Mala Rodríguez pushes the boundaries of hip-hop with her third album, Malamarismo, and not just in the direction of flamenco as she did on her previous album, Alevosía (2004), or even in the direction of other Latin styles like salsa or reggaeton as one might expect. Malamarismo instead finds the Spanish rapper pushing her music forward in new ...
Mala Rodríguez pushes the boundaries of hip-hop with her third album, Malamarismo, and not just in the direction of flamenco as she did on her previous album, Alevosía (2004), or even in the direction of other Latin styles like salsa or reggaeton as one might expect. Malamarismo instead finds the Spanish rapper pushing her music forward in new directions, expanding her flamenco-infused style of hip-hop to include more experimental beats, unconventional rhythms, and a greater emphasis on melodic singsong vocals, especially on the hooks of her songs. With the exception of "Te Convierto," an album-opening firestorm rap similar to her early work on Lujo Ibérico (2002), the album-closing bonus track, "Por la Noche," previously released in 2006 as a standalone single, is the closest the album comes to replicating her previous work. "Por la Noche" is a beautiful, haunting song, but no doubt to the dismay of some purists who might wish Rodríguez remain firmly entrenched in her hip-hop roots, it's uncharacteristic of the album. The high-energy lead single, "Nanai," is more characteristic: not because the other songs here are similar to it -- they're generally quite different, actually -- but because most every song here is unique in its own way and fairly distinct from Rodríguez's past work. The list of producers she works with on Malamarismo is full of familiar names, most notably Griffi, DJ Rectangle, Giggi Mantequilla, and Supernafamacho. Yet these guys contribute beats that are quite experimental for hip-hop and comprised of unconventional rhythms. This is especially true in the case of Griffi, who is credited with six of the album's 13 productions. Partly because of the experimental beats and unconventional rhythms, Rodríguez is challenged as a rapper. Not only must she keep time, but she must find a way to navigate through these jagged beatscapes without losing her flow. Rodríguez is also challenged as a rapper, though, because she chooses to push herself in much the same way the producers push the boundaries musically. She alters her flow frequently throughout Malamarismo, from song to song as well as within the course of each song. The dexterity of Rodríguez is extraordinary here, as she switches back and forth from rat-tat-tat rhyming to melodic singsong hooks. That she can match the melodic touch of Mexican pop singer Julieta Venegas on "Tiempo Pa Pensá" as well as the gymnastic raps of Puerto Rican reggaetoñero Tego Calderón on "Enfermo" is an impressive feat. Rather than push the boundaries, Rodríguez, who took time off between her previous album and this one to become a mother, could have continued with the flamenco-infused hip-hop of her past work. Instead, she risked alienating some of her fan base with Malamarismo. Yet it's commendable that she's chosen to challenge not only her fans but herself by pushing her music in new directions that aren't obvious or easy. Nor are these new directions likely to push her up the pop charts, for despite the presence of Venegas on "Tiempo Pa Pensá," there are no radio hits here. "Nanai" is the closest Malamarismo comes to boasting a radio-ready hit, and for all its catchiness and chart, it's very abrasive and, like the rest of the album, a far cry from the norm. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi