Young M.A Talks ‘SleepWalkin’ Mixtape, Tackling Adversity and 50 Cent’s Influence [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
It may be a chilly early November afternoon, but something tells me that Young M.A's cold demeanor has nothing to do with the day's temperature. Upon entering the lobby of The Boombox office, the young spitter sits in an arm chair, flipping through a magazine without regard for the constant stream of people scurrying past. When I bother to question her about her interest in the latest issue of XXL that she's had her nose buried in for the past five minutes, she responds, "It's been a while since I actually looked through a magazine. They ain't as popular as they used to be," before continuing to scan the pages.
Young M.A may be hard to read and keeps her cards close to her chest, but beneath that guarded exterior is a vulnerable, yet fearless artist that is oblivious to people, places and things that don't concern her. Emerging with the "Brooklyn (Chiraq)" freestyle last year, the Brooklyn native's aggressive lyrical content drummed up plenty of controversy on the heels of its release, with renowned author and social commentator Dr. Boyce Watkins taking the rapper to task on his Facebook page.
But what was intended to be a negative quickly turned into a positive after Watkins' critiques helped make the freestyle video go viral, with more than a few fans -- the video has more than 3 million views and counting -- being thoroughly impressed with Young M.A.'s rhymes and confident swagger. "I woke up like, 'What the f--- [is going on]?" she tells The Boombox. "It was the very next day [after Watkins' comments] because it was already moving. We was promoting it in the streets heavy so the love was already there, but far as getting to the viral s---, it was like 'Wow.'"
The rapper's good fortune continued with an appearance on Fox 5 NY News for Lisa Evers' "Good Day Street Talk" segment in late September. For an independent artist, the opportunity was a big win. "It was crazy 'cause when I did it I didn't realize how big it was gonna be," M.A says. "And then I thought about it, like, 'This s--- comes on right after Empire. It became another viral moment for me."
Her rise to fame may have come overnight but Young M.A proves she has no problem grinding on her own. Her recently released SleepWalkin mixtape is evidence of that. The project is an introductory course that showcases her songwriting ability and potent bars. We caught up with Young M.A to talk about her tumultuous past, the present and what looks to be a bright future.
The Boombox: Your SleepWalkin mixtape dropped a few weeks ago. How has the reception been to the project?
Young M.A.: The love been crazy, man. It's actually more than I expected. I premiered it on Datpiff and we're already at 12,000 downloads [during the initial release], over 50,000 streams and, like, 100,000 views so it's being seen and being heard and it's moving so it's love. And I got more likes than dislikes, about 95 percent likes because they show you all that on Datpiff so it's [all] love.
What was your mission during the making of the tape? Did you feel you had something to prove or did you just wanna flex?
I was just giving 'em something different. I gave 'em six freestyles and six original songs, tackling the underground and the mainstream, tryna deliver something different to the people 'cause they know me as doing freestyles, but I do songs too. So I just wanted to give 'em the best of the both worlds at the same time.
What are three tracks that you can't wait for listeners to hear?
My favorite one is "Through the Day," I think that's No. 7 on the project, that's my favorite one out of all of them. "Hood Love," that's my second favorite, that's No. 5 on the project. A lot of people like "Karma Krys," that's No. 11, that's actually deep, relationship-wise, but it's a lot of joints on there so it's kind of hard to choose and I've been hearing that a lot from people that downloaded it. They said the same thing 'cause I asked 'em on my Instagram, like "What's your favorite song" and nobody could give me one. F--- it , I like all of them.
Listen to Young M.A's "Through the Day"
Many fans may be aware that you're from Brooklyn. What section are you from?
I tell people I'm from all over Brooklyn because I never stayed in one part of Brooklyn. I was born in East New York and then I moved to Flatbush with my mom at one point and then Crown Heights so I got people's all over. I don't like to claim a certain section 'cause that's the problem with our city in the first place, everybody feel like if you from this hood, you can't f--- with n----s from this hood, you know what I mean. So I don't put that out there, I f--- wit' n----s from all around. Brownsville, Bed Stuy, Coney Island, I got peoples everywhere.
