For a clumsy, fleeting moment, the punchline was the most potent tool in a rapper’s war chest. The “hashtag rap” era birthed, built, and sustained careers, allowing rappers as varied as Big Sean, Drake, Lil Wayne, Fabolous, and Ludacris to create hits built on the same formula. Performers would introduce a joke or premise in the first half of a lyric and immediately deliver a punchline at the end of a bar, repeating that same structure for each subsequent lyric. While none of these artists necessarily created the technique, songs like Drake’s “Forever” or G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy” popularized, then, inevitably, killed it. Quickly, it was subsumed by the melodic, off-the-cuff rapping style that was being perfected in Atlanta and Chicago.
On Young M.A’s “No Mercy,” she briefly revives the form. Throughout the track, multiple piano chords and runs cascade and swell, swirling to make an epic backdrop. M.A’s chorus is longer than most verses in 2019, but with it comes the boldness of beginning one’s debut album with the declaration, “Middle finger hangin’ out the Benz, feel like Pac/Spittin’ on your cameras, bandana with the knot/Competition lookin’ for me, I was waitin’ at the top.” There’s a self-assuredness at play; M.A doesn’t have to raise her voice to underline her point, letting her smooth, matter-of-fact delivery do the bulk of the work.
More from Rolling Stone
- Children of Rap: Meet Prana Supreme Diggs
- Gang Starr Enlist J. Cole for First New Song in 16 Years
- DaBaby's 'Intro' Is a Heart-Wrenching Portrait of Loss -- and His Best Song Yet
As the track crescendos during her first and only verse, M.A. goes out with a stunning finish: “I wasn’t welcomed, I imposed, nigga / I put this dick inside her soul, nigga / Just to get up under niggas skin / Fuckin with the same sex, they say it’s a sin / But I’m a dyke and she a fem, it’s a synonym.” As far as introductions go, you could do a lot worse.
See where your favorite artists and songs rank on the Rolling Stone Charts.