Residente o Visitante
he fine line between a fad and authenticity has put reggaetón in a delicate situation. As Latin hip-hop continues to gain popularity, the style must evolve to avoid a lethal backlash. Sure, it has its share of superstars, like Daddy Yankee and Don Omar, but a viable alternative is needed to keep things interesting. This is where Calle 13 comes in. The Puerto Rican duo, consisting of half-brothers “Residente” Rene Pérez and “Visitante” Eduardo Cabra, released their eponymous debut album in 2005, garnering plenty of critical accolades, including three Latin Grammys, for their sophomorically humorous, yet intellectually engaging form of hip-hop. And with the slow rise of the cumbia-tinged “Atrévete-te-te!,” perhaps the single best reggaetón song in the genre’s young history, Calle 13 has spent the past year basking in the glow as the “next big thing.”
Luckily, Calle 13 doesn’t seem to care for superlatives. Rather than quarantine themselves into a studio trying to prevent lightning from escaping the bottle, they hurriedly recorded Residente o Visitante. Aided by esteemed Rock en Español producer (and recent Academy Award-winner) Gustavo Santaolalla, the album streamlines the reckless experimentation of their debut album into something more refined, more cerebral. Stripping down the cornerstones of reggaetón—percussion sounds and ubiquitous “Dem Bow” rhythm—the duo creates complex song structures all but foreign to mainstream pop. The effect is to shift the listener’s attention to the charismatic Residente, whose oblique and uproarious performance is a revelation.
Word to the wise: this album is not recommended listening during a volunteer shift at the Boys & Girls Club. It’s amongst the filthiest non-novelty records ever released. Conveniently, Calle 13 employs an entire operatic ensemble to alert listeners of this fact on “Intro.” This two-minute roll call of “carbon,” “puñeta,” and “verga”—words you don’t want to be caught saying in the barrio—is followed by the lead single “Tango del Pecado,” inspired in part by Residente’s real-life relationship with former Miss Universe Denise Quiñones. Utilizing the Bajofondo Tango Club to provide the main hook, Residente paints a surreal picture of a good girl/bad boy romance doomed in the eyes of others to send them directly to hell. Next, the collaborative tracks “Sin Exagerar” and “Mala Suerta Con El 13,” with Tego Calderon and La Mala Rodriguez, respectively, are plays on typical hip-hop duets. “Sin Exagerar” finds Residente and Calderon mocking the braggadocio common in American rap songs (“I can get any women I want, girls with two, three, four, five tits”), while La Mala and Residente evoke the protagonists of Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” after about two weeks of dating.
While the shocking nature of the lyrics is the most noticeable aspect of the disc, the heart of Residente o Visitante lies in the mature themes of the disc’s best tracks. “Pal Norte,” featuring Cuban rap group Orishas, is a biting indictment of immigration policy in the Americas, which as the album’s title makes clear, is an issue of concern for the band. Closer “La Era de la Copiaera” criticizes the Latin music scene for its proclivity towards fakery, and implores it to utilize its influence for the betterment of the Latino culture. And with “Un Beso de Desayuno,” Calle 13 delivers perhaps their most noble achievement: a fully formed reggaetón love song.
None of this is to say that Residente o Visitante is perfect. It’s about two or three songs too long, and in the case of “Uiyi Guaye”…well, let’s just say it sounds like Donald Duck on a treadmill—in a bad way. But despite its flaws, Residente o Visitante is a trailblazing record. It eschews the reggaetón aesthetic in favor in its exploration of style and sound, creating something bigger than a fad could ever inspire, language barriers be damned.
Reviewed by: Andrew Casillas
Reviewed on: 2007-06-06