Track Work: Maimouna Youssef, ‘Student Loans’

By Marcus J. Moore

Vocalist Maimouna Youssef turns a Rihanna hit into an elegy about student debt.
Vocalist Maimouna Youssef turns a Rihanna hit into an elegy about student debt.


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The idea for Maimouna Youssef’s new single, “Student Loans,” came during a performance at the University of Maryland in College Park. She was freestyling with the band, and flipped Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” into something more relatable for college students: “All I see is loans, all I, all I see is student loans.”

“They lost their minds over it,” Youssef says.

Still, she didn’t think to record the track until after she recorded “We’re Already Royal,” which turns Lorde’s pop hit into a self-assured anthem. (The video for Youssef’s version dropped this week.) “Student Loans” was the third song recorded for her new mixtape, The Reintroduction of Mumu Fresh, out Tuesday.

On “Student Loans”—premiered here today—Youssef turns Rihanna’s strip-club jam into a hard-luck story of underemployment and mounting bills. “I went to school and got two degrees,” she sings on the Mike Will instrumental. “Still workin’ at Mickey D’s.”

Youssef says the song was inspired by a friend who struggled with nagging debt collectors. It’s her latest in a string of similar reinterpretations of pop songs: In addition to “We’re Already Royal,” she used Drake’s “Pound Cake” instrumental to riff on her upbringing as black and Native American, and recast Pharrell’s “Happy” to “Nappy” in a celebration of natural hair.

Despite the serious subject matter, Youssef says The Reintroduction of Mumu Fresh is more laid-back than 2011’s The Blooming. On her new release, “I wanted to prove to myself that I can just relax and have fun,” she tells Bandwidth. “I wanted it to be lighthearted and free.”

Maimouna Youssef plays Howard Theatre May 14.