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Music Review: Calle 13 – Residente o Visitante

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Their self-titled debut launched them as one of the smartest and most innovative acts in latin urban music, and earned them three Latin Grammy's. Merely 14 months later, Calle 13 is back with Residente o Visitante, the Puerto Rican rappers' sophomore album. The release was one of the most eagerly anticipated Latin albums this year, and now we can safely say: it was worth it.

Rapper Residente (René Perez) has found his style in clever, satirical lyrics, and they're the first thing you'll notice on the album. He will make you laugh with his witty wordplay, and even if you don't understand Spanish you must feel the playfulness of his texts. DJ Visitante (Eduardo Cabra) still provides the most innovative beats in Latin urban music, experimenting with sounds from all across Latin America ("Tango del Pecado", "La Cumbia de los Aburridos"). But on this album, Calle 13 sounds more mature – sometimes they'll even move you ("Llegale a mi Guarida", "Beso de Desayuno") or incite you to start thinking ("Pal Norte", "Algo Con-Sentido", "La Era de la Copiaera").

Residente o Visitante has an impressive guest list: Tego Calderón (our other favorite reggaetonero) joins in on "Sin Exagerar", clearly having the time of his life while Residente makes fun of hiphop-style bragging:

Tengo cuatrocientos carros, cuatrocientas motoras
Un caballo que vuela a cien milas por hora
Tengo comprada a todas las emisoras
Y pa' lavar el dinero, treinta lavadoras
Yo consigo lo que sea
Mujeres con dos, tres, cuatro, cinco t*tas

Translation:
I've got four hundred cars, four hundred motorbikes

A horse that flies one hundred miles per hour
I bought all the radio stations
And for laundering money, I got thirty washing machines
I can get whatever I want
Women with two, three, four, five t*ts

On "Llegale a mi Guarida", the characterful voice of Vincentico (former lead singer of Argentinean ska band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs) gives the song a serene feel, like an indigenous ritual dance. A greasy rock riff spices things up a little. And "Pal Norte" features the distinctly Cuban voices of Orishas. It's a socially conscious song on migration, a key theme on the album – the title, Residente o Visitante, not only refers to the two half-brothers' pseudonyms, but also to the status of Latino immigrants in the USA).

Language is another key issue on the album: you'll find both poetical ballads and shocking profanities. The "Intro", for example, starts by saying "We promise you no bad words on this record", followed by an endless litany of Spanish swearing, performed by a church choir. Excuse me if I find this hilarious – kinda reminds me of what mock-rockers Molotov used to do.

On the other hand, in "Mala Suerte con el 13", misplaced profanity gives a rancid taste to what could have been an intimate hiphop song with a great guest rapera (La Mala Rodriguez).

Both the religious and the language themes come back in "Tango del Pecado", now already the hottest reggaeton single of 2007. It starts right away with the infective chorus, classic violins and the indispensable accordion dancing a soulful tango with dirty beats. The words read as a role-play of a modern Romeo and Juliet, where a rich and beautiful girl falls for a poor musician. Residente cites Rubén Blades classic "Ligia Elena" as an influence, but you can't help noticing the correlation with his own life, remembering the storm of comments after former Miss Universe Denise Quiñones fell in love with him.

About halfway through the album, they change the pace for some more mature and serious songs: aforementioned "Llegale a mi Guarida" is calm and hypnotizing, and on "Beso