First of all, if you hear this lady bless the mic, you’ll be wondering why the hell she hasn’t been signed yet?? So blow up this post and Mala’s myspace page (myspace.com/malareignz) with lots of comments. Shoo! Put out your spirit fingers out and send good vibes. Let’s do what we can as fans to make this happen for Mala Reignz in OH-NINE for realzz!!!
You can peep her latest single “Whole Club Rockin” on Music Choice- Rap or download it on iTunes, Rhapsody, and amiestreet.com. Her video “BX Til I Die” can be seen on Video Music Box. You can purchase her entire album Miss Rap Supreme Mixtape for just a dollar ($1) on ExtravaGangsta Radio’s online store (store.egradioonline.com). It will soon be available for purchase on Myspace Music as well.
Off the mic, Mala is quiet, perhaps even shy. She’s soft spoken in conversation; petite in stature. Got the Latino cutie from the Bronx thing going for her with her swagger. Had she and I not sat right next to each other during a networking social back in September 2008, I wonder if we would have ever met…but we did. In the midst of pretentious and self promoting chatter, Mala and I managed to have some real talk. I shared that I was a writer, she shared that she was a rapper, and things flowed naturally from there. By the end, before even hearing her music, I knew I wanted to interview her and expose her to my modest but growing readership that is not strictly hip hop. The feeling seemed mutual since Mala is a one woman show…from a mom to her music. Funny, she didn’t know that the “business” card I handed her was crafted by me the night before, emailed to Kinko’s around midnight, and then picked up en route to the airport the next day (the day we met), nearly missing my flight in the process. Or, that this was the very first time that I was going anywhere under the pretense of being a writer. In a way, we were and are 2 ladies trying to make things happen for ourselves. To this very day, I still kick myself for not putting her story out to you sooner, but I guess everything has its right space and time.
The following weekend, during my dreary drive into work, torn emotionally by feeling inspired about the gutsy, jet-setting NYC trip that week and dissatisfied with my night job where creative thinking only comes from the very top down in the world of Big Box Retail, I listened to Mala Reignz’s Miss Rap Supreme Mixtape cd and was hooked. It was one of those moments when you aren’t expecting anything and grateful to discover something. Her words, the power in her voice, spoke to my soul. That weekend, I played the “Who Am I Freestyle” over and over and over and over again. It literally gave me strength. By the end of the weekend, I was a Mala Reignz fan which is not something I throw around lightly.
My hope is by the time you read this article, you’re buying up her single, leaving fan comments here and on her myspace page, requesting “Whole Club Rockin” in your hometown, and making phone calls if you have connections with the right people to keep her exposure and inevitable success on a roll.
Her use of the word “that”- four teeny tiny letters- pretty much referred to her life story. The middle child of 3 siblings, same mom but different dads, who basically raised each other on their own because of their mom’s struggle with drug addiction. For Mala, her father also struggled with drug addiction and became less present as years went by. We were at a point in the conversation where I was surprised to learn that both parents had already passed away (I knew about her mom) and wanted to know how that impacted her life and the above quote is what she shared.
You took custody of your brother after your mom passed away?
“He was still a minor at the time so I took custody of him and we moved into my mom’s old apartment.”
I saw in the World DigiBeat video interview that you left home when you were sixteen?
“I went to go stay with my boyfriend at the time, who turned out to be my son’s father. We met when I was 15 going on 16 and we were together for almost five years. He knew my mom and everything I was going through…It got to a point…where I couldn’t take it. It was while I was still in school and he said ‘You have to get out of the house. Come stay with me,’ and it was a really scary situation because he didn’t have a stable place either. He had a really bad relationship with his mom where he wasn’t even living with her. So, since it was an emergency, he took me to his mom’s house even though he hadn’t been there for a long time, and kind of like asked if we could stay there. It’s pretty crazy.”
But you got through it.
“I got through it, and now I feel like the music is not only my way to get over my own issues but to help other people going through similar things or just need to hear somebody else’s story.”
Then at age 17, you’re pregnant.
