Album Premiere: MERK - 'Safe In Sound'
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How many times have you come face to face with someone you have always admired only to experience disappointment? Add a touch of celebrity to the mix, and the consensus is stars are often far duller than their dazzling online, onscreen, or onair personas suggest. Born Katorah Marrero in Brooklyn, New York, Young M.A is in opposition to “Hollywood” types by being wildly unique, free from gimmicks and forced relationships in order to climb social ladders. She has no interest in riding each new trend to “stay ahead.” No. Young M.A tossed the antiquated music biz shticks in a bin, doused them with gasoline, and currently stands tall holding a book of matches—readying for the blaze. Fraudulent fuckers beware.
Jacket and pants by ICEBERG, shoes by TIMBERLAND
Young M.A has made quite a name for herself with the first single, “OOOUUU” going triple-platinum. She recently landed a guest spot on Sam Esmail’s Emmy award-winning series, Mr. Robot. And with the recent release of her album, Herstory in the Making, she shows no signs of letting up. Young M.A has enough charm, swagger, and talent to win over the toughest of critiques. She is in a lane built solely for her. Fuse all that with the innate aptitude to build an empire, and you have a recipe for success. Frankly, Young M.A.’s only real opponent is the woman in the mirror.
And it’s clear she knows her worth.
In “No Mercy,” the intro to her latest album she raps, “Competition lookin' for me. I was waitin' at the top. But ain't no competition. Ain’t no one in my position.” The 40 million YouTube views on her single “BIG” are a testament that fans have been eager for new music.
So why the two-year gap between albums? From a consumer’s point of view, the wait can seem harshly personal. But Young M.A believes, “Your vision and passions are the two main things you gotta lock-in. I definitely care about how much time is in between projects. I have people out here supporting me. But at the same time, I have to remember that at the end of the day, it’s me being creative. Now I’m not making music for only me, I’m making music for others, and that kind of changes the creative zone.” Piquant points.
As Young M.A steps in front of even bigger screens, all eyes on her. She landed a major cameo on season four of Mr. Robot. “Music is my first love, but I’m the type of person who likes to try new things. I’m not a routine person. I like challenges, so I’ve been into acting. Just being on set with the actors taught me so much. That was my first time acting and dealing with casting, a director, or anything like that. My character’s name is Peanuts [We both laugh]. It was fun and interesting, and I was grateful for being on set.” She also taught writer, producer, director, Sam Esmail how to dap.
Jacket, pants and shirt by HOOD BY AIR, shoes by TIMBERLAND
Prior to the limelight and custom-made diamond grills, Young M.A had been honing her hustle, proving to herself that she could play and win with whatever cards were dealt. Those cards were messed up. As if high school wasn’t tough enough, Young M.A was hit with some heavy life changes. Just before starting her senior year, her brother, Kenneth was tragically killed. She speaks his name often to keep his memory alive. She gets still and recalls. “My senior year was a disaster. I had to catch up on top of dealing with death and being in a new school. It was a challenge, but it was something I knew I had to accomplish. There were plenty of times I felt like giving up, but I knew I couldn’t. And on top of that, I was figuring out my sexuality.”
Her pain and subsequent triumphs are felt—not only through the way she carries herself, but also in her lyrics as she paints pictures. And with catchy lyrics like, “Yeah I’m Young M.A., but she call me papi,” I think it’s safe to say she’s figured things out.
Sweater by ICEBERG
Young M.A is relatable, talented, and genuine. The importance of moral codes that uphold honor and integrity is not lost on the 27-year-old. It’s in her DNA. Her foundation was solid long before she stepped on the rap scene. “My mom was a hustler, and she made it happen. Just watching her as a kid, seeing her handle her business taught me so much on what I needed to do. When we lost my brother, I knew I had to take the lead and take charge. My mom had to work since my brother passed away, so I got a job as soon as I graduated high school. I constantly worked until I became who I am today.”
Young M.A also took notes from industry pioneers—50 Cent and Jay-Z. “Music-wise, I listened to so many artists. I studied the game. Musically, 50 Cent is one of my biggest influences. Jay-Z inspires me by his mental; how smart he is and being from Brooklyn. His change from being this rapper into being a businessman. To this day, Jay-Z inspires me the most. And it put me in a position to understand not what I want to do, but what I need to do.”
