by Tom Nguyen
Iconic Spanish rapper La Mala Rodriguez recently performed in LA at the El Rey Theatre, on the heels of a new song and video Egoista from an as yet untitled upcoming album, and I got the chance to interview her the day before. La Mala’s reputation certainly precedes her, as one of the first Spanish-speaking rappers, emerging in the 90s with her signature defiant hardcore rap and being brutally honest in her lyrics about social issues of her generation. Told I only had 5 minutes talk time and scrambling for a last-minute interpreter, I was both excited and extremely nervous to ask the outspoken rapper her thoughts as an artist and a woman MC in a still very male-dominated industry. What followed was a very honest and candid conversation about what inspires La Mala and her craft. She was extremely down-to-earth and put me immediately at ease, even insisting that she try to answer in English as much as she could, to help me better understand her. Thanks to Kimberly Bautista of Artevista Films for facilitating and translating the conversation and big thanks to La Mala for her time, patience and eagerness to talk about a range of topics, from artists who inspire her to her issues with both women and men in the feminist struggle, and the need to move beyond labels and victimization, a conviction that has inspired her to collaborate soon with feminist group FEMEN.
(Interview has been translated with some Spanish phrases left untranslated because there is no direct translation. The full audio of the interview can be found at the end of this transcript.)
Tom: You’ve always challenged society’s norms: embracing your nickname La Mala, to reclaiming the word Bruja on your last album, and being fierce and proud at 33, and your newest song Egoista. For fans like me, who may not understand every word because I don’t speak Spanish but I understand your spirit.
La Mala: You feel it? Thank you!
Tom: Yes, I feel it totally! There’s this universal language in your music that is about being confident, and being real and being true to yourself.
La Mala: That’s the point.
Tom: So is this what your latest song Egoista is trying to say?
La Mala: Yes, the lyrics say we can do whatever we want. Queramos…lo que queremos…lo que queramos. We can do what we want. Just dream and work. It’s like Minecraft, you know? That’s the point…Minecraft. Liberty…Minecraft…you can create everything, your own world, with the light of your heart.
Tom: So you create your own reality.
La Mala: Yeah!
Tom: What keeps you inspired to be true to yourself as a woman and as an artist?
La Mala: Recently, I was watching YouTube and I found some interviews with [Andrei] Tarkovksy, the filmmaker, and he said, “In a perfect world, artists would not exist. The artists are the persons who transform and change this reality. So it’s super…because we need some trashy things. If everything was good, I could do anything…even Beethoven.”
Kimberly: Then, the artists are the ones who transform a world that is not perfect and if it were perfect, there wouldn’t be artists.
La Mala: I believe that. It moved me when I heard him say that. It’s really interesting. I love debate and dialogue. I love to talk about art with another artist. Do you know Susan Sontag? I love her. I think it’s super constructive when you talk about art and share ideas and being alone for a while and then again with all the noise…it’s an artist’s life. I’m in this and I love it…and then suffering that and enjoying that…you know, the balance? All this is in my lyrics, my composing and my process.
Tom: So it’s a constant creative process.
La Mala: The life. My life inspires my art. Lo que yo vivo. Everything I live is [unraveled] like a sculptor. It’s the same thing.
Tom: There was a Korean rapper [San E] who created a video Hip Hop is Hip Hop. He wanted to show rappers from around the world, up-and-coming rappers, and KRS ONE was part of the video, and when I saw it…there were 14 rappers and only 1 was a woman. And I instantly thought, this is 2015 and there are plenty of great female MCs around the world and you were really one of the first to break the stereotype of hip hop as a man’s world. I wanted to ask you, in your 20 years of hip hop, what are your thoughts on hip hop today as a woman artist and what do you have to say for women artists out there, because you paved the way for so many women out there.
La Mala: Tarkovsky said, “If it’s not escaping your body with a lot of pain, don’t do it.” I won’t be an example to anyone. Not to men nor women. I hate limiting or categorizing myself as a woman. Or as a white woman, or gypsy woman or black woman, or whatever, because that limits me. But I understand. I get it that I’m here and I’m a woman. And as such, it’s my only option to tell other women that they shouldn’t be afraid to open their eyes, open their spirit, open their mind, and give love. Because It’s very sad that amongst women, we screw ourselves. We cause each other harm. Because of jealousy and dissatisfaction because “I’m this way or that way.” Where’s the sisterhood? I don’t see it. And that’s what is most important. First, let’s respect each other as women. Because we have to do it. After that is the question of the men. But first, we have to be very united as women.
