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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's take a moment to introduce you to a woman fans of Latin music already know very well. Mala Rodriguez was recently nominated for three Latin Grammys. She is a Spanish-language rapper. NPR's Jasmine Garsd caught up with the singer on tour in Mexico City.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Mala Rodriguez was born Maria Rodriguez and raised in Cerriga(ph), Spain.

LA MALA RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

GARSD: She says she was so misbehaved, her aunt used to call her mala, bad girl.

RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

GARSD: That's why later on, when she became a rapper, she became La Mala Rodriguez.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

RODRIGUEZ: (Rapping in Spanish)

GARSD: Rodriguez made a splash in the early 2000s with her own brand of brash, feminist lyrics, fusing elements of her native flamenco with hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA NINA")

GARSD: "La Nina," or "The Girl," tells the story of a young female drug dealer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA NINA")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: Latin rap as we know it did not trickle down from the U.S. into Latin America. It had to go to Spain first, says Latin music blogger Juan Data.

JUAN DATA: After the explosion of Spanish hip-hop, in '98, '99, it exploded, there was a huge mutation of the way people rapped in Latin America that got influenced by that style of rapping that the Spanish rappers have pioneered.

GARSD: La Mala rose to fame at this pivotal moment when Spanish-language rappers stopped emulating English-language rap and started making it their own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: Her lyrics are sexual and feisty. But unlike mainstream female MCs in the U.S., she doesn't brag about wealth. In "Galaxias Cercanas," or "Nearby Galaxies," she raps: I was birthed strong, I was raised strong, I walked strong, and I've always talked strong.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: Mala Rodriguez fills a glaring void in Latin entertainment today, says Leila Cobo, the executive director of Latin content and programming for Billboard magazine. Cobo says there are just no more iconic female entertainers along the lines of Cuban legend Celia Cruz or the late Nortena singer Jenni Rivera.

LEILA COBO: I think there is a lack. I'm sorry, I do. Yes, there is Shakira. Shakira aside, I think that the female presence is a little light. Why are there no more big female acts in Latin music right now? I look at my charts and there's very few female names. You have these very pretty like sexy girls and women now really are identifying less and less with that.

GARSD: Mala Rodriguez, on the other hand, comes across as an everywoman, the kind of friend you want to call when you break up with your boyfriend, but her bravado is lionesque. She's not the kind of woman you want to offend.

Rodriguez's new album is a return to her hardcore rap roots after a brief flirtation with pop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "33")

RODRIGUEZ: (Rapping in Spanish)

GARSD: In the song, "33," she boasts about turning 33. She growls like a heavy metal singer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "33")

RODRIGUEZ: (Rapping in Spanish)

GARSD: I am 33, she brags. The job of a man cannot be done by a boy. Rodriguez turned 34 this year. She says as a woman she has a lot more power to date than she did when she was 19.

RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

GARSD: I know myself. I know my sexuality. I know my thoughts, and that reflects on my work, she says. As for her role as a feminist icon, she's happy to represent women, but...

RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

GARSD: She says I love men. I'm at peace with them. And I understand a lot of things they do and why they do them. I don't fight against men. In fact, since I was little, I wanted to understand them better. Maybe that's why I wanted so much to be a rapper. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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