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POP MUSIC REVIEW

A seductive night of rap en espanol

August 02, 2004|Ernesto Lechner | Special to The Times

Rapping in Spanish is no walk in the park.

A quintessentially American art form, rap tends to suffer in the hands of Latino MCs who attempt to transpose its elusive aesthetic into Spanish.

One glowing exception is Spanish rapper Maria "La Mala" Rodriguez, whose Los Angeles debut Friday at the Echo provided the most riveting moment of local rap en espanol since Cuban trio Orishas came to town a number of years ago.

Her performance had more than its share of troubles. It was poorly attended, suffered from appalling sound and was cut short before she could deliver her biggest hit -- "Tengo un Trato," from her 2002 debut album, "Lujo Iberico." Rodriguez made up for it with her offbeat charisma and brilliant rapping. With her face locked in a grimace of stubborn defiance and cool contempt, she began with a stunning a cappella segment that showcased her ease at playing with Spanish.

Her rhymes -- apocalyptic tales of life in the barrios of Sevilla -- are intriguing enough. But it is La Rodriguez's seductive flow that makes her rap en espanol's most fiercely original MC. Breaking up words, emphasizing unexpected syllables, her thick Sevilian accent adding a subtle flamenco vibe, she generated moments of raw poetry that had a brutal kind of beauty. "Ella no ronea / Ella acarrea / Si llora, berrea / Si quiere guerrea," she rapped at one point, unleashing a battery of slang with striking rhymes that played skillfully with words ending in the "ea" sound.

Backed by MC Kultama and the excellent DJ Jotamayuscula, she explored a variety of moods, from the sinuous menace of "Tambalea" to the sensuous minimalism of "Lo Facil Cae Ligero."

Keeping the mannerisms of American rap to a minimum, Rodriguez proved that rap en espanol now has a seductive identity of its own.

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