Left - Sweater by HOOD BY AIR, jeans by ICEBERG, shoes by TIMBERLAND
Top Right - Jacket and pants by ICEBERG
Top Left - Sweater by ICEBERG, vest and pants by A-COLD-WALL* X DIESEL
Before Young M.A and I got into the conversation about drug abuse and the impact on young people, namely artists who’ve passed away too soon, the noise level in the studio began to rise. Young M.A had no problem silencing the room: “Yerrr! Can y’all keep it down, please.” As she turned back to me, I could hear the sincerity in her voice, “This is really serious. This is something I want to be heard.” With the passing of rapper Juice WRLD still weighing heavy on my heart, I too am searching for clarity. Young M.A adjusts the volume in her voice to explain her viewpoint:
"I just want kids to understand. They hear certain things in music like, 'I took this drug to get over this,' and kids will believe it. They’ll go through one heartbreak and feel like they gotta take a drug then become addicted. And I think people don’t speak on that part. That’s literally the root. Let’s start from where it begins, instead of saying where it ended. I just think kids are not understanding that life is gonna be what life is. It’s not perfect; it’s not gonna be easy. And I think we’re being taught that certain things are supposed to be a certain way, and if it’s not, then we’re supposed to numb the pain with drugs. I just want the youth to understand there's no excuse. Even if you’ve been through the worst of the worst, drugs are not the way at all. You’re gonna go through heartbreaks, you’re gonna go through parents telling you what you don’t need to be doing, you might feel like running away sometimes. I feel like this younger generation is a little more vulnerable. I definitely feel artists have a responsibility and play a part in what’s going on. Where else are they getting it from?"
A rhetorical question in need of an answer. I will do my part and keep the conversations on this subject going.
As my time with Young M.A neared its end, I felt as though I had known her for years. I was happy to have shared that time with her. As a bonus, I was not in the least bit disappointed!
I got in the car, plugged in my earphones, and hit play on Herstory in the Making. Young M.A—a true mensch indeed.
Proving her range yet again while perhaps giving a glimpse of the experimental sound to come, Shake’s new single proves to be as complex as the subject of the single’s nature as the artist states in the video’s opener, “Although I am not a boy, I wanted to display a boy being broken. How he manages his sadness. When he is not allowed to cry. From young, a boy must create a shell that protects him from his own emotions. But when that shell cracks, it creates an intense amount of vulnerability where the boy must replace the shell with actions that make him seem as if the shell never broke. He replaces this shell with ego, desire, and pride.”
Modus Vivendi is out next Friday, January 17. Until then, watch the music video for "Guily Conscience" below.
Alex’s work habitually explores masculinity; and all of its trappings, and failings. Though Miami Memory is different from his two previous records. In fact, this record is, in part, dedicated to Jemima Kirke—the artist’s partner, and a key source of inspiration. At this stage in his career, Alex is ready to talk about other things, beyond tropes, and characters. Rather than just satirising fragile men, he uplifts women; and contextualises the relationships between these men, and the women they hurt.
When I galloped over to introduce myself, Alex is receiving the full treatment: blue eyeshadow, rosy cheeks, red lips. Even though makeup, which in itself in non gendered—despite advertisers aggressively targeting women at the turn of the early 20th century—cosmetics only been re-normalised for men in very recent history. But it is typically only seen on the faces of ‘feminine’, typically queer men.
Perhaps, to some, Alex Cameron, a man who doesn’t regularly sport peacocking cosmetics isn’t that revolutionary; as history entails the likes of David Bowie, Louis XIV, Tutenkhamen. However, social progress is not without backlash. As outdated gender expectations continue to dissolve, zealots are emboldened to reinforce rigid ideals through violent means—bleeding into racial, and sexual politics. So when a man is courageous enough to step outside of his assigned role, it is a revolutionary act.
I watch as Alex move gracefully, then awkwardly, teetering on both. There is something deeply poetic about his gestures. Shot after shot, Alex Cameron subverts what it means to be a man’s man in a man’s world. More than music, the man behind Miami Memory is a master of multiplicity.
Jacket, pants and shoes by GUCCI
What’s your earliest Miami memory?
Miami is… let me think about it, as there are a lot of memories. Probably like riding a tandem bike along Miami beach board. I just had like so many beautiful times though. My parents have come, probably two, or three times a year.
And what drew you to Miami?
My girlfriend: Jemima. It was a holiday, or a destination, you know, when she wants to get out of the house. She's lived in Miami. So we spent a couple of days on the beach, and it just felt right to me. I don't know—I thought I was weird, but then I took Roy [Molloy], my business partner. He comes from Australia, as well. He loves it, too. So maybe that has something to do with Australia; growing up on beaches, and just being in a familiar territory, you know?
