Young M.A: “Ooouuu” Star on Why She Turned Down ‘Empire’ Role
One of the most unexpectedly pleasant surprises of the summer has been Young M.A's ascendance in the New York rap scene. The Brooklyn MC first emerged in 2014 with her "Chiraq (Freestyle)," spitting sharp bars that arguably improved upon the late Young Pappy's original track and drawing the ire of cultural commentator Dr. Boyce Watkins. A year later, she scored another YouTube hit with the furious battle rap "Body Bag" and the mixtape, Sleepwalkin'. For a minute, it seemed Young M.A seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of Uncle Murda, the late Chinx and other Rotten Apple knuckleballers who generate more regional respect than mainstream acclaim. That all changed with "Ooouuu."
"Ooouuu," the infectious and clubby ode to living lovely, smokin' loud and gettin' money started blowing up in the streets, on the Internet and, currently, the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it's currently Number 67. It's been remixed and remade by Nicki Minaj, the Game, Meek Mill and more.
"The summer has been very busy, and exciting at the same time," says the 24-year-old MC who, as of yet, has declined to share her government name. In an interview, the woman with a fondness for getting smashed on "Henny" and sexing "headphanies" talks about how she turned down a gig on Empire, how she avoids the hip-hop police and what follows viral success.
You've been developing your rap career for years now. What's it like to just be grinding away, and then finally have a hit song?
It's been good because we didn't put too much pressure on ourselves by being independent. We just went with the punches and went with the flow of things. We didn't set no particular goals; we just went with whatever. Like, whatever mood I was in [in the studio], I went with it. I didn't have no deadlines for anything, so it wasn't too bad. It was like we were moving off of whatever happens, happens. That started to work for us.
Will "Ooouuu" be part of a mixtape or an album, or is it just a standalone single?
Yeah, it's definitely going to be part of an upcoming mixtape I've got coming up. Last year I dropped Sleepwalkin' on November 4, 2015. I think I'm going to do the same this year, and drop it on the same date, and call it Sleepwalkin' Volume 2, and put "Ooouuu" as well as "Summer Story" on it.
Do you have any plans to put out an official album?
Yeah, next year I have plans on doing that. Herstory in the Making is basically what it's called. It's my story of how long I've been grinding and working, and chasing this dream since I was a kid.
Are there any rappers that have influenced you?
When I was a kid, my favorite rapper was 50 Cent. He was definitely a big influence on why I wanted to do music. I used to listen to Jay Z a lot. Eve as well. … I always dreamed about it since I was 9, 10 years old as a kid. But as far as taking full effort into pursuing it independently and really taking it serious, and telling myself I'm not going to give up, and not going to discourage myself off of anything, it was probably a few years ago when I started putting out freestyles on YouTube and SoundCloud.
Which jobs did you have before you pursued a rap career?
I did retail. I worked at TJ Maxx before. I did fast food at Shake Shack. Those are the only two after high school. It wasn't working out. I wasn't happy. It was just something to get a dollar once I graduated from high school to have money in my pocket. I never went to college or whatever. I wanted to go to college, but I don't know, there was just something about music that I couldn't let go. So I just pursued it 100%.
RedLyfe is your management company, correct?
Yeah, it's my team. It's my team that I came in with a couple of years ago.
In "Brooklyn (Chiraq Freestyle)," you talk about how people have misinterpreted RedLyfe as a Bloods crew.
For some reason, they think we're gang members, or part of the Bloods gang, and we're not. So I just try to be clearing that up as much as possible in interviews. People will say we're gang members just by looking at us. I just be trying to clear the air every chance I get to let people know that we're in a whole different mindstate now. When we came up with the actual movement, it was never anticipated to be some type of gang. It was always initiated to be a movement for music, and also for a spiritual movement, because we believe in God, and we always put God first, no matter what we do. I guess if we was just "The Lyfe," they wouldn't think that. But since we put the word "red" in it, they took that and ran with it.
Have you had any trouble with the hip-hop police? It seems like whenever New York rappers get hot, they encounter trouble from the cops, whether it's Bobby Shmurda or, more recently, Desiigner.