FEMEN is in Spain now. FEMEN is a feminist group from Ukraine. I know some of these women and I love them because they’re really in the struggle. They take out the sexuality out of the discourse because [according to the mainstream narrative] a woman showing her body is just an object. So they use that object, that image, to protest and demand things. Because if they don’t do that, no one gives them any thought. Recently I read that Salma Hayek denounced machismo in Hollywood. The press’ response was to exploit the image of her cleavage. It’s the clearest example.
Tom: And since we’re on the topic of socially conscious hip hop where you started and hip hop in Spain…
La Mala: So I want to say for the very first question, that as a woman, I only want to say that we are not victims. This is the first: We are not victims. I don’t like to give this image. Second, if I want to share my body or show my body, I can do it. If I don’t want to do it, [I can do that too.] Every woman is beautiful and every woman is free to do whatever she needs. So stop judging women and stop judging women every time if she’s older or she’s ugly or she’s [this or that]…you know? We have to be beautiful and young like the virgin. But if I’m like a bitch, I’m the ugliest person in the world or in the industry, if I say whatever I want to say, really.
Why? Because there’s really a machismo [in the industry] because men are the ones with power because patriarchy exists and it’s real. It exists. It’s real. But if we call it by its name, they set us aside. We don’t have the success that we could have. I share this, but it’s real. It’s hard because I can only be successful [as a woman] if I’m pretty, young, and I shut up.
Tom: This is perfect because you’re preaching to the choir because we’re very involved in the feminista movement in LA.
La Mala: I know because your energy is like that. I know when somebody is like…superficial. That’s good enough for me. It’s good sometimes to be superficial but it’s necessary for some to be a little deeper…somehow or some way, anytime, because we’re here. We can do something more that inspires people, you know? We can do great things. I don’t want to be in a world where the girls like that want to be insecure. It’s good if you want to make some implants, you can do it, you can do whatever you want, but the confidence in the girls, you are breaking the confidence in the girls with your advertisements and with that old shit everyday. If a girl wins the competition…”Guapa…Pretty!” If the boy wins the competition…”You are the champion!” It’s a little example.
Kimberly: Conditioning of the genders.
Tom: I asked the fans on our site if they wanted to ask La Mala some questions and we have a couple of questions.
Kimberly: @naticonrazon [on Instagram] wants to know how do you see your role to support other feminists…women who are in the industry who are just getting started from different parts of the world. Specifically, from South and Central America. There’s a movement of feminist rap artists coming up around the world, particularly Somos Mujeres Somos Hip Hop from Latin America. One of them is my friend, Rebeca Lane, from Guatemala. Do you have plans to collaborate with female rappers like Somos Mujeres Somos Hip Hop Collective? (Maybe with Ana Tijoux?)
La Mala: With them? No. I have plans to do things with FEMEN. We want to do things. We want to do something. Together. Because we believe that…I mean…their perspectives interest me a lot and they like the platform I’m able to have. But yes, we have to do something creative. There are a lot of artists out there. It’s possible to do very big things. And in reality, it shouldn’t be something boring like, “Hey, let’s do something for women. Women! Women! Yes, women! No…it’s really that…yes, we are women. And we’re also making art. The first thing is the artistic work. And yes, we’re women. It’s not to always be “Yes, because we’re women! It’s like defining yourself to be black. Everything bad happens to me since I’m black…because I’m black. You understand? Or because I’m a woman, this happens to me. No, let’s liberate ourselves from that. We are marvellous beings. And we do all sorts of things. Let’s stop limiting ourselves with labels. You know? I understand that yes, we have to do work, but labels limit us a lot. I think this should be a thing of the past already. Poor women…yes, alright! We are people. Let’s do something. Let’s take another step forward already. I’m bored with machismo, feminism, embrismo…it’s very tiresome.
We are not victims. If everybody says to you, you’re a victim because you’re a woman, or because of patriarchy, your brain gets conditioned [to believe it]. It’s the opposite: take the limit off of me and think, what can we do? Like, next? Next? Next step! Next next thing.
Tom: We have one last question from a fan.
Kimberley: [Carlos Lobo from Facebook] wants to know when you compose your rhymes, do you keep in mind the different ideologies between rap pop and underground rap?
La Mala: I don’t know. I write, I feel the beat, and it just, I don’t know, comes out…I don’t know. I have a problem with this because if someone gives me a task, like “please write me a song about blah, blah, blah [or x, y, z], I can’t do it! It’s so hard for me. I can do it, but it’s not the same way as when I…[exhales as if she’s letting things flow]. And then, after years, “Ok, this means that” You know? I will realize [the meaning of] what I write years ago or so far or some day…I don’t know what I’m motherfucking doing in the moment, I don’t really know even but it’s something that I feel. And I trust that…I trust in my feelings.