Did you have a musical upbringing? If so, how did that shape your artistry in your current stage?
Yeah. I wasn't necessarily in a musical family, but my mum really encouraged me to learn instruments. And told me a lot about rock and roll. When she was a kid, she listened to a lot of, you know, classics—now they’re considered classic rock and roll songwriters, and she showed me the ropes.
What did you learn to play?
I learned to play the snare drum in a marching band, and I also learned the bagpipes. I have a Scottish heritage so—
Can you still play the bagpipes?
I can play one song on it. I can play ‘Flower of Scotland’ if I practiced recording.
Suspenders by GUCCI, denim by MARTINE ROSE
Where do you go to be alone?
I go to the movies. The last place I was really truly alone was—in terms of socially, I did a long walk down Rockaway Beach about eight in the evening when it was pretty empty, and it was raining; and I just walked for like two hours. And that's how I rehearsed for the tour. I just listened to the songs, and sang along to them. And that was my rehearsal. It was really a nice thing to do. It also steered me away from panicking.
Do you believe in magic?
You have to. I think if you're writing songs, performing... I know that I would lose interest if I didn't have faith that that was some kind of spiritual energy involved in the whole process. You know, honestly, I barely feel responsible for the songs. I'm more of a conduit for it all—it already existed. It's always existed.
I know that you’ve been telling stories since you were a child, and consider yourself a storyteller; what stories have inspired you?
There was this story that might have been called The Inch Warrior, but let me double check that there.
Alex pauses to Google the story on his iPhone
Well, that children's book [is in] Mandarin—cause I'm part Chinese. I had a lot of Chinese children's books, but they were in English, and there was one about a little inch warrior. He was an inch tall, an extremely aggressive gentleman, but he had a needle for a knife. He was always told by the army to go away. The moral of the story was that one day there was a monster that could only be defeated because he went inside the belly, and poked him with the needle.
And there was another one about a gentleman who was traveling the world, essentially the countryside. And I think he starts with a fly on a string, and he trades it for some mandarin, and then he just keeps trading, keeps trading, keeps trading until he has resources to live. But they were little children's stories that I remember that are from China.
When you critique, or satirise, where do you begin the thought; and how do you translate them into songs?
I think it generally comes from a conversation that I'm having, or ones that I'm overhearing. It's normally one sentence, one lyric, one idea, that kind of triggers this energy in my mind. There's a path I can follow here, you know? Um, yeah, it's all from conversations with people.
How do you heal a broken heart?
There's a shortcut: to leave town. That's a shortcut. Just leave town. I don't know if that is a long term solution. It definitely helps in the interim between heartbreaking, and recovery. I think you'd go out there, and you try to get broken again. Break twice. It's already broken. It's broken. I think that taking some time to yourself before really rigorously throwing yourself out there socially, and enjoying being independent in myself... fall off from your phone.
Shirt, jacket, pants and shoes by MARTINE ROSE
When was the last time you cried?
Last time I cried… probably watching a movie on a plane, but maybe—probably just on tour feeling miserable in a hotel room somewhere in Europe, just leaning over the bathroom sink. I cry. I cry. I do micro cries. I just contort my face, and one tear comes out, and I'm done. I move on. Takes about three seconds. It's a micro cry. But I always want to do more. I just can’t.
How has your life changed since the release of your first record?
I can afford to pay rent, and I completely moved countries. I live in America now; I work in America. I travel all around, but I'm a resident of Australia. I get to work—that's how my life has changed. I get to work. I work as much as the business needs us to. I've already done over a hundred shows this year, and we've still got another 30 to go. It's like it's good work.
What’s your favourite part?
Being on stage is really, really fun. Right now with the band we’ve got, and the tours we’re doing, we just sound really good; feels really good. Recording a song is like—you’re in a studio. It’s a fantasy. It's really amazing, and magical. I get to do something not many people get to do. And then getting on for the tour, and just relaxing. It’s the best job in the world, but it has its challenges.
What is the most Australian thing about you?
I still really religiously watch sports. I can watch any sport, and just try to calm down at the sport, and I just follow the rules. It’s like a system.
What’s your favourite sport to watch?
Right now it’s basketball; any type of basketball. It’s so easy to watch over here in America with the NBA. I tend to like the Boston Celtics. But I also just follow teams that have Australians on them. I love it. I was really a fan. I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Cambage from Australia. She plays in the WNBA. She's awesome.
Shirt by MARTINE ROSE; shirt and jacket by CELINE