et’s get one thing straight: If La Mala Rodríguez repped Atlanta or New York City rather than Seville, she’d be on the cover of XXL under the headline “Dopest Female MC Ever.”
And that’s not to say La Mala isn’t worthy of such a title. In ten years, she’s come from being an underground sensation in the Spanish hip-hop scene to being the biggest buzz in Latin music since CéU. She’s built a career out of playing the vindictive outsider in the masochistic world of rap music, earning plenty of attention and adoration for her strong femininity and socially argumentative lyrics, enjoying her share of controversy along the way. In 2003, when the music video for her single “La Niña” showed a young girl dealing drugs to help support her family, La Mala stood by the video and its lyrical content by reaffirming that she “only writes about the truth.” She’s spent the subsequent four years tapering the roughness of her earlier work and collaborated with artists as diverse as Akon, Titan, and Calle 13 in an effort to develop a more eclectic sound.
The fruit of her labor is her third, and best, album Malamarismo. While her previous efforts suffered from a lack of subtlety, the new La Mala is reflective, sharp, and poised; and her delivery now blends seamlessly with the instrumentation, rather than lording over it. Good thing too, since the album’s rotating team of producers have eschewed the Latin scene and created a virtual tribute to modern American hip-hop. Opening track “Volveré” delivers a beat straight out of the Dr. Dre playbook, and is more G-Unit than anything on The Massacre, while “Menos Tu,” with its obtuse tempo and keyboard programming, is an obvious nod to West Coast underground hip-hop. Of course, like any hip-hop album these days, it’s Timbaland that casts the biggest shadow production-wise. While he doesn’t he make an appearance, the beat of first single “Nanai” is so Timbaland-esque you’ll probably start saying “baby girl” in your best baritone during the chorus.
Timbaland’s influence, compounded with La Mala’s close vocal proximity to Nelly Furtado, may leave non-Spanish speaking listeners initially anticipating a Loose redux, but La Mala isn’t so easy to peg. Indeed, La Mala’s phrasing is more similar to someone like MF Doom, as the words and verses are adapted to the beat to be used almost like another instrument, rather than the focus of the track. Yet, La Mala also delivers a very personal work, offering her viewpoints on sex, devotion, politics, and the social order. And even though such an approach runs the risk of being overly preachy, her self-confidence, particularly on “Te Convierto,” only encourages you to hear her out.
In fact, the only real problems with Malamarismo are the tracks that don’t center around La Mala. “Tiempo Pa Pensá,” a duet with Latin superstar Julieta Venegas, is ostensibly an R&B; song meant to vary the tempo of the record, but just ends up breaking the flow of the album’s opening salvo. And while Julieta is generally faultless on her own work, her presence cannot compensate for the tacky faux-808 beat that permeates the backing track. “Enfermo,” featuring veteran rapper Tego Calderón, also suffers from its collaborator’s presence, but this time it’s the other way around. Here, La Mala is merely top billing in name only as Tego dominates the track with one of his finest performances.
All in all, as far as transitional records go, Malamarismo is a rousing success: It establishes a new direction and builds a foundation for future work. Just don’t be surprised if a year or so from now when that next album comes out if you see her on the cover of XXL.
Reviewed by: Andrew Casillas
Reviewed on: 2007-07-06