People Staff
August 31, 2007 AT 05:00 PM EDT

After walking the tightrope for years, these days Mala Rodríguez – whose real name is María – is one of the few females known for rapping, and although she’s in the process of promoting her new album Malamarismo, the urban poet, 28, is actually celebrating a decade in the spotlight.

“I was about 12 when I first became interested in rap on the radio, watching people break-dance in the street and listening to rap demos in my neighborhood. I asked myself: ‘What’s this?,’ and it fascinated me. The lyrics talked about serious, real and ugly situations,” she tells


In regards to her lyrics, which many classify as racy and disrespectful, the Spanish rapper says: “We shouldn’t be afraid to feel our bodies and liberate ourselves sexually. I think it’s a natural thing that shouldn’t be repressed. I don’t have issues in that respect, and those I did have are now gone.”

She still remembers the night of her 1996 debut at the concert hall Dada in Sevilla. “From that moment on, I was never the same. My best friend would tell me: ‘You’re in the thick of it.’ She didn’t recognize me. She couldn’t believe that I would rather be in the street with rap guys than with her at a club,” she says.

As for being surrounded by men in a testosterone-dominated musical genre, she’s learned not to worry too much about her image and to act naturally. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years and, yeah, sometimes you feel like they’re trying to bring you down or hit you when you’re moving forward and gaining credibility. But it’s like that in all fields, not just rap,” she admits.

These days she’s earned the respect of colleagues like the duo Calle 13, with whom she recorded the duet “Mala suerta con el 13,” in addition to Tego Calderón and Julieta Venegas, who collaborated with the rapper on Malamarismo.

She was also complimented by Puerto Rican diva Ivy Queen and doesn’t rule out recording with her one day. “I’ve known Ivy Queen’s music for awhile now. She’s been in this world a long time, and I respect her because it’s not easy to keep going and keep things fresh. Of course I would record with her, whenever she wants.”

La Mala, who often makes her own outfits, such as “a pink Lycra dress with a violet checked heart,” can’t avoid being a fashion icon, even now post-pregnancy (a little over a year ago she had her son Ckarell with the Cuban rapper Reynor Hernández. “The costumes are fun, and I play with my image. I love bodices. They make me feel like a warrior.”

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