“Seventeen and I’m pregnant. I’m still living with the boyfriend at his mom’s house. His mom, at that point, was not living with us. She was subletting the apartment to us. We were working, paying the rent. I was going to [high] school still and pregnant and…had the baby.”
What are some things that you as a parent are trying to do differently or instill in your son?
“First of all, I try to talk to him more. Just so that he knows that I’m here for him…Obviously, I’m not doing the stuff that my mom was doing.”
She paused for a moment, and I could tell she was thinking about something. Mala continues…
“Sometimes I try to shuffle the music and him at the same time and sometimes they can’t mesh, and you know, a lot of times I have to leave to go to events and stuff like that at nighttime, so…he understands now because he’s older. I try to juggle everything.”
Is anyone else in your family musically gifted?
“Well, my father was always into music. He always had instruments in his house…Him and his brothers used to play all these different instruments like congas, timbales, and stuff like that…When I was younger and I used to see him a lot, he used to have jam sessions. He would like put an ad in the paper, set a date, and like just have musicians come through, and they would just jam out like the whole afternoon into the evening…No money, it would just be something they did because they love to do it. So, I used to be around him when it came to that, and I guess maybe that’s where I got it from. I mean that’s like the only person who is really musical in my family.”
So you finished high school, even with the baby, and you started college?
“Yes, I graduated with a BA in Mass Communications and I minored in Anthropology.”
Go ahead, girl!
Where’d you go to school?
“Lehman College, in the Bronx.”
How did you first get into rap?
“I first started writing the poetry because I was at the point where me and my son’s father were breaking up.”
So it was kind of an outlet for you?
“Definitely, because I had wanted to go straight to college right after I graduated high school and had the baby, but I ended up taking some time off with the baby, while he [the boyfriend] was doing a training program to get a better job…because he didn’t graduate high school. So, umm, you know we had an agreement that I would take some time off and be with the baby while he did what he had to do, and then we would switch, you know? In a little while, like as soon as he was finished his program, I would be able to go back to school.”
Let me paraphrase for you all here because she explained all of this using like a thousand words in thirty seconds as I must assume that recounting this story brought back some feeling. You know, when the Latina and the Bronx and feelings all kick in at once? Kind of like us black girls get to going with our index fingers waving and necking rolling. LOL… In short, her boyfriend at the time ended up quitting the program after starting and stopping for about 18 months…
“It bothered me so much…we ended up breaking up. He went off to the military, and I went to school. It was like chaos for me I guess.”
…because I went straight from my mom’s house to being with him.
…it was always somebody telling me what to do, you know what I mean? Because he always kind of took that role…I was scared. I was alone, and I had the baby, and I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I was in school, in this college, and I was like buggin’ out, so I had to write.”
You were on your own. Did you have a place to stay?
“We had moved out from his mom’s house, at one point, and we had an apartment in the Bronx, so I was still there.”
And he left?
“He left. He went to the military.”
So, you did have a place to stay.
“Ya, I did have a place to stay, and I had to get assistance from the government, you know, I could not afford to do everything by myself.”
You’ll hear this echoed in the “Who Am I Freestyle” when she says…
Am I weak ’cause I ask for assistance? Or, am I strong because I fight for existence!
For some reason, that’s one of my favorite lines. Mala continues…
“…I was a freshman in college. I had this one class.
she was like really…
She was young, and had fresh ideas and when she had our class, you know, she always encouraged us to write, and she touched on things other teachers didn’t…like things that were current, about music and stuff like that and she wanted us to like, give opinions on the songs and like a deeper thought to things, and when I would write, she would respond back. She wouldn’t just correct my work, she would like just leave me these long notes…letting me know that she actually was paying attention.”
Feeling more confident but still in a personal place of uncertainty, Mala began to take notice to fliers on campus about open mic nights and just decided to go for it and did her first open mic.
Tell me about your first open mic.
“It was scary (laughs). It was scary but I felt really good doing it…There was a few people in there [the Student Government Center] but it wasn’t packed, so you know it was perfect for me because I could go in there and didn’t feel intimidated or anything. The reaction was cool. They weren’t jumping for joy or anything [because] they didn’t even know who I was. It was like ‘Ok, cool. Next person,’ but it made me feel good for doing it.”
