Young M.A. On Living In Her Own Lane

While most of us remember 2016 as a year of utter shit, such isn’t the case for Young M.A. At that time, the New York-born rapper made it big after ages of having an online presence with her official debut “Ooouuu”, which turned her into a household name. At just 25 years old, M.A. has made a significant cultural impact on a genre that, for instance, isn’t known for being particularly accepting of the LGBT community, a marginalized group to which M.A. belongs. Established artists like Jadakiss, Remy Ma, and French Montana all made their own remixes of the track, which M.A. recorded in a self-funded studio while working at Shake Shack and T.J. Maxx. A musician first and foremost, Young M.A. is figuring out how to hone her craft in an industry that’s facing rapid change in the wake of social media stardom, amongst other disruptions. Shot by Milk fam Andy Boyle, check out our exclusive feature on one of our favorite emerging artists, below.

A lot of people think of musicians as strictly audio artists. They forget about all of the visuals that come into play. How comfortable are you with that side of things, such as today’s shoot? 

It definitely became natural, in print form. It comes a lot from who I am as a person. I’m very on, I’m on every day, I’m very specific with certain things, and I just like to feel comfortable, I like to be in control a lot of the time too. I feel like it’s just necessary. It’s most definitely necessary to be exposed. I don’t want nobody to mold me into something I’m not comfortable doing, so I learned that a long time ago.

When you’re making music, are you ever visualizing things simultaneously?

Oh, absolutely. The visual doesn’t come much later, probably not just right then and there, but like I think about it. If I’m in the groove of a song, say the song is recorded, and I’m listening to it, then that’s when the visuals come. You get a vibe. The vibe is really what brings the visual. I got this vibe from this song, so for the visuals, I think we should go this route.

You’re from New York but moved around a ton while growing up. I’m curious if you think New York is conducive to being an artist. So many great creatives come out of here, and it’s so cultural, but at the same time, it’s competitive and expensive.

It’s definitely all three of those things. I would definitely say one thing about New York City is that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. It’s like basically starting with the hard part first, and then everything becomes easy. If you can come to New York City, everything is a breeze. This is the hardest part, getting New York City to pay attention to you, understand you, and even like you. New York City is a big ass critic, a big place where people don’t care and will judge you. They honest, they too honest. If you wack, you wack. They not gonna pretend you’re not. Once you conquer New York City, everything else is possible.

Once you conquer New York City, everything else is possible.

Do you still feel like it benefitted you to move around as much as you did? Like it might have affected your style, or who you are, right?

It definitely attributed to who I am as a person and also as a musician. New York City is its own city; nothing is like New York City. New York City has its own culture, its own thoroughness, so when you move to somewhere where it’s calmer, more country, it kind of affects you, not in a bad way, but it humbles you. New York City is real fast—everything is right then and there, but when you go down south, it’s slower, it’s more patient. I had to learn the two. I have a way about me where I’m patient because I lived in the south, but in New York City you’re in a rush for everything, everything needs to be done soon. I think it’s actually a good thing to have, to have both qualities, and I think moving from place to place, for me as a kid, I don’t think it was always good, because you’re losing friends, and it definitely affected me as a kid, because everywhere I settled, I was leaving. But it also taught me to not be comfortable, because in this industry, you’re not supposed to be comfortable.

You have to be able to adapt quickly, and it seems like you were doing that as a kid. 

That’s exactly what I was doing. So it was almost like a prep.

I forget what it is exactly, but people say something like, “Stay in New York until it makes you hard, stay in LA until it makes you soft.” I think having a balance really makes a difference. 

And then it’s different when you’re from this place, and you leave, and then you come back. It’s like, I have to remind myself of where I came from. I never lost it, but it’s basically getting back into being here officially again. It’s not like you’re visiting, in and out, you’re back home now. You’re going back to your roots, it’s building from that foundation on. I’ve been back here since I was 15 or 16.

One thing about New York is that you’re surrounded by other artists, which isn’t the case if you’re living in bumbfuck in the middle of nowhere. Can you talk about your earlier DIY days here when you didn’t have a team? 

