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El Malito: The Puerto Rican, Party-Rapping Platypus.

May 29, 2012

Text by Maddy Court. Images by G.W. Miller III.

South Philly-based hip-hop artist El Malito isn’t afraid that people will hate his music. He’s afraid they might not pay attention – as hard as that may be, given his proclivity to strip down to his briefs during live shows.

“I did a show in Manayunk and there were some dudes sitting at the bar,” he recalls. “As I was doing the monologue and stripping, they were all,  ‘No, no, don’t do it.’ Those cats, they couldn’t freakin’ handle it.”

At least those cats in Manayunk were hating. A lot of El Malito’s surprisingly cerebral songs deal with just the opposite – people trying to pigeonhole him or failing that, dismiss him. Maybe that’s why he’s obsessed with the possibilities of space, which he claims to travel around in a time machine powered by fruit.

“When I’m here on earth, I have all the same trappings of everybody here,” Malito says. “But when I get away, I take a ride past 18.15.23-0901 or all these other places in outer space. I’ll go through a wormhole in my time machine and just get away from it all. But when I’m here, it’s just like, ‘I’m a platypus because people look at me weird.’”

El Malito, who’s 37 and goes by Les Rivera off-stage, has a CV that includes such job titles as hip-hop dancer, filmmaker, diver, performance artist and gymnast. On the verge of the release of his first album, he’s grappling with how to present himself and his music in one palatable package. He’s not sure it’s possible.

“My thing is the platypus because I’m made up of all these things that don’t necessarily make sense,” he says. “It can throw people off a little bit, but whatever. That’s on them.”

El Malito was born in Puerto Rico. He relocated to West Chester with his family when he was 10. As a high school student, he dreamed of becoming a doctor and was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania. The high tuition caused him to instead enroll at La Salle University. He joined the Rennie Harris Puremovement dance company when he was a freshman. Soon he left school altogether to tour with Puremovement full-time.

He always meant to finish college, he says, but dancing professionally and traveling the world for more than a decade was an education in itself. El Malito saw his dance company experience enormous success in Europe, only to be greeted by crickets in their hometown.

“It’s really, really, really tough here for a musician or any kind of artist,” Malito says. “But if you persevere and get out of Philly, you will rule anywhere you go. You will have the thickest rhino skin ever.”

El Malito and his bandmates – named the 33rd Century after the futuristic ideal where Malito finds inspiration, have slowly built a loyal following in the area. With Ruthie Meadows on guitar, Jebney Lewis on bass, Melinda Gervasio on drums and El Malito rapping in Spanish and English, the group gets crowds dancing.

Their zany live performances involve original video projections and two dancing alien sidekicks named Luke I Am and Your Father. The aliens are El Malito’s shameless, commercial alter egos. The duo performs a song called “Girl Hike Your Skirt Up,” full of racy lyrics that El Malito tries to avoid.

He occasionally performs in a yellow tracksuit as a nod to Bruce Lee’s The Game of Death. He sometimes dresses like George Washington, complete with a  powdered wig, as he did at his birthday show in March at Milkboy.

“We still haven’t categorized what we do,” Malito says. “But we’ll figure that out.”

El Malito may not know how to pigeonhole himself or his music but he does know that he has something to say, and that the music is fun.

The 33rd century, apparently, is a giant party and El Malito is inviting you to come.

One Comment


  1. El Malito Can’t Win

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