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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Mi Color: New Video from Jhomwua and Gula of Flow Mafia in Venezuela


I just saw this new video “Mi Color” posted on El Prieto‘s Facebook page today. The song by Jhomwua and Gula, his compatriots from the Flow Mafia collective, is from their Demasiado Criminal recording. Back in February, I had written about El Prieto’s powerfully raw hip hop from Venezuela and his social commentary on crime, poverty and war. This video is no less stirring and brutal as it takes us back in time to the 1700s and depicts the vicious cruelty and inhuman treatment the African slaves had to endure. As violent as the scenes are, the song’s message is about the strong will of the slaves and their descendents to ultimately overcome injustice and demand to be respected as equals. As Afro-Latino populations are often the most marginalized and poor and their history and contributions not widely acknowledged throughout Latin American societies, the song and video are important reminders of the African roots and values, the struggles the Afro-Latinos have had to endure, and the continuing fight to be treated with dignity today — Respecta Mi Color (Respect My Color).

Best Maid of Honor Toast Ever! Eminem would be Proud!


Here’s your latest viral video enjoyment from Los Angeles: Jennifer Gabrielli of Redondo Beach didn’t want to mess up the all important Maid of Honor toast at her sister’s wedding by forgetting her speech and crying so she did what any conscientious little sister would do…write the speech to Eminem’s rap song “Without Me” and belt it out like a boss! Girl nailed it! Lyrics below. So much wonderful goofy goodness from people here in LA…want to see more?

 

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Cali Hustle: Come to One of LA’s Best Live Music Monthlies!

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(UPDATE 11/16/13: The 1 Year Anniversary on 11/12 was a blast! Cali Hustle will be celebrating in December with a New Year’s Eve party at The Virgil!)
Cali Hustle is a monthly free live music night, every 2nd Tuesday at The Virgil in Silverlake, featuring Quetzal Guerrero and his band and DJ Miss Sunny Z spinning the decks. Each month, they invite other wonderful emerging, independent bands and DJs to join them. It’s an eclectic night of music and dancing that I think is one of the best undiscovered secrets in LA!

They call it Cali Hustle for the eclectic blend of music being played, “California Soul, Samba, Reggae, Rock & More”, but I think the night is aptly named for another reason: we’re lucky so many talented musicians come here from all over the country and the world for the Cali dream and they hustle and work tirelessly at their craft and passion to bring us great music. I can’t think of an artist as talented and hard-working, yet as undiscovered as Quetzal Guerrero. Originally from Arizona and of American, Mexican and Brazilian heritage, Quetzal is a violin virtuoso, having studied since age 4, and combining that with his singing, songwriting and mastery of guitar and percussion, his music is a rich, unique blend of soul, funk, bossa nova, reggae and rock.

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El Prieto: powerful hip hop from Venezuela

el prietoMy friend Luis just turned me on to El Prieto, a rapper from Venezuela, whose song “Petare barrio de Pakistan” (Petare hood from Pakistan) about the grim realities of living in one of the roughest barrios in Caracas, known as the world’s most dangerous city, really catapulted him into hip hop consciousness outside of Venezuela. I still can’t find much information about him but his powerful lyrics and stirring videos, like “Fin del Mundo” (End of the World) are powerful social commentary about poverty, war and protest, that’s universally relevant. The archival footage of war, violence and injustice, flashing throughout the video from past to present, begs us to wonder if anything has really changed.
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