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Born Natalie Ann Yemez in New York, NY, the artist later known as Maluca grew up in the heavily Dominican area of Washington Heights in northern Manhattan. Her DJ father introduced her to Latin music like bachata, cumbia, merengue, and mambo, as well as hip-hop and other club music. Stage fright kept her away from performing until a friend of hers convinced her to sing backup in his rock band, Bowery Riots, and she quickly realized she wanted to be behind the microphone. Maluca (a derivative of the Spanish word "mala," or bad girl, and a nickname her uncle used to call her when she was little) found her break, however, after a chance meeting with Mad Decent's Diplo, who saw her singing karaoke at the bar she worked at in New York's Lower East Side. Signed to Mad Decent shortly thereafter, Maluca released her debut EP, El Tigeraso in mid-2009, calling her style "experimental tropical punk, ghetto tech, and hip-house." The EP contained the original song "El Tigeraso" (about the Dominican men in Washington Heights) produced by Diplo, with remixes by Feadz, Toadally Krossed Out, and Sticky K, among others.