What was it like growing up in Brooklyn as a kid?
I actually moved down South when I was 7 because my mom had brung us down South 'cause didn't want us in the schools out here. So I did school in the South and then I came back when I was 16. I grew up a tomboy I was into sports, I played football, I played basketball, I was just running around being a little shorty. All I knew was my mom and my brother at the time but a situation happened when I was 17 that put me in a whole different mind state.
What was the situation that occurred, if you don't mind me asking?
My brother got killed and it just took a left turn after that with family and how I behaved as well.
Did living in the South affect you in any way?
Nah, that's the crazy thing. People always wonder why I never lost my accent. Even when I was out there [in Virgina] they always knew I was a New York kid. And I was always back and forth, like, I was never just in the South. I came to New York for every summer, every holiday and birthday, so it was hard for me to lose the New York lingo or anything because I was always out here.
How did the death of your brother affect you?
It's more or so feelings, man. I put it through the music because I didn't wanna be in trouble. I didn't wanna be locked up for a long time, I didn't wanna end up killing somebody or me being killed so I made sure I put it in the music so it won't leave me in the same position like it did my brother. So I was doing things that I wasn't supposed to do, but I would think fast before it get hectic so I'm thankful for that. I wouldn't say I had a hard childhood because my mom always made sure we was Gucci, you know what I mean. Growing up, she made sure we ain't have to want for nothing. She did what she had to do, she made her money and we was always good. I ain't know my pops so I always looked up to my mom and I looked up to my older brother and these are just people that I looked up to in my life and that's basically it.
How do you think not having your father around took a toll on you, if at all?
I don't even know how I deal with it because I never knew how it was to have a man [in the house]. My pops got locked up when I was a year old and he ain't come home 'til I was like 11 so it was like my whole life I just had my moms. So I don't know if it affected me. If it did, I probably didn't see it maybe it was my behavior, certain stuff I was doing, fighting and not realizing it probably is an affect on me. But I never came to my mother like "Where's my father?" like, never. And my mother never downtalked him or nothing; she just held it down.
What would you say your first exposure to hip-hop was?
I was 9 years old listening to 50 Cent; that was my inspiration right there. I remember Get Rich or Die Tryin', that was the first album I ever told my mother to buy for me and from there is when I really fell in love with music. I started writing when I was 9, just trying it out, but he really inspired me to be like "This is something I wanna do." And I don't know how it came about for me to actually sit there and write songs, [though]. I really don't know. I know my mom used to spit back in the day, her and my uncle, but it wasn't nothing she pursued. It was just something she did from time to time so it could've came from her, you never know.
Was your mother an influence on you as far as music?
Hell yeah. My mom used to always play hip-hop around the crib, but moreso than that she played reggae and I grew up on reggae music more than I grew up on hip-hop. I just chose to listen to hip-hop 'cause when I was with my friends, we listened to rap. But throughout the house, when my mom was cleaning, she was a reggae head. My mom had a lot of reggae playing in the house and that's what I grew up on so even now I can listen to an all reggae set and be good from there.
Who were some of the reggae artists that you took a particular liking to?
My mom used to always play Beres Hammond, Sizzla. These are people that I still listen to now. Beenie Man, Sanchez, it's a lot, man. I can't even name 'em off the top of my head, that's just to name a few right there. And far as hip-hop, 50, Jay Z, Eve. As far as females, Eve was one of my favorites. Lauryn Hill, and I like Foxy too.
What was it about Eve that set her apart from other female rappers for you?
I think it was 'cause they called her the "Pitbull in a Skirt" and I think I was relating at that time 'cause I never seen [that]. Lil' Kim and them was talking about whatever they was talking about on the sexy side or whatever but I wasn't into that. Eve was a little more raw, she was with the Ruff Ryders and all that so that drew my attention. So big up to Eve, man, that was a big influence.
Was there a particular moment you remember where you was like "I'm gonna make this happen" and decided to put your all into it?