When I was down south, that’s when I really found myself in music. Just because of my mom, and what I grew up in the household with, she always played music. From R&B, to hip-hop, to reggae, real cultural reggae. My mom played music when she cleaned, before she got dressed…there was always music in the house. When I eventually got adapted to having music culture in me, installed in me, I never knew it at the time when I was young, like eight or nine, but it wasn’t until I was 10 or 11 when I started paying attention to music, to rap. It kind of just came to me, “I want to be a rapper.” Where I was staying in Virginia, there wasn’t too much to do, as far as getting into the industry. There’s not a lot out there where you can make it.

What part of Virginia was it?

Like Richmond, Petersburg, Colonial Heights. Not big on hip-hop. There’s a lot of artists out there doing their thing, but they don’t get exposure. My mom would take me out to the studios out there, but I don’t even think I was ready. I wanted to do music, I wrote, but as far as going out there and taking initiative to do shows, I wasn’t doing that; it wasn’t until I got back to NYC where I kind of got back into roots of being around people. NYC is full of people, but when you live in the south, everyone is so spread out. NYC, you can turn a corner, and there’s someone there. There’s people around. When I got readjusted to being around so many people, and readjusted to going to the city, getting on trains, that built the confidence in me to be like, now it’s time to go to the studio or take the initiative to do these shows by myself in front of people. I think that’s what gave me confidence, because before, I was shy. I felt like if I could just write a rhyme and record a song, I’d be good. I didn’t know about the other stuff that came with it.

It’s a performance. It’s an art and a performance. 

Yeah, you’re entertaining, you’re performing, basically you’re giving the people you. And, I wasn’t comfortable with that. I didn’t fully understand that yet. Once I got back to NYC, the thoroughness came through. I wasn’t patient no more; I wasn’t calm no more. It was more like, let’s get it, let’s go. Finding myself, coming out, and being me, so once that came into place, everything else became easy.

It’s kind of interesting because some people, the more people are around them, the more people that are at their show, the more nervous you know they’ll become. And you’re kind of saying that it fueled you, instead of in the south or something, you’re scared no one will come since no one lives there.

It’s interesting because for some people, the more people around them, the more nervous they are. It seems like it was the opposite for you.

One thing I can say about the south is that it’s so small that word travels fast. Any event that people hear will be poppin’, everyone will show up to that event. They’ll go to that one, but as opposed to NYC, there’s so much going on so that there’s different people in different places. Unlike in the south, if there’s one club, then everyone is going to go to one club. It’s not like there’s multiple clubs. In the south, there’s just that one club that people go to and it’ll be a packed house. It’s different in NYC, because everyone has come from different places, so everyone’s a stranger. In the south, everyone’s related, everyone knows each other. It’s comfortable like that too, because it’s easier to get word spread. You’ll become the man in the south faster than you will in NYC. That’s why I said that if you can come to NYC and there’s so many strangers, and you conquer it, you’ll make it anywhere.

I guess in the south it’s more like a big fish in a small pond situation.  

And they stick together out there too.

Another interesting thing about you is your use of the Internet. We were talking about how geography is important, but if you can pop off online, it doesn’t really matter. Can you tell me about how you think social media relates to your career? 

It’s a new part of the industry. I definitely use social media to my advantage, and it wasn’t even done on purpose. I just knew that people pay attention on the Internet. Before Instagram was even Instagram, before Facebook was Facebook, I was using Myspace. This was way back, 13 or 14-years-old. I’ve been using the Internet to my advantage since I was young. It was a good outlet for me to get heard instead of me going to radio stations and waiting outside, I wasn’t doing that. I felt like my pride was too strong, for me to be standing and waiting for someone to come outside and for me to hand them my demo. I feel like with the Internet, I noticed that the it became an outlet for me, and people began to pay attention to what I do. And people are giving me comments and compliments, but it started off small. It never popped off right away, I started very small. From really small, people think this is overnight, but no. I started on Myspace. And not everyone can say that. I had music on my Myspace, with thousands of plays. Then when Facebook started to come, I jumped to Facebook. I used Facebook as my outlet. If anyone knew me, they knew it was something I did. It was always attached to me. Then when Instagram came, it became the new thing. Music industry got involved, then I was like, ok let’s go. YouTube videos, promoting, and hashtags, and you can message people, send them your music and links and URLs, that’s when I got into, alright, let’s get it. It came from this, go slowly, expanding, until I went viral.

