Many people first heard of Young M.A. after her 2014 underground freestyle rap Brooklyn Chiraq sparked a heated controversy about glorifying gun violence in music. Or maybe they’ve heard that she was the inspiration for the character Freda Gatz on the Fox hit Empire, but turned down the role out of concerns she would be pigeonholed. Or maybe you just know who Young M.A. is because she’s one of few openly gay rappers, one of few visibly masculine “stud” lesbians in pop culture today.
Or perhaps you’ve seen Young M.A. in campaigns for brands like Beats by Dre, Pandora and Google Pixel.
As one of this generation’s most charming and authentic hip-hop stars, Young M.A. is part of the inaugural class of Adweek’s Pride Stars, a new industry award honoring LGBTQ leaders in marketing, advertising, brands, media, tech and culture.
Born Katorah Marrero in Brooklyn 28 years ago to Jamaican and Puerto Rican parents, Young M.A. started writing rap lyrics in her schoolbooks at age 9. Her mom bought her a karaoke machine, which she used to set up a makeshift recording studio in a closet. M.A. (as friends call her) uploaded her debut single OOOUUU to Soundcloud in the spring of 2016, where it went viral. French Montana, Remy Ma, Jadakiss with Uncle Murda, A$AP Ferg and Tink all recorded their own versions of the laid-back, almost druggedly chill verses; Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj each sampled the beat. By the end of the year, Young M.A. was opening for Beyonce at MetLife Stadium. By 2017, she was nominated for Best New Artist at both the MTV and BET music awards.
With a rapid rise to the top of the music industry, Young M.A. hasn’t had much time to slow down. Then the pandemic hit. Her latest EP, Red Flu, was recorded solo during Covid-19 quarantine, which she says was the result of “having time to reflect.”
“This EP is straight raw, no filter,” M.A. told Adweek in May just before the release. “It’s not really too personal—the album was more personal—but it’s just raw and I say what the fuck I want to say.”
With tracks like Trap or Cap and Bad Bitch Anthem, Young M.A.’s latest paints a portrait of an artist who is unapologetically at home with herself and where she comes from. Trap or Cap blends girl problems with the hard realities of the street. And the anthem is an ode to a certain kind of tough femme; she has “more Chanel than Chanel” but is also armed with a Glock—“she pretty but she pop too.”
“I never thought, ‘I’ll be the first gay rapper or lesbian rapper or stud dyke,’ anything like that,” said M.A. “I felt like my music was more relatable, more so than who I was as a representation of being gay.”
Young M.A. has never held back from rapping about sex with women, nor has she adjusted her appearance and the way she carries herself for the industry. She partners with Fashion Nova Men, famously directed a feature-length lesbian adult film in collaboration with Pornhub, and even released a line of sex toys marketed to lesbians with the brand Doc Johnson. Cutting a deal to sell the toys exclusively on her own website, M.A. says the product has sold out multiple times since it debuted in February.
While never wanting to make a big deal out of her sexual orientation, at the same time she’s hardly hiding who she is. “What could they say? I’m a dyke? OK, cool. I know,” she said. “And I get more bitches than you.”
“I have people come to me all the time, saying how much I inspired them or how I got them through a depression or how much I made them feel like themself or come out,” she said. “The fact that I can inspire somebody without even exploiting that, I’m just like, prideful.”
When asked what her next move is when it comes to partnering with brands, Young M.A. hopes to move into more business ventures. And she wants brand marketers to know that despite all the tough talk and the guns in the videos, “my brand is pure.”
“I don’t have no bad energy following me, no legal problems or anything like that,” she said. “It’s not gang related or nothing. My brand is innocent in this way that you can trust it.”
Innocent in the sense of staying off the gossip blogs and out of trouble, sure. But when asked if there’s a follow-up planned to her feature-length Pornhub film, Young M.A. laughs: “Maybe. I wouldn’t say no, but maybe.”