Because I did music in the past or whatever and I was more feminine then because of how the game was, there was no dyking and none of that. But I wasn't happy that way. I had people telling me how I should look, how I should sound, what I should talk about and it just kind of threw me off. It kind've turned me off and it was just like "I know I love music, I know it's what I do, but I'm not happy with it." So I stopped it and this was years ago. I chilled, but for some reason it just kept coming to my attention, it kept coming back. You know how they say if you leave something alone and if it come back it's meant [to be], well, that's kind of the situation.
And once my brother passed and all that, I left it alone then and I was mourning a lot so I wasn't even worried about the music; I was just trying to figure out how I was even gonna survive, you know what I mean. And eventually started noticing myself more into his footsteps and my moms was noticing it too and it was kind of scaring her and it made me realize I can't do this to my mother 'cause I seen how she acted when she passed and to see me going in that same lane, that's not something she wanted. So I made sure I stopped it before it even got critical. I'm blessed to say that. And that's what kind of made me say, "Let me get back on my s--- and be me. Don't worry about what everybody else thinking or feel like you should do."
I started spending my own money and going to the studio. Reaching out to people that do videos. I started putting that footwork in by myself. And then I met my team, Red Life. My man, LA Danger, me and him came together and we started the Red Life movement and from there we pushed it and I was like "I'm good now, I'm comfortable now. This is where I should be, this is my position." And that's when that "Brooklyn (Chiraq)" freestyle came and it just took off. And ever since I've been blessed, man.
Watch Young M.A, Rell Markz & LA Danger's "Brooklyn (Chiraq)" Freestyle Video
I've heard you reference Red Life on a few occasions. What is that about and what does it represent?
Red Life, it's a movement and a lot of people think we gang members and s--- and that's not the case at all. Red stands for Repent Everyday Life, so it's repenting everyday in life for this lifestyle. And we're a spiritual movement so red is [also] for the blood of Jesus. It's a spiritual thing, we believe in god so we try to put that first and after that we just do what we do. We don't want people to think we're gang members 'cause Red Life could stand for the Blood set. Even though I've been affiliated and my brother was Blood, I don't want that stigma 'cause it doesn't represent that. So I just want people to know it's a spiritual movement, it's a music movement, it's gonna be a label real soon so that's another reason why we don't want gang nothing attached to it.
The "Brooklyn (Chiraq)" freestyle was a big hit on YouTube and went viral with over three million views. How does it feel still being in the hood and living a regular life, but having that type of fanfare online?
It's crazy 'cause it came so fast. One day I woke up and they was like this guy promoted you on his Facebook and said, "Why is this woman rapping like this? She's a female, she should be motivating the youth in a more positive way," and when I seen it, it seen me it bugged me out and it's so many people commenting under it and mad likes, mad people in my inbox. And it became where I'm getting hit up from all over. It was people that had negative things to say, of course, but it was [also] a whole bunch of people that was with it. They was like "I hear you, but this s--- is dope. Who is this?" He was trying to stop my movement but it boosted my s---. So I'm thankful for that 'cause I knew that I would get to where I would get to eventually, but he just pulled that string.
Who was the person that posted the video?
I mean, everybody know it now, [it was] Dr. [Boyce] Watkins. I mean, he wasn't saying nothing wrong, but it was just more of a judgmental thing that made me be like "Come on, my G, you don't even know me. Don't assume." He didn't even say anything wrong. It was just that you judged me off a video on rip and that's what bothered me. But I got over it probably like a day after, like "This is a blessing." Get that criticism early 'cause it's gonna happen.
Did he ever attempt to reach out to you or your team after the fact?
Nah. We tried to reach out to him and see if he would sit down to have a conversation, but nobody reached back.
What are some of the adversities you faced coming up as a new artist, lesbian or female in hip-hop?