Do you remember the poem you shared at your first open mic?
“Girl, I don’t even remember! (laughs)”
From there, Mala began to make friends with similar creative interests, and it opened her eyes to a whole new set of venues in NYC like the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
“The important thing about that is that I would write when I was at home, after I put my son to sleep, and I was writing with the music on, like listening to the radio or putting on cds…I was writing to the beats not knowing that I was writing to the beats. So when I would go to these open mics and I would spit, it would have a rhythm to it, and that’s when people began to approach like ‘Do you rap?’ and I’d be like ‘No, I don’t rap, I do poetry,’ and they were like ‘You sure you don’t rap?'”
Among her new set of friends were a lot of rappers, so she began to take the thought a little more seriously.
“I was like, ‘Well, I might as well just try it,’ you know?”
What was your first song?
Why do you laugh when you say that?
“‘Cause you know it was like my first song. It’s not as good as the ones I’m doing now.”
From that point, Mala had decided to be a rapper and performed on campus; however, her first break was soon to come.
“This one kid I knew that I had went to junior high school with, he was starting an entertainment company, and he wanted me to be one of his artists. So he had booked a show at The Knitting Factory, and that’s the first place that I performed like as far as a club, my first real performance.”
What was that like?
“I fucked up. I was shook. It was my first time performing, rapping…and then something happened with the DJ like was scratching over, and I wasn’t used to that. I wasn’t used to having a DJ when I did my poetry or anything, you know what I mean? So I couldn’t hear the beat when it dropped…I started too late and it was off beat. So, I was like ‘Let me do this again,’ and he did it again…so I just had to catch on. It was like a dead silence for a while then I just caught on and I did the whole song. So I got a good response because I finished. Everybody heard me mess up but they thought it was good because you kept going.”
I naturally wanted to know if Mala had considered trying out for the show, VH-1 Ego Trip’s Miss Rap Supreme. People had asked her, but she didn’t want to do a reality show. She did, however, know several friends that had tried out and had been on a mixtape showcasing female rappers from a few years back. Byata was one of the girls on the mixtape, so when Mala learned she was one the show, she wanted to watch and support her. Byata finished in second place on the reality show which makes me wonder even more about how Mala would stack up against the competition if she were actually on the show. My bet is that she, too, would have been a force to reckon with.
How did you decide to do a mixtape with the Miss Rap Supreme theme?
“It was actually my [current] boyfriend’s idea seeing how into [the show] I was, and he said ‘You should do a mixtape about it,’…(to her boyfriend) ‘I don’t want to do a mixtape about it, I’m sure a lot of girls are going to do a mixtape about it.’ He was like ‘No, you should do the challenges on the mixtape…I recorded every single show and I took notes and that’s how I was able to get the samples on the cd…I didn’t want to wait too long after the show had aired before I put out the mixtape…so I kind of had to rush through it…I’m happy. I was able to complete it, and I put it out, and I was the only one that did that kind of Miss Rap Supreme mixtape, because there was someone else that put out a Miss Rap Supreme mixtape, but it was just the show, it wasn’t like they did the actual challenges.”
Tell me about your latest single “Whole Club Rockin”?
“The single is doing really well. It’s getting played in the clubs, and it’s continuing to grow. It’s a slow and steady pace, but that’s the way I want it because…it’s getting better.
Are you looking to get signed?
“I’m doing whatever I can do right now which is I’m continuing to be independent until a better situation comes along. I do want to get a deal because as an independent artist it’s difficult unless you have a lot of money for promotion. Even though I can rely on the internet which is what I do now…you still have to put the time in to promote yourself online. You have to make the connections with these websites…for them to even give you the time of day”
Are you working on any other projects?
