Exclusive: La Mala Rodriguez on being True as an Artist, Defying Labels and her Love for FEMEN

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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.) Continue Reading →

14 Rappers, 14 Countries for UNICEF: Where are the Women MCs?

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by Tom Nguyen

Dear San E and UNICEF,

I was excited to discover your music video #HIPHOPISHIPHOP – Hip Hop for the World bringing together 14 rappers from 14 countries to express the unifying love of hip hop. I love that this video was made in the tradition of the iconic song We Are The World, to bring light on an important global issue: children’s access to education. Except for the venerable KRS-One, I love that I didn’t know any of the rappers. Thanks for giving talented rappers around the world a chance to shine!

Now, I ask…where are the women? I was quickly disappointed to see that out of 14 rappers, there was only one woman, YACKO from Indonesia. Why does this bother me? While every rapper in that video is talented and deserving and I applaud each of them, I have so many reasons for why this gender imbalance in your video upsets me.

Hip hop has historically been a very unfriendly and unfair place for women and it still remains so. Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are big problems in hip hop songs, lyrics and culture. I’m afraid your video only reinforces the exclusion of women in hip hop. If We Are The World had better inclusion of women in 1985, I’m sure we can do better in 2015.

Since you are using hip hop as a platform for children’s education and your own statistics show that girls suffer greater disadvantage and exclusion from education in so many parts of the world, wouldn’t you have wanted to represent more women as role models? If you had included more women cyphers, I think your message would have been much more powerful and inspiring in your quest for gender equality in education.

After all, you released this video during Women’s History Month and right before International Women’s Day. I think you squandered a very good opportunity to not only address the inequality of access to education, but to also give strength to the message that the ones most affected by that inequality are girls around the world. You could have shown young girls everywhere that they have the same right and ability to succeed in any male-dominated space.

However, I have faith in an organization that is doing so much to achieve gender equality. We’re far from achieving equal human rights and opportunities for one half of the world’s population and it’s critical to keep empowering girls and women worldwide. There are no lack of girls and women on the front lines of society fighting for equality and freedom every day in every part of the world, and hip hop is no exception. In many countries, just being female, queer or trans in male-dominated hip hop is defiant and revolutionary. Below are just 14 of so many countless talented female, queer and trans rappers (in alphabetical order) who are not only rapping but doing so by challenging the status quo and giving voice to marginalized communities around the world. I hope you’ll consider them in a second hip hop video.

Respectfully,
Tom Nguyen

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