Better known to some by her stage name, Maria Isa, and by others as Representative Perez-Vega of House District 65B, Maria Isa Perez-Vega has a lot on her plate this February.
“The Rep who Raps” is more than living up to her nickname this year as she is releasing her latest album, “Unlock the Chamber,” on February 12, the same day that Minnesota’s legislative session kicks off in St. Paul.
She said last year’s legislative session, her first as a State Representative, influenced her latest album in unexpected ways.
“After my first session, the homies met me outside the chamber, and some of the homies that are in the chamber with me, like Representative Samakab Hussein and Representative Samantha Sencer-Mura from the south side, she’s an artist and writer, and talking about surviving uprisings and being here for our kids as moms of toddlers, and and I went straight to the quadriga. It was night time, like close to midnight, and I went up to the horses with them and it was like they unlocked the chamber and it just stuck with me.,” she said.
Perez-Vega said that, after session and performing shows in Puerto Rico and at First Avenue, she had a lot of new material written and was ready to get back into the studio to start recording.
But the album, and her personal life, was dealt a major blow in September when her friend and long-time collaborator, Anthony “Dj Tony Trouble” Krawetz, passed away unexpectedly.
“He was one of the top people that gave me influence to create,” she said. “It was like I lost my Mr. Miyagi, my Sensei, you know? So it was a dynamic of like, how am I going to do this?”
After some time to reflect, and the motivation of the upcoming St. Paul city elections, she said Krawetz was still able to influence her getting back to the studio, inspiring her to release “Momma Said Knock You Out” as a single this fall, both as a tribute to Krawetz (LL Cool J’s “Momma Said Knock You Out” was one of his favorite songs) and to support the female candidates running for City Council.
“I needed to give them some ammunition and some weight from their rep.,” she said of releasing the song for the City Council candidates. “Sending that to them the week before, it was like, the get out the vote. I’m talking to my colleagues, talking to our city officials that are elected or looking for re-election, and for the new ones that I was supportive of and endorsing them to be ‘like go knock these damn doors down.’”
Perez-Vega, who was born and raised on the West Side of St. Paul, said she has been rapping since she was 11.
“The first time I did the talent show at St Matthews on the West Side, I wrote my rap to No Scrubs by TLC,” she said.
She said her early inspirations in hip hop were as formative to her art as they are to her politics.
“By the time I was eight years old, my influences in hip-hop, like Tupac, Biggie and Selena had been killed by gun violence. And I mean that that was traumatizing,” she said.
As a legislator, she said she is focused on women and family issues and brings her artist perspective to the House floor and the policy she helps create, working on issues like arts education, housing and economic inclusion, all with an artist’s lens.
“I speak with folks that are my constituents or have their businesses in my district to be like, ‘how do we make everything work with Equity for everybody that is here?’” she said. “That is also the customers, or how are you able to be their clientele by supporting their artwork through policy or on your walls or as an architect in your new development that’s happening.”
“People think, you know, I’m rich. Absolutely not,” she said. “I don’t call myself a struggling artist, I call myself a surviving working artist, and that we need to recognize the impact that that has on our renters, on our homeowners and in spaces where we can curate our art.”
Perez-Vega, who’s production company turns 15 this March, said her work as a legislator influences her art just as much as her art influences her work as a legislator. Ultimately though, her artistic pursuits are equal parts a job and her passion.
“My art is my medicine and my band are the physicians,” she said. “When we’re in here creating together we really heal a lot of punctures that come from systemic Injustices.”
“Unlock the Chamber” drops on February 12. She is hosting two events leading up the the release:
Unlock the Chamber Listening Party
February 9, 7:00-9:30 p.m.
Pimento, Downtown St. Paul
Unlock the Chamber Album Release Show
February 10, 7:00-9:30 p.m.
Club Rumba, Minneapolis
Learn more and purchase the album at iammariaisa.com.
This story was updated 1/29 to reflect Anthony “Dj Tony Trouble” Krawetz’s full name