When Brooklyn-bred Young M.A’s “OOOUUU” freestyle made one the biggest waves of 2016 — radio, remixes and then some — a shockwave also hit once everyone discovered that it belonged to a new femcee. The braids, the tattoos, the hat twisted to the back, the mouth and chest filled with all-gold-everything and the “bro code” squad might even lead you to believe that she was simply coordinating. The bars we hear from the raspy-toned, gritty lyricist surely have to manifest into her physical appearance, right?
But after releasing the prelude to her debut album with seven tracks of raw, undisturbed bars on Herstory, Young M.A never needed to be “one of the guys” and has no use in learning how to run with the big boys; in fact, it’s the boys who’d better keep speed with her.
As a rap rookie attempting to level up past a short-lived limelight, an EP can be quite risky. It either forecasts how underwhelming an artist’s bars are before an official industry debut or earns said artist a comfortable seat among the privileged rap circle. The Red Lyfe rap star locks in the latter with the project’s brutal foreword, “M.A Intro.” In the warning shot for her detractors, M.A takes full advantage of a stormy, piano-laced entrance with a chilling beat drop and the simple declaration reiterated through all seven tracks: "It's M.A, b***h, act like you knew that." She's much more deliberate and radical over the aggressive bassline than she ever was on the laid back 2016 smash single, establishing the versatility of her flow early on.
It’s the perfect curtain-raiser for the remaining six tracks and predecessor for the Lil Jon-sampling “Hot Sauce,” a day in the M.A. life narration sauced up in Brooklyn braggadocio. Timberlands and that New York City bop are only minor nods to her home grounds and rap star merit. Posted up at the strip club in only a way that the “Henny n Hoes” artist would, the visual for the track, released a month prior, boasted four minutes of booze and burlesque at the renowned ACES New York strip club.
But for “JOOTD,” the acronymous nod to Atlanta-born songstress Monica’s “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Them Days),” M.A. unwinds from her NY swag. Monica’s vocal sample is one of the most familiar sounds from the entire EP given M.A’s newfangled revamping of the 1995 R&B classic, but the track doesn’t quite shine as one of the project’s lyrical standouts. Her declaration of independence and autocracy for “Self M.Ade” does however, reaching further back into music’s yesteryears with Chicagoan film icon Melvin Van Peebles’s 1973 track “The Eight Day Week.” M.A’s cadence is slightly altered for “Self M.Ade,” as she maintains a sing-songy hook and cleverly-placed breaks among her steady aggression. Moving toward the end of the first verse, M.A builds up on vicious wordplay worthy of being stacked up against any other rising Brooklyn artist — femcee or otherwise:
Every b***h a prima donna, a hundred on the highway/Riding in the Hyundai
Glock on the side 'cause they lookin' at me sideways/Gotta make a quick move, grindin' 'cause the rent due
I hear them guys talkin' 'bout me, homie, that's a b***h move/
That is what a b***h do, I'm guessing you a b***h too
Finding Nemo with the chopper/Feed them n****s fish food
The Ja Rule-sampling “Bonnie,” squad-saluting “Same Set” and freestyle fan-favorite “OOOUUU” trio concludes the EP. In the last moments of Herstory, M.A allows us a first listen to storytelling experimentation, all while remaining maintaining the now-signature grit of her freestyles. And why do we need an album full of freestyles when “OOOUUU” and Head-phanie have already been ingrained into our Young M.A memory? Herstory proves that her bars stand strong enough on their own without catchy choruses or the use of trendy throwaway lyrics.
Even the cover photo, a literal young M.A counting Monopoly dough with a phone fixed between her ear and shoulder, reinforces that her persona, her demeanor nor her presence among the new faces of the rap game are a claim-to-fame gimmick. This is her, this has always been her and this is only the beginning of her story.