The typical person won’t see that. They’ll think, “Oh, she put out a song, and overnight she blew up.” 

And they don’t know what it took from the very beginning. I built off that seed, and I blossomed from there. It’s not overnight.

I know for me, when I was growing up, as someone in the LGBT community, the Internet was something I went to when no one around me was relating to me. So whether it’s a personal thing or music, you’re able to find people to connect to.

Social media is definitely a gift and a curse. It definitely did build my career, and it’s growing and people love me. It’s not just my music. It was me interacting online, and talking to people, and going live, and posting videos of me being natural, and I had a video where I had a whole YouTube channel. It wasn’t even about music. I was a whole different person. I was talking about different situations we go through in life, like LGBT life. I had a different channel for that. People knew my face, I was always there, doing something. When you’re on the road to loving who you are, the music gets easier to make.

When you’re on the road to loving who you are, the music gets easier to make.

People are getting smarter about which musicians are authentic and which ones aren’t, and now they can really tell the difference based on people’s social media. 

Yes! And now you have a fan base. People make fan pages of you, they promote you. Their life is dedicated to you, because they feel like they know you. They literally call me by my name. I don’t like it, but that’s how close they feel to you. When a fan can say your real name, and not call you by your rap name, then that’s when you know they have an attachment. They feel like they know you; they’re a part of you.

I know that when you’re putting out new music, and right now you’re in a creative mode and creating stuff, when you’re putting stuff out, beyond just the streams and the obvious stuff, like the charts, whatever, how do you define success? What for you is like feeling satisfied? I feel like a lot of artists, it’s hard for them to finish a song, eventually you have to take a step back. I’m curious to hear, what makes you think, that was a good one?

When you put out new music, apart from streams and whatnot, what makes you feel satisfied? When are you able to leave a track, feel like it’s finished, and then put it out into the world?

I don’t like rushing things. I feel like it has to be on point at all times, and I’m just real specific with stuff. Sometimes, it could be a problem. But then you have to understand that the industry is changing a little bit. What I grew up on, and what I’m used to, you got to catch up. The industry is switching so fast. Every day, it’s something new. 2017, something is new, and social media is a big part of it. It’s not about the music, it’s about just going viral by doing something. That’s where I’m stuck in between. Is the music still important? Or is it about looking a certain way and going viral? Is it about saying something stupid? That’s the place I’m stuck in.

I’m familiar with that from picking who to feature. “Well, she has like 3 bajillion followers…” But we ask, what does she do? I have respect for those people, but I can’t sit and talk to them about artistry.

I’m real specific on music. The music has to feel good, and I’m about doing whatever I’m feeling at the moment. That’s what I’ll record. It’s hard for me to be sad and record a turn-up song. I have to have a vibe, maybe a little drink or smoke, zone-out and listen to some music from before, and get my mind in that creative zone. It’s not always easy, because I like to think about what I’m saying. I like to think, I don’t want to just say anything.

You’re at a point where you have to think, because there are people listening. It wasn’t always the case, because you have a couple million people in your ear now.

Exactly, exactly. Now it’s a different situation because you got people asking what’s going on. They’re asking what the next journey is. Not even from your fans, but your people that are representing you, they have pressure to. It’s definitely a little difficult because you have to be in a creative zone. I always am in a creative zone when I write music. I never wrote music just off the random. I have to be in the zone. And vibe out. Sometimes I just get those urges. It definitely comes from that. You make an album, an album has to be right. I never feel like music should be rushed. This is just like a painter, you can’t rush a painter. He’s creating art, you can’t rush him. Give him his time, give him his space. You can’t say, “paint me this!” That’s not how art works.

I feel like in this day and age, people are so used to instant gratification, and people can be really demanding because of that. 

It’s because now, it’s so much music now. Music literally comes up every second. It’s not like back then where it was like, one or two hits popping on the radio. Now, everyone’s coming up with music. There’s so many artists. It’s like a world of artists, you got to keep up. That’s what I’m trying to get back to. Keeping up. Every year is getting crazy.

You’ve got it though.

I’m in my own lane. I don’t like people putting me in a box. I’m not like nobody, and nobody’s like me. I don’t like being compared to nobody. I’m Young M.A. I’m in my own lane. I’m at the top.

Styled by Sam Weir. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more icons in the making.

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