Isn’t it funny how hip-hop travels around the world and mutates into different sub-genres? In Puerto Rico there’s reggaetón, with its cyclical breakbeats and spitfire Spanglish; in Spain, they do it with splashes of flamenco and a dash of Euro-techno on the side. The latter’s biggest star at the moment is 28-year-old María “La Mala” Rodríguez, who started turning heads when her song “Afila El Colmillo” was included in the 2001 indie flick Y Tu Mama También. From there, her coronation as the reigning champ of Spanish hip-hop came through a series of fresh collaborations with legendary Puerto Rican rapper Vico C—she then capped it off this year with “Mala Suerte Con El 13” (“Bad Luck With 13”), one of the best songs off reggaetón giant Calle 13’s acclaimed sophomore record.
For Malarisimo, her third solo album, La Mala (“Bad One”) leaves behind the overt flamenco influences of earlier records and adopts a more recognizable hip-hop vibe. There’s irony in this new sound—on “La Loca” (“Crazy Girl”), she rallies against the sameness of globalization: “There’s no options/It’s all the same shit all over the world/They have you under control/Just do your own shit.” There’s also “Enfermo” (“Sick”), a brilliant collaboration with top reggaetón lyricist Tego Calderón that sits somewhere between grime and Euro-pop. All of this is done entirely in Spanish, but La Mala’s sweet, quirky rhyming style—she almost sings when she raps—makes it worthwhile for those curious souls who don’t speak the language. Still, her socially progressive ideas are her biggest strength, and unlike reggaetón, this music isn’t cut out for the dance floor. So maybe a Spanish/English dictionary will come in handy.