Talking to Katorah Marrero, it's easy to see why M.I.A. has booked her for Meltdown this month
Young M.A doesn’t care for your bullshit. On ‘Same Set’, from her new EP, ‘Herstory’, that bullshit is rappers who pose in foreign cars: “In the Yams with some Jordans, on our scooter bikes / They was claiming that they do it but don’t do it right / It’s not about what you got, it’s about who you are / ‘Cause we don’t need foreign cars to get foreign broads.” As the beat rides out, she cackles about it with her team: ‘But nah for real, we really be in the Yams on them scooter bikes bro. We got the Jordans on the back of them and all that. Then we see these niggas comin’ down the strip in foreign cars. And we be laughin’, ‘cause when you look inside of them, it’s just niggas. No girls – niggas… We them niggas.’ It’s classic New York rap paired with familiar no-nonsense punch line, the type you can imagine Chris Rock delivering to a crowd of hundreds. But on the track, M.A (born Katorah Marrero) is just chilling with her friends rather than delivering a sermon; her performance is assertive, but casual enough to feel more like passing thoughts than a showy performance, where we’re welcomed into that personal space to enjoy her company.
Being genuine through her music is a focal point of our conversation. “It’s just real. It’s realistic. There’s no bluffing. There’s nothing fake about it,” she says. Fittingly, though talking through the impersonal filter of an international conference call, Young M.A is giving all sides of herself, stunningly open in a way some people would be hesitant to do with long-time friends, let alone strangers – and white boy suburban strangers at that.
She’s keen to reiterate, deliberating over every word so it’s felt over the phone: “I speak my mind. I’m blunt. I’m straight to the point, and I really don’t care what people think. It’s just something that a lot of people can relate to… a lot of people will come up to me and tell me that I inspire them, because I’m so bold about myself.” You can see why M.I.A. has asked her to perform as part of her Meltdown Festival at London’s Southbank Centre this month.
This boldness is front-and-centre within most rap, but that doesn’t make how Young M.A does it any less vital. She’s a self-made artist and businesswoman who rose through sheer talent and willpower, using hard-nosed freestyles rather than buzzy features, all while refusing to censor herself. Her music often speaks of this self-belief, as well as a trust in her family, her faith and her identity as a young, black, gay American. One of her favourite topics is women – her ‘Sex Issue’ freestyle for the Fader turned heads for its blatant references to a wild night with a girl, and a nine-inch helping hand – brash to some, significant to many other fans, who are her lifeblood.
“Sometimes it’s still surreal to me to see somebody crying over me,” she says. “Like, to me, I still feel like I’m just me!… But they don’t look at me like that. It’s deeper. It’s bigger than that. And I’m starting to understand that.
“That’s my motivation, man. They keep me in high spirits. This world can definitely be real cruel, very disrespectful, but these people… it just makes me feel like ‘you’re here for a reason, you’re doing this for a reason, and this is what God had planned for you. This is why you’ve loved music for so long.’”
As a unique figure in the current hip-hop landscape, Young M.A has her fair share of detractors. The comments underneath her biggest freestyles are quickly poisoned by slurs and homophobia, though this isn’t something that fazes her.
“Come on, man. I’m not trash,” she smirks. “A lot of people [know that] M.A is one of the hottest artists, so when I see people say that, I know what it really is. I know that they really don’t like me as me. I can respect that more because I know that it’s not about my music, it’s just that you don’t like me as a human being.
“Nobody’s never, ever came to me, face to face, and said anything disrespectful to me… People sit here crying in front of me, so I could never let a little comment on the Internet make me feel like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do.”