By Adam Lovinus
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Maya Jupiter came to Los Angeles from Sydney, Australia, three years ago on a musical mission. The underground MC was set on creating a hip-hop album firmly rooted in her Mexican heritage, while at the same time incorporating influences from other musical genres.
Jupiter teamed up with Quetzal Flores and Martha Gonzalez of the acclaimed East LA band Quetzal to co-produce her new, self-titled sophomore album with neo-soul singer Aloe Blacc. The result is an innovative collection of songs anchored in lyrical themes of social justice and son jarocho vibes.
"The record I've always wanted to make I could not have finished in Sydney," the Chicana rapper says, adding, "Quetzal and Martha do not exist in Australia."
That's not to say the country her family migrated to from Mexico a year after she was born hasn't factored into the process. Living with parents from two different cultures (a Mexican father and a Turkish mother) left an indelible mark.
"At home, we always had different styles of music playing," she recalls. "My mom used to play classical music, traditional Turkish and pop music, but she was also into jazz and soul. My father used to listen to Spanish-language music."
In Australia, Jupiter eventually found her voice with hip-hop. "I fell in love with hip-hop," she says. "The people I hung out with were from all over the world." But when Jupiter moved to LA in 2008, the MC had grown weary of the conventional approaches to the genre.
"I was sick—really, really sick—of rapping over a loop and a beat," she says. "I wanted to have an album that was way more musical. I just wanted to break free of hip-hop rules."
The sample-free, original instrumentation on her self-titled effort adds to her music's unique appeal. A Latin American harp, requintos, jaranas, electric guitars, trumpets and keys round out her melodies, and there's a striking use of live percussion instruments such as the quijada, cajón, tarima and pandiero instead of MPC drum beats.
In her sophomore set, Jupiter sends out messages of female empowerment in her socially conscious rhymes. "The songs that come easy to me are always about topics that I'm frustrated and angry about," she says, "or songs in which I'm talking to women."
But for all the emphasis on the instrumentation of her new album, she takes her most creative leap on the mic itself by singing on songs such as "El Secreto" and "Like Water."
"It's a big step for me, personally, to put that out there," she admits. "I never wrote a love song before. It was always easier to talk politics!"
This article appeared in print as "Woman of the World: Maya Jupiter crafts global hip-hop with her music."