Many of us spend our entire lives searching for our passion. That thing that makes us jump out of bed in the morning and makes our hearts dance when we talk about it. That thing we’ll make major sacrifices for, whether or not they’ll actually come to fruition. For Katorah Marrero, better known as Young M.A, her passion has always been music and at the age of 9, she converted a closet into a private studio and used a karaoke machine to record her own raps. “I used to be in class writing raps, acting like I was studying. I tried to do well in school, but I had so much passion that it became a priority,” M.A says. “I chose music first before any other career because I knew for sure that it was something I was going to do. I never had second thoughts about it.”
Like many artists who came up in the 2010s, M.A turned to social media to get the word out about her music. “I was doing a lot of freestyles,” M.A says. “Any song that was hot at the time, I would get the instrumental for it and rap over it, better than that artist.” Her raw and unapologetic sound began to resonate with online audiences, who gravitated to her familiar New York attitude but uniquely M.A rhymes. “I’m one of those people who speak my mind and say how I feel. At the time, I was one of those kids who wanted to be heard and was hungry,” M.A explains. “Living in Brooklyn, you’ve gotta be tough. That’s what I expressed in my music, so people knew who I am and where I come from.”Not long after gaining a sizeable following from her freestyles, M.A dropped her first big hit, "Ooouuu," in May 2016. Despite the challenges that come with releasing a song as an independent artist, M.A’s debut single went on to become triple-platinum. “It wasn’t hard to get ["Ooouuu”] out there because the song had its own legs and took off. Once it became a hot song, it did its own numbers and pulled me in the right direction,” M.A says. “It’s definitely a blessing to have that song come out when it did because I was already growling and wanting to be heard. I was just missing that commercial record. When I did finally make that club record, it was like ‘Hello, I can do this too.’” Between the release of “Ooouuu” and her 2019 debut studio album “Herstory in the Making,” many believed M.A had fallen off the grid, as she took a step back from pumping out tracks— she had put her focus, however, on creating quality over quantity. “I had to understand how to not make music for people and go back to before my EP to when I was genuinely writing from my experiences, my mind, my soul or whatever I was going through at the time. I needed time, experiences and self-healing to teach me that,” M.A explains. “I learned how to have a balance between being creative and putting pressure on myself. I had to distance myself from the pressure and get back into my creative zone. That’s how my album was created, because I needed to heal myself in the process.”
“Herstory in the Making” was M.A’s opportunity to show audiences the many different sides of herself, and for two years she devoted her existence to curating the perfect follow-up. Splitting her studio time between LA, New York and Atlanta, M.A took control as she personally finessed every sound, feeling and vibe.“From this album, I want people to have an understanding of me. To know that I can put out a body of work and I’m not just someone who threw out some freestyles,” M.A shares. “I enjoy putting out albums and projects because it gives people something to say about my versatility. I wanted to feed my fans and supporters who’ve been waiting for so long, to satisfy them.” Not only were audiences satisfied, they were filled to the brim by her debut album’s staggering 21-song track list. September 27, 2019 was a date of special significance for M.A. Not only was it the release date of her much-anticipated debut album, but it was also the 10th anniversary of her brother’s passing. Over the years, M.A has dedicated her music career, and many of her tattoos, to her late brother, Kenneth Ramos. “Losing someone close to me inspired me to reach out to others that have been in a similar situation,” says M.A, who established the KWEENZ foundation along with her mother in 2018. “I lost a brother and my mom lost a son, so we wanted to give back to people and let them know that we understand how they feel. Because no matter how much money you have or what position you’re in, those feelings never leave you.” The KWEENZ foundation debuted with a Mother's Day brunch in East New York, allowing mothers who’ve lost children to gun violence to get their minds away from their pain and exchange stories. Their next big event came in November 2019, with M.A personally donating hundreds of Thanksgiving turkeys to Brooklyn families. Giving back to her community is something she’s always wanted to use her fame for and she hopes her foundation will grow just like her music has. “I know how it feels to be at one of the lowest points in life mentally because of my family... and I really want to reach people, not just in my city, but around the world,” M.A explains. “If you have the platform, why not do it?”
M.A’s platform has not only allowed her to give back, it’s offered her a number of incredible opportunities outside of music—including a guest role on USA’s “Mr. Robot.” Like rapping, M.A’s love for acting came at a young age and as a child, she used her grandmother’s camcorder to record her own movies alongside her brother and cousins. She was even offered a role on “Empire” in 2016 by the show’s co-creator and director, Lee Daniels, which she turned down to pursue music seriously. However, once her music career was off the ground, M.A couldn’t pass up a role on the Emmy-nominated series. “When ‘Mr. Robot’ came about, I didn’t know anything about acting. But when I was on set, I was working with professional actors and directors who’ve been in this industry and working on this series for years,” M.A says. “I was definitely an underdog but I went in and studied how everyone acted. There were late nights where we stayed up for hours and were hungry, but I still had to get on set with this poker face and transform into my character. ‘Mr. Robot’ gave me a head start on how to act and I feel like whatever I do next is going to be a little easier.”Although M.A generally keeps quiet about her sexuality, she couldn’t pass up a collaboration that allowed her to both surprise her fans and capitalize on controversy—a collection of sex toys with Doc Johnson. “Me being me and what I do in my personal time, it’s something that I’ve talked about in music and people have talked against me for a while,” M.A explains. “So I just felt like it was the perfect thing to do.” M.A will have her hands full with side hustles from 2020 onward, but she hasn’t lost sight of her true passion. “[Music] is my first love, it’s my baby,” M.A says. “With social media, everyone gets put into a box so easily and I knew it was important for me to establish music first. I knew that once I got that out of the way, I would be able to handle anything else.” Young M.A, as an artist and entertainer, stands for more than just a triple-platinum hit—she’s a unique brand that continues to surprise us with her versatile talents and unwavering defiance to social norms. What will she shock us with next? Who knows, we’re just happy to be along for the ride.