This article appears in our 2017 Fall issue, Facts. Subscribe today!
I spent my college years in the middle of Virginia on a campus full of Black, cultured, and rhythmic peers. Our kickbacks were legendary. DJs pandered to us through regional classics and anthems that would reveal the state you were from the moment it dropped. If you were from Maryland, UCB’s “Sexy Lady” would have you stomping your feet. Chicagoans were steppers who circled the dance floor like vultures for juke. California would get hyphy and krump their way through sorority and fraternity lines, and New York would start jumping in the air to anything by Dipset, Jay-Z, or 50 Cent.
This is how I imagine the current freshman class of my HBCU. Although we are years apart, the right song will still bring us to the yard or student center in droves. And if I were doing it all again, I’d throw myself onto the dance floor anytime I heard Young M.A. Young M.A takes me back home to Brooklyn. Her music is a continuation of my internal conflict about loving hip hop: misogynoir mixed with heavy 808s, and braggadoci0-filled lyrics that make me forget it all. If I am ever yearning for Brooklyn, I immerse myself in Herstory, Young M.A’s seven-track EP.
The introduction is classic. Borough rappers are known for blazing in on their introductory tracks, intent on setting the tone for the album through cadence. Think Nas’s “N.Y. State of Mind” after a dramatic DJ intro on Illmatic, or Jay-Z’s “Can’t Knock the Hustle” on Reasonable Doubt. M.A follows this tradition, dropping a manifesto on her introductory track: “Went from underrated to most hated/ From a nobody to a Young M.A/ Even white people know me, like/ That’s Young M.A! No fuckin’ way!” She pays homage to Jay-Z with the line, “Got the baddest bitch in the game wearin’ my chain,” mirroring his infamous line from the interlude “Public Service Announcement.” It’s evident that Young M.A is also reintroducing herself. Based on the freestyles “Oh My Gawdd” and “Kween,” we know she has lyrical prowess, with hard-hitting, gritty bars. However, on this project, M.A institutes a fluctuating flow that is singsongy, laid-back, and filled with metas.
Next up is a strip-club jam with a slow-wind beat reminiscent of her 2016 hit “OOOUUU.” “Hot Sauce” is a getaway for the individual frustrated with the confines of a relationship and career. It is a night off among women, liquor, and ego. In another big up to one of the artists M.A grew up listening to, she raps between Monica’s rehashing of the timeless “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days).” The song “JOOTD” resounds like an interval, with two simple verses and a repetitive hook.
“Self M.Ade” follows this track and addresses criticism about her use of murder and drugs in her music:
They say that I manipulate the youth/ Nah, don’t get it wrong, I speak the truth/ This is deeper than the roots, look around you see the proof/ No excuse, but what you see is nothing new.
This is M.A’s story, and her work reflects the things she’s seen. She wants the listener to understand that her lyrics are her eyes and they aren’t being used for fame, but rather to situate herself.
“Bonnie” is a love letter. Its production sounds like a slowed-down version of Lil’ Kim’s “Crush on You (Remix).” It’s evident that M.A is propelled by the rappers who came before her: Kim has appeared on her Instagram, she’s used the beat in Kim’s “Money, Power, Respect” for her song “EAT,” and they’ve shared Hot 97’s Summer Jam stage. “Bonnie” is truly a ride-or-die track, one we’ve seen time and time again, executed with the intent to express longevity and latching.
Young M.A ends the album with “Same Set” and “OOOUUU.” Both tracks are perfect for a New York summer. It’s always these stories that brought me back home, whether I was in the comfort of my Southern dorm room or on the steps of my grandmother’s home in East Flatbush.
M.A is definitely from my borough. Despite her controversial themes, she is a reverb of the cipher, a new rung of New York’s hip-hop greats. She respects their journeys, but is intent on making her own using the only context she knows: home. This summer it will be more than a culmination of tales that brings me back to Brooklyn. Herstory will bring me back too.