It's people out there that I may see in the comments say things like "What is this he-she?" you know what I mean. It's hateful comments out there, but that's with everybody. Even if it ain't about that, it can be about this, it can be about that so I know that's gonna happen 'cause this is the world that we live in, I expect that. But it gets overshadowed with so much love that I don't even pay attention to that. It's like a splinter, it doesn't affect me at all. So it's like, yeah, you can do what you do but you listening to me and that's what matters and you're gonna keep listening 'cause you obviously feel something to be mad and have to write it out. When they don't listen and they don'y say something negative you ain't doing something right and that's how I look at it.
Listen to Young M.A's SleepWalkin Mixtape
Do you feel that being a somewhat aggressive female from a rough neighborhood has helped you deal with any of that or maybe make people think twice before trying to pulling certain things?
I don't fear nobody and that's how I live my life, I live my life with no fears. I can't fear nobody, as a female alone I have to be this way, you know what I mean. And it ain't even nothing that I'm choosing to do it's just something that I feel. I became real heartless for some years now and it just became a thing where I don't even care what people say, think or anything. If you don't f--- with me, just don't f--- with me. But I'm still gonna do what I gotta do regardless because I still gotta eat and I still gotta take care of my family whether I'm a female or not, you understand what I'm saying. And then hip-hop, they look at it as a man's game anyway, but I look at it as just a game. I don't want you to consider me as the female rapper of the gay rapper, I'm rapping, that''s it. I don't care if I'm next to n----s or females. We all rappers. That's it.
You were recently profiled on a segment on Fox News that got a great response. How did that opportunity occur?
Lisa Evers, man. I had did a Street Soldiers thing with Hot 97 and we was talking about women in the industry in general and she actually reached out to my partner and told him she wanted me to be a part of it because she felt I have a voice. So we made that happen and she actually liked me on the show so much that she actually got my information and wanted me on her show on the Fox 5 where I was actually speaking about the women in hip-hop as well and she wanted me to talk about it and interview me on it or whatever. It blew my mind to see me on TV, that's big as a kid from Brooklyn just seeing that s---. You see the news all the time, you see celebrities talking and to see your actual face on there and them premiering your video. Crazy.
You have your debut album, Herstory, slated to drop in 2016. What inspired that title?
I gotta song called "Act'N Up" that I did a while ago that's on YouTube now and I say a line it that said, "Who am I / I'm history in the making" and I just looked at it as instead of saying "history" I'll say "herstory in the making" and it just came like that, that easy. So that's basically how that came about.
How deep into the recording process are you?
Not so much 'cause we just finished the SleepWalkin mixtape. The album, I know we still getting beats right now. We wanna make sure this one is fire 'cause this is all originals. This ain't no freestyles, this ain't none of that. The people about to hear the story for real so that's what we was basically prepping for on the SleepWalkin project. I ain't wanna give them my all on this 'cause we still gotta give 'em an album and the album counts more than a mixtape. So right now we taking our time; we cruising right now trying to promote SleepWalkin. And I'm trying to get more life experience so that way when I do start the album I'll have a mind full of s--- to say 'cause I don't wanna repeat myself 'cause that's never dope.
What kind of surprises can your fans expect as far as content that you have in the works?
I'm trying to work with Swizz Beatz right now. We're in that process right now trying to work something out with him 'cause I actually met him a couple of months ago with Lee Daniels from Empire and that's how we connected and he's just been a cool and humble dude since then.
You recently had a release party for SleepWalkin at Webster Hall in New York. That kind of caps off what has been a breakout year for you. What does a moment like that mean to you as far as basking in the success of your accomplishments?
It's funny you ask that 'cause I was just at Shade 45 the other day with the Heavy Hitters and DJ Enuff had actually said, "Yo, have you ever had a moment where you just cried for joy?" and I said, "Nah, I ain't had one of those moments yet." He was like "You might have that moment at Webster Hall" 'cause this is like the time where everything [culminates]. We done had so much successful s--- going on since December of last year and he was like this is the moment where you might shed tears 'cause this is where you see all the people who actually came to support you. Not just "Yo, I'm coming to the club today and whoever performs performs." This is people coming out to actually see me put on a show for the first time so it's like, I don't even know. I'm just anxious, you know what I mean. I don't even know how to feel.
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