Spain’s leading hip-hop voice raps with MTV Iggy on bad musical fusions, yoga positions and the Euro crisis.
By now, she needs no introduction. La Mala Rodríguez has risen from the streets of Cadiz, Andalucía to become, arguably, the most important rapper in the Spanish language today, period. A few weeks ago, she gave us a taste, headlining a Central Park Summerstage concert in New York City for the yearly Latin Alternative Music Conference. La Mala brought the crowd to a boil with her usual combination of lush mid-tempo beats, fire flows, brilliant wordplay and all-around, irrepressible swagger. Her uncompromising fierceness poured into the microphone, informing other MCs, wherever they were, that they didn’t stand a chance.
“La Mala is a inspiring people to step it up to the next level,” one fellow Spanish-language rapper, Eduardo Iniestra, told me later that evening. “She’s showing us where we can get with this music.”
The next day, I sat down with La Mala at the conference headquarters for an interview. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I thought I’d be intimidated by her combination of badassery and hotness, that I might get my head bitten off praying mantis-style if I asked any dumb questions. But right away, she was friendly and cool, sitting cross-legged on her chair and pinning up her hair with her sunglasses, altogether looking like some sort of strange bug. As it turns out, La Mala has a way with words when off the mic as well. She started off by telling us how she figured out how to rap in Spanish…
I’ve talked to a lot of Spanish-language rappers and they usually tell me the same thing: that for a long time, they didn’t think it was possible to rap in Spanish, until they heard people like Puerto Rican artist Vico C. You have risen to be possibly the biggest voice in Spanish rap, so tell me – did rapping in Spanish come easy to you?
For me it was really easy because rap flowed well with my accent. Thinking about perfect, traditional Spanish was a road block, but I speak in dialect. In Andalucía, we always cut the words short, so it gives me more time. I can fit more things in a single bar, and play more with the spaces. I think that enriches my rap style, my cadence. That was always an advantage – everything flowed and was natural.
I think it’s also about thinking out of the box a little bit. People were used to hearing hip-hop in English, so they couldn’t imagine in their own languages.
It’s just fear. It’s like a yoga posture that is really difficult to do just looking at it. But if you can’t do it, it’s because you are afraid. When you have control over yourself and you leave the fear on the side, you are capable of everything. You have to liberate yourself from that fear and realize that we are here to give beautiful things, to share and to live this day as though it’s your last with truth always in your heart. When you approach it that way, everything works out.
Apart from hip-hop, what other music are you into?
I love African music. I’m from Cadiz, from the southernmost point of Spain, so on the radio we can pick up stations from North Africa and I grew up listening to that type of music. I like Balkan music too because I have some gypsy blood in me. I like it because compared to flamenco music from Andalucía, but you see a different texture with the same colors. In Morocco they have the same flutes they have in flamenco and in the Balkans… when you zoom out, you see we are really ridiculous right? We are all so similar, it’s crazy. They way us musicians feel is so similar and I love it. Everybody in the world laughs about the same things. we laugh about the same things.
When somebody slips and falls, that’s universally funny.
Yes, we are really similar. And it’s great how much music can unite us. It’s the only language that is truly unquestionable.
Do you make a connection between hip-hop and these kinds of music?
Of course! I imagine that if I were born in the ‘20s I would be making a different type of music. But I grew up in moment in time when hip-hop was really happening here, in a neighborhood where there was breakdancing and graffiti. Some guys in my neighborhood rapped, talking about things that happened on my street. All of that fascinated me. I felt like I found the perfect tool to develop my creativity. I really liked poetry and writing and I thought, right here is where I am going to let it all out.
So I started improvising at age 15, and went crazy with that whole world. There was a time when I would only listen to rap – that’s it! Other people were listening to Bjork and really interesting things and I would only listen to US hip-hop. On one hand it was good because it really nurtured me. On the other hand, I’m like “wow, I missed a lot of things that now I am just rediscovering.”
Well, I can tell from your beats that it’s no 100 percent classic hip-hop. There’s a lot of other things in there as well, a lot of soul.
I also really liked R&B from the ‘90s – you’re right, it has that vibe.
Today, it seems to me that the borders separating different genres are disappearing. It’s harder to say what’s rap and what’s rock and what’s electronic music, you know?
Yes, everyone declares, “Yea! I fuse this with that!” But sometimes that gets ugly. It makes sense to mix pure chocolate with something else pure, but not this thing that has no flavor and this other thing that has no flavor. It just ruins it. I like for there to be respect for the music. When you love and respect something, you do it well.
Now with the economic crisis that is going on in Spain — do you think that this is affecting the music scene as well?
Yes of course. It affects absolutely everything, because the system building a foundation of mud is collapsing. It has a bad side because they are many families with little kids sleeping in the street. Because there are many people that have worked for years and don’t have a retirement pension anymore. Because it’s favoring a group that is ignorant and they are cutting education. Because people in their old age are getting fucked over because you have to pay to see a doctor.
But it has its good side because all of this is going to adjust. Because it is going to make all of us more conscious to see if this system really is worthwhile or not, or if we should really be doing things a different way. I believe in decrecimiento (de-growth). Do you know what that is? It’s a system of thought that says when the economy goes down, human values increase. Something isn’t successful because it just helps the economy. It’s successful because it helps the common good. And so that’s why we need to look to another system. God willing, all this will change our lives for good.
Right now I’m composing songs and, God willing, before the end of the year I’ll have a new project to share.
What new is there going to be about this album?
I think it’ll be different but I’m not sure in which way yet because my life is always changing. I never like to do the same thing. I get really bored repeating myself. Thankfully, every day is different and you have to do what you feel like doing. When an artist stays in their comfort zone, they miss a lot – the risk, the emptiness, the unknown. All of those things, they are motivation for people to do different things and that’s great for creating new things.
In terms of Spanish-language hip-hop, what do you see the future to be? Are there any new people that you like?
I’m a fan of a girl named Mefe, a Guinean rapper who is wonderful and has a lot of things out on the web. I would love to share that with the world so everyone can listen to her music, she is really talented, she’s wonderful.
There are always artists that are doing interesting things. For me the best thing is when an artist breaks away from compromising what they do for everyone else. They have a commitment to themselves, and they follow their own footsteps, knowing that they can get tripped up at times. It’s important that they follow their own path, because that’s all you have left at the end of the day, is just being yourself.