A quick note: I wrote this column yesterday afternoon, before the passing of Shawty Lo. Shawty Lo’s death is obviously the most important thing that’s happened in rap this week, and he absolutely deserves a longer consideration. I might write one next week. In the meantime, please watch the “Gucci Bandana” video at least three times in a row.
There have obviously been queer rappers before. In New York, there’s a whole thriving subculture built around the vogue-ball club scene, and there are thrilling, vital artists who may or may not be connected to that scene: Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Cakes Da Killa. In places like New Orleans and Baltimore, queer voices have been some of strongest, most celebrated voices of their local club-rap scenes for decades. Virtually every female rapper in the history of the genre has been rumored to be gay or bisexual, to the point where it’s almost a joke. (Danny Brown: “I eat that pussy like a female MC.”) People like Azealia Banks and Angel Haze have rapped about same-sex relationships, and even a star as big as Nicki Minaj has made it a sort of winking part of her persona (“I’m plotting on how I can take Cassie away from Diddy”). And then there’s Frank Ocean, who sometimes raps.
But even with all that history, the emergence of Young M.A’s “Ooouuu” as rap’s great summer 2016 street anthem says something important. It’s a brash, intense, hard-as-fuck piece of rider music from a woman who raps proudly, and playfully, about fucking other women, and it has absolutely taken over the most conservative city on the rap landscape. All of that is cause for celebration, but I don’t know if it’ll even matter to the legacy of “Ooouuu.” Instead, the song feels like it marks the arrival of a major rap talent — someone who is exceptional for reasons that go way beyond her sexual identity. “Ooouuu” is a classic New York banger, the type of song that makes old people like me think of Jadakiss or N.O.R.E. Its beat is eerie and simple and spacious, and it gives M.A, with her thick Brooklyn accent, all the room she needs to talk a whole lot of confident shit. There’s no question that you’re hearing a queer female rapper, and she’s never shy about being explicit: “I ride for my guys, that’s the bro code / Baby give me head, that’s a low blow / Shorty make me weak when she deep throat.” (The radio host Charlamagne asked her about that last line, and she just laughed: “I’ll bring a couple of girls here one day, and they’ll explain to you what that mean… You shouldn’t even want to know what a dildo does, buddy.”) But that’s not the focus of the song. The focus of the song is just fly, tough shit, delivered with the sort of charisma that makes you want to learn all the words so you can rap along.
“Ooouuu” is a special song. A whole lot of rappers have been trying to freestyle over that beat in the last month or two. None of them have even come close to touching what M.A did on it. If you ask me right now, as I’m writing this, it’s my favorite song of 2016. And if you happen to be from outside New York, a song like that might’ve caught you off guard. But M.A has been at it for a while, and she’s a more versatile rapper than “Ooouuu” might suggest. Consider, for instance, her freestyle over Nicki Minaj’s “Chiraq,” two years old and inching up on seven million views. On that song, she’s got a breakneck intensity, rapping fast but never losing that grimy take-no-shit personality. She’s been building up that grassroots audience, turning down the role of the female battle-rapper Freda Gatz on Empire — a role that she says was written specifically for her — just because she wanted to keep building her music organically. And on Sleep Walkin, the mixtape that she released late last year, you can hear a lot more of what M.A can do.
Right now, she’s one of our finest purveyors of slick, specific tough-talk: “Pulling out the pistol, make the pistol whistle / Silencer on that thing, you won’t hear what hit you.” But she also has moments where she talks about real difficulties in ways that other rappers can’t really address: “I had to cry, I had to hurt, I was at my worst / Mama wondered why I never liked to wear a skirt or wear a purse / I tried to be girly once, but fortunately, it didn’t work.” She raps about sex in ways that, if she wasn’t a woman, she’d probably get accused of misogyny. And there’s a real sense of joy to all that sex talk: “I said, ‘Come and get this D’ / She said, ‘Where? Nigga, stop it’ / I said, ‘I got that eight-inch in the closet.'” And then, a few songs later, she’s offering up sober life advice: “To all my gays struggling, still stuck in the closet / Just come out, be you, never try to disguise it.” A second later, she’s shouting out all the people working in the trap — another struggle that seems completely natural for her to address.
A fun thing about discovering Young M.A, about digging into her years-long catalog of YouTube videos with million-plus views, is learning that she’s not new. It’s not that rap is suddenly ready to accept an openly and explicitly gay rapper. It’s that rap has been ready. M.A has had an audience; it’s just an audience that’s suddenly getting a lot bigger because she’s got a hit that’s resonating in places beyond New York. What’s more, she’s a great rapper, one with an impeccable hardness and a whole lot to say. Her takeover is just beginning. I can’t wait to hear what she does from here.
1. Danny Brown – “Really Doe” (Feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, & Earl Sweatshirt)
You know when you see an album title on a tracklist and then decide it’ll probably be your favorite song? And then it does turn out to be your favorite song? Yeah. That. And goddam, Earl sounds tougher on this than he’s maybe ever sounded in his life: “Well, it’s the left-handed shooter, Kyle Lowry the pump / I’m at your house like ‘Why you got your couch on my Chucks?'”
2. Juicy J – “Trap” (Feat. Gucci Mane & PeeWee Longway)
It is an absolute joy to hear craggy old Southern rap bastards Juicy and Gucci doing the Run-D.M.C. tag-team style, especially when it involves Gucci bringing back that old bouncy/wordy intricacy: “Steve Austin flossin’, tell ‘em there’s a new boss in office.” Extra points for PeeWee sounding so, so sleazy. It’s weird that it cuts off so abruptly with the “got the game in a DDT” line, no fade-out or anything. But then Juicy is old; he remembers when wrestling matches really would end with a DDT.
3. Tate Kobang – “All Dat”
It will never not make me happy to hear a Baltimore accent on a rap song, especially on a great rap song.
4. The Cool Kids – “Running Man” (Feat. Maxo Kream)
The particular, weirdly fussy crispness that these kids brought a decade ago turned out to be fairly influential, and it’s nice to hear that they’re still good at it. Maxo Kream is a nice addition, especially with the black mags/black mags line that lets us know that yes, he did used to listen to the Cool Kids, and yes, he will also shoot you.
5. YFN Lucci – “Key To The Streets (Remix)” (Feat. Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, & Quavo)
YFN Lucci’s gnarled singsong is a thing of beauty, and it is such a pleasure to see him graduate to the “get Wayne on the remix” stage of rap stardom.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— Plies (@plies) September 18, 2016