“I’m also working on another mixtape that I’m hoping to drop March/April. Also, I’m shooting a new video, and it’s going to be a pretty big production. It’s with a design company called Stek Studios, and they’re really dope. They do top notch, a lot of special effects work. They’ve done Kanye West stuff. They’ve done Busta Rhymes stuff…and they’re really interested in the song I did called “Here We Come” and [the song] features Opera Steve. Opera Steve is a real opera singer. He’s classically trained…and he kind of meshes it with the hip hop. He’s been on Big Pun’s album. He’s done a song recently with Fat Joe…We did the song together and it came out really hot. It’s on my myspace page.”
So you really are on your way to making it. What do you think are your challenges as a female rapper?
“I think part of the problem is that people expect less from a female rapper so they give them less attention and they don’t really give them the time of day. Even with a million dudes out there that kinda sound alike and it’s just getting monotonous, when a female comes along they just give them that much less respect than Joe Schmoe that’s talking it up. So it’s harder for women to get the right person’s ear to help them in this situation. So you have a lot of these independent artists that are like me that don’t have the money like that, that might have kids to support, you know that might have a lot going on and they’re still trying to do their music, but they have to make it a part time thing because they have to pay rent and stuff like that, and at the same time, not all of them are good, you know? I mean just like male rappers, not all of them are good… I know a lot of good ones, though, and I know they’re struggling just like I am, and they’re just looking for that one break…and they’re continuing to perform, continuing to spend their own money on fliers, cds, and special projects…and they’re getting older and nobody’s giving them a chance. So they end up doing things like the reality show, and then what happens? The show never comes back again, or people’s opinions of you because you were on a reality show is low because they’re like ‘You’re just a tv star. You’re not a rapper. You’re not an artist’…it’s like a catch 22…”
Mala just said a lot right there, and I gave it some thought. Shows like Missy Elliott’s “The Road to Stardom” that aired on UPN a few years back (when it was UPN) got terrible reviews, and I personally loved that show. Jessica Betts won, and I couldn’t wait to hear her come out with an album because she was crazy talented, but to this day, I have not heard about her on the web or otherwise.
“…and then when [managers] do get you, and I can tell you from experience because I’ve had people approach me about managing me…The first thing they really talk about is the image. The first thing! Look, I understand that image is important, right, because this is the entertainment world…but they don’t even talk about the music. The music is the last thing they talk about…and they’re like ‘I want you to be sexy,’…and it’s always that. It’s always because you’re a female that you have to sell sex…It’s really hard to find that right balance [in a management situation].”
Amen! Mala continued to spit the knowledge…
“I know that my core audience is going to be the female audience…So that’s why I keep making the kind of music that I make…
We lauged together at that moment, then Mala continued with her reaction to that DJ. I knew she was fired up now, and I liked it. Tell it, sista!
“This is a DJ! This is like someone who appreciates music. You mean the artists you liked growing up weren’t the ones where you’d hear their life story and made you feel like you had somebody to turn to?…That’s just retarded. I mean party music is great. I make party music, too, but if all you make is party music, you’re one dimensional, and you’re not gonna be the favorite…”
What was your most proud moment?
“Graduating from college was a really proud moment for me. So many people told me that I wouldn’t be able to do it, and that I had my son and my life was over, and [graduting] high school, too, because I had my son in high school, so there are two really proud moments. Having my son was a proud moment for me.”
What about musically?
“When the song [“BX Til I Die”] got on Music Choice, it was a really, really proud moment for me…it was a national television show…it meant so much, you know? But, I’m still struggling. It’s kinda whack having to come back to the same project apartment, you know? The fact that people were seeing it. People were coming up to me like, ‘You were in that video?’…I realized, I’m doing it…It may not be as fast as I want it to be, but I’m doing it.
Do you have any advice to share with other women who may relate to your story?
“You just have to do it…
…and just find a way to make it possible for you to do it…
…You have to be consistent with it. And, most importantly…
I mean I’ve been afraid. I’m still afraid sometimes…if this is what you want then you have to be un-afraid and just go for it.”
Mala, I really enjoyed interviewing you. You are really an inspiration to so many women out there, including myself, and as a true fan I wish you much success. You deserve it, girl!