'm tryna set a trend. I just do me. I didn’t look at it [as] me being the first gay rapper or the hottest female rapper anymore. That’s been outta my mind. Now it’s just me focusing on music and just breaking down whatever barriers [are] in my way.
As a queer woman growing up in the hood, I feel you're bringing a perspective that folks don't see a lot. It's not the pretty female rapper that’s also bisexual, it’s not the “gay male rapper.” Everyone believes the hood is homophobic, but in “OOOUUU” you say That’s the bro code and They told me get your money, sis. Do you ever think about how that comes across to others?
I don’t want people to look at it like I’m [just] an LGBT rapper or “gay” is my story. That’s not what makes my music speak, being gay. My music speaks because people just think I'm dope and [like] what I'm saying and what I'm speaking about. I don't think I ever talk about being gay in my music. I just talk about having relations with a female. But I don't literally say, “Yo when I came out, I was gay. I was going through it.”
I don't speak about that because, to me, that’s something personal that I had to deal with. I had to basically hold it in for a long time and not express that to nobody. [I] didn't know how to express that to anybody and once I became open to it, it was just like, OK, fuck it, that’s the past now. I don’t like to keep bringing that back into my present because I already been through that depression, because for a while I held that in from family and friends.
Did music help you with that?
Nah, it was actually me. The music was always there. I’ve always [made] music since I was nine up until now. But I feel like I just woke up one day — once my brother passed away, it really woke me up to life. Life is really a bitch and I just got to a point where I started to not care no more. It just became like, Yo listen, it is what it is now. I'm tired of people worrying about what people are gonna think about me if I do this or I say this. I got out of [that] point so I feel like that’s more my story: not giving a fuck anymore. Not just, Oh, I'm gay now or I came out the closet.
You have bars but also in your music you still remember that life is supposed to be fun. Do you feel like you know you got the bars so you don’t have to worry about being technical?
I just want people to understand that, yeah, I got bars and you know they heard a lot of hardcore shit from me and people like to put me in that box. But I been making since a kid and I seen music as all types of sounds — R&B, reggae, boom bap, club music, sad music. That’s how I’ve always looked at music, basically as feelings, whatever I felt. I never looked at like, I'ma just be the hardest, hardcore gangster rapper. Whatever I felt, I wrote it down. It's like my therapy and I feel like if you’re being real in your music people can relate. [We’re] human. Everybody almost goes through pretty much the same thing, different story but same scenario. It ain’t just always about having bars.
What are your hopes for year’s end? Is there something you'd like to have accomplished by 2017?
It’s hard to say because [we’re] consistent and we work and everything is just coming my way. I can't really say where I wanna be because I don’t know where life is gonna take me. I don’t know what’s gonna be the outcome of everything. I can just say, in 2017, I'ma make sure I be working twice as hard.