Young M.A’s Indulgence Is Not a Flaw, It’s a Feature

Our critiques fundamentally misunderstand Young M.A’s style.
Author:
Publish date:

Imagine a sumptuous plate of food. I’m talking something where the sauce is thick, and the protein is melt-in-your-mouth tender. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just luxe on the tongue. Imagine the pops of flavor, the way the unctuous sides coat your mouth. Imagine the best meal you’ll ever have: hearty and fulfilling, fragrant, and seasoned to perfection. Imagine the weight of it, how every bite feels close to a blessing. All of these savory images are how Young M.A’s debut album Herstory in the Making feels. From the flows and inflections to the way M.A plays with space and centers herself, the album, like M.A’s rap style and industry movement, is the pinnacle of indulgence.

I mean indulgent in every sense of the word. The definitions of indulgent vary from being “overly generous” to “willing or too willing to ignore the weaknesses in somebody/something,” to “noting the overt pleasure of something.” Young M.A exists within all of these definitions: from the long lead-up to the album to the content, to the structure of the record and M.A’s independence. 

I say all of this to state the obvious: M.A gave us a long album. Very long even by today’s standards. She gave us a long album because she’s generous, because she didn’t want to reign things in, and because she loves hip-hop. All of this indulgence, but what are we to make of it when the album’s greatest strength is simultaneously its most significant weakness?

Largely, M.A’s self-indulgent style works. There are barely any features on Herstory, leaving us with over an hour’s worth of material that’s all M.A, almost all the time. For fans of her loose-turned-jawbreaker flow, biting bars, irresistible punchlines, and infectious inflections, the runtime is no issue. Young M.A and her flow are the sauce you want to dip your bread into. They are the meal within the meal. She makes mouth-watering music, that much we cannot deny. We love M.A because we love the finer things in life. We love her for her richness, yet too much sauce can make your stomach ache.

Natural fatigue sets in about halfway through Herstory. The material is not weak, but the indulgence weighs on the ears. Even so, M.A does not try to strike a balancing act on this record. Looking at the runtime, listening to her endless maelstrom of bars and witty one-liners, we see Young M.A is enthralled with herself. She loves to rap, and while that comes across on “No Mercy,” “Bleed,” “Stubborn Ass,” among others, we also get the sense she does not love killing her darlings.

Take “Car Confessions,” an incredible single that plays like a fitting outro, but finds itself in the middle of Herstory. The production is triumphant, and the writing is poignant. Her delivery sounds believably wounded with undercurrent confidence. Isolated, “Car Confessions” is one of M.A’s most robust offerings. We can only reason M.A was so attached to the track—for a good reason—she couldn’t bear to part with it. The result is a potent, must-hear song woefully out of place. 

Perhaps this is the most exciting thing about Young M.A’s release: We forgive her mistakes because she convinces us to do so. Her stream-of-consciousness flow knows no bounds and coils around us. Each bar has a buttery quality. On tracks like “PettyWap” and “Smoove Kriminal,” we can easily imagine M.A hearing herself played back, smirking, and going in for another cut.

Take “BIG,” and how M.A plays with space on the cut. We find ourselves falling into every breath she takes, every pause. Or the loose notes of “Da Come Up,” which drip down and sparkle. Look at the runtimes of the tracks themselves—only one song is under two minutes. In the streaming era, this feels like a monumental feat.

And yet, Herstory is an album of indulgent moments that struggle to come together in the traditional understanding of a debut album. The difficulty in understanding this record comes by admitting there are no failures on the album. It’s impossible to walk away from Herstory without an incredible impression of Young M.A’s rap ability. Her poised penmanship and humor allow her to maintain the coveted New York crown. Listen to her spit on “Crime Poetry.” Listen to the gusto. Her vocals sound as if they’re about to burst from bossing up above her pain. There’s a natural snarl to her delivery we cannot get enough of. Young M.A is the sauce. We dip.

Her independence, too, is a sign of her indulgence for the better. Label-free, this album is proof M.A is leading her charge. It’s wonderful to hear a free artist make the music they want to make, even if a label presence may have resulted in a more concise debut. But who knows what the label would have cut. What if we lost the swagger of “RNID,” or the woozy “Bipolar”? What if M.A, feeling the pressure of being on a major, didn’t rap with her slack flow, tumbling over us like an avalanche of the smoothest syllables? Could we afford to lose that in the name of concision?

For those of us—myself included—asking for a shorter album, more oversight, and the like, have we considered these things might stand to undo the magic of Young M.A? Listening to the album, speaking with peers, and reading reviews, I’ve concluded the indulgence of Young M.A’s work is the magic. To edit that energy in any way would dull the work. This position is not a tirade against critique, but a realization that our critiques fundamentally misunderstand Young M.A’s style.

Young M.A’s self-indulgence makes Herstory in the Making a memorable album. We remember it for its flaws as much as we remember it for its successes. The bugs become the features. The flaws are the album. To adore Herstory and Young M.A is to be indulgent with her and to accept that her faults are her. The victory of the album—and Young M.A’s career—is that it lasts in our minds.

To edit and have a take, we’ve forgotten to take in the music and indulge ourselves. On Herstory in the Making, Young M.A is permitting us to do so; to bask in the glory of great writing and even greater spitting. Young M.A is the sauce, and we just ordered some to-go.

Related