They were actually around before the "Ooouuu" release started to heat up. I'd see them a lot. There was this one guy who I'd always see at a lot of shows that I was booked at. He was always there. I started to see him a lot more often once the record started getting popular. But I'm not worried about it because we move smart. We're not a bunch of dumb little idiotic guys running around, thinking we can do what we want. We're real smart about it. I basically worked my ass off, so I'm not even going to try to make that my fate.
Your flow is very distinctive. How did you develop your voice?
Uh, I can't even tell you that!
Maybe that's too abstract of a question. I guess I'm wondering how you developed as a rapper.
See, as a kid I just studied it so much. I paid attention to the music industry, and watching a lot of stuff on TV, behind-the-scenes stuff on old DVDs, and paying attention to interviews from artists and rappers, and just really watching a lot of stuff as a kid. A few years ago, I woke up and was, like, "I'm going to start rapping about truthful things." Before, when I was younger, I used to rap about things I ain't have, like a million dollars in the bank, and cars I didn't drive, and houses, mansions, and stuff I didn't have. Once I got to a point I was, like, respecting myself for who I am, and speaking truthfully to people that can relate to me as well. Once I got to that point, I was able to feel a little more comfortable in music, and not too much worried about what I should say or how I should say it. I got to a point where, whatever my emotions, what I was going through, whatever my friends was going through, everything I experienced, it had to be truthful to me, or I couldn't talk about it.
"Karma Krys" is a good relationship song.
"Karma Krys," like I said before, is realistic. It really happened. It's really something I went through. The girl on the voicemail is really my ex-girlfriend, and she really left that voicemail on my phone. I just put it to the [microphone], and recorded it on the track. It's relationship problems that we all go through in life. I know people can relate to it. I wanted them to hear my side of the story and how I felt about things, and what I did and how I felt wrong for what I did. I also get her side where she's on the voicemail, speaking out of anger and out of hurt. I just wanted to get the best of both worlds as far as the relationship on the song.
Did she get mad that you put her voice on the mixtape? After all, Drake got sued for doing the same thing on "Marvins Room."
Shit, everybody's askin' me that. Naw, she was good. She actually got a little famous for that. A lot of girls was telling her, "I know how you feel." They could relate. So it was a good thing.
I heard that you almost joined the cast of Empire.
I just didn't want to be known as a character from Empire before I was known as Young M.A. They was trying to put me in the show instead of just having me as a special guest or anything like that. I wasn't comfortable because I was working so hard before that, and just to jump into something so fast because it seemed like a great opportunity at the time, it didn't make sense on what I was trying to do. So I turned it down. Plus, the contract wasn't up to my standards. This was last year, before the previous season just passed. Before [Season 2] came out, they was trying to make me, um … some type of girl-name in there, I think it's Freda Gatz? The initial name was Betty Bars. Everything they wrote, like, everything [rapper/actress Bre-Z] is playing in the scenes was written for me. That's why she's from Brooklyn in the show. But I turned it down, that's why they got someone else to do it. It just wasn't for me.
Now that you have a Billboard Hot 100 hit, are major labels reaching out to you?
Yeah, absolutely. I've sat with so many major labels. Big guys. It's a lot of them … from RCA to Universal and Atlantic Records. It's been crazy. I haven't made up my mind yet. I don't even know if I'm going to sign or not. I'm just going with the flow right now.
Did you hear the Nicki Minaj remix of "Ooouuu"?
Yeah, of course I heard it. I thought it was dope. My team already wanted to reach out to her to do the remix. But she wound up putting out without telling anybody, so it was kinda, like, a surprise. And it wasn't a bad surprise, you know what I mean? … Also, Beyoncé used the record, too, on her Instagram video. That one is the one that got to me the most.
How do you plan to follow it up?
I don't know, man, that's the scary part. I've never had a plan prior to this. It was always just go with whatever, and that seemed to have been working for me. Definitely, the mixtape, like I said. I've been doing a lot of touring, and a lot of people have wanted to work with me feature-wise. I'm just going with the flow, man.