It has been a noteworthy year for New York rap, but in New York, success comes with anxieties about influence. As Desiigner’s “Panda” streaked to No. 1 on the Hot 100, it was dogged by comparisons to Future, a rapper from Atlanta. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, a young rapper from the Bronx, works in a melodic, rap-singing style—his “My Shit” sits easily on the airwaves next to “Broccoli,” a hit for a Virginian (D.R.A.M.) and another Atlantan (Lil Yachty). But Young M.A, a 24-year-old Brooklyn MC, has managed to attract the admiration of an older generation of tough-talking New York rappers even as her song “Ooouuu” has crossed over to become a top 30 pop hit. “Young M.A the hottest shit out right now,” 50 Cent wrote on Instagram in August. “I don’t like a lot a shit but this is Tuff. I’m glad she from New York.”
M.A started rapping in Brooklyn at age 9, and in 2014, she name-checked her borough in “Brooklyn (Chiraq Freestyle),” which caused a small, and ultimately beneficial, kerfuffle: In a widely circulated Facebook post, Dr. Boyce Watkins, an author and pundit, asked “why whatever adult who signed her is encouraging her to send violent, negative, genocidal energy into the community that may get her killed and is killing her own people.” (“As a fan of hip-hop,” he added, “I can say that her vocals are nice and the beat is amazing.”) “That’s what made it really go viral—everybody had their opinions on it,” M.A says of Watkins’s post. “It basically woke up Young M.A.”
The genesis of “Ooouuu” is thoroughly contemporary. M.A bought the beat online from a site called NYbangers.com—similar beat sites also provided Desiigner with the instrumental for “Panda” (No. 1 on the Hot 100) and Bryson Tiller with the instrumental for “Don’t” (No. 13 on the Hot 100)—and recorded the song in January. She teased the track several times on social media before releasing it in May. “Like with all my beats, I try not to overthink it,” NYbangers’s U-Dub noted in an email. “With this beat, I wanted to contrast the atmosphere with the hard-hitting punchy drums. The main thing about it is its simplicity. And when you have a beat like that you really need to rely on the artist to bring something special to the table.”
The special ingredient came in two forms. First, the title phrase, which M.A had been throwing around with her friends for “a good year before the record came out.” She included the interjection in the “Oh My God” freestyle, but used it roughly a dozen times in “Ooouuu,” stretching the phrase and savoring its punchy, slicing enunciation. The word is dismissive and jeering; it’s also an anchor—something for the listener to latch onto in a song that is just one long rap, with no easily identifiable chorus. In place of a hook, M.A builds to a taunting drop: roughly halfway through the song, she delivers a series of jibes nearly a cappella—“If that’s your chick, then why she texting me?”—before unleashing the punchline as the drums boom back in: “You call her Stephanie? I call her Headphanie.” And then, of course: “Ooouuu!”
Though M.A is rapping about her attraction to women in a genre that has a history of homophobia—in June, Kid Cudi tweeted that “the Hip Hop community is the least outspoken about gay rights”—she says she did not fear any backlash. “I don’t care what people think,” M.A declares. “Not a care in the world.” Early in her career, M.A was advised to rap in a “more feminine” way, but she left those associates behind. “The nerves was actually then,” she remembers. “I held in being sexually attracted to women for so long that once I got that out of me, the music became easy.”
M.A put “Ooouuu” on SoundCloud in May. Within two months, it appeared on New York rap radio; in the same week in August, a multi-borough coalition of rappers—French Montana, Remy Ma, and Jadakiss with Uncle Murda—each unveiled a version of the track, and putting out an “Ooouuu” remix soon seemed mandatory. You can find versions by A$ AP Ferg and Tink; Meek Mill used the instrumental to record a diss track aimed at The Game, who responded with his own “Ooouuu” diss track, suggesting that the two rappers have similar tastes in production, even if they can’t agree on anything else. Nicki Minaj rapped over the “Ooouuu” beat; Beyoncé referenced the song on Instagram. This sort of outpouring of adulation in the artist community for another person’s hit last occurred for Drake’s “Hotline Bling”—but Drake is a long-established superstar, while M.A is a relative newcomer.
The success of “Ooouuu” may offer a blueprint for other rappers in M.A’s city. “New York was doing a lot of following whatever was the wave at the time,” she says. “It was corny. I always stressed the fact that we needed that sound again. I continuously tried to knock on the door. ‘Yo, this is New York City: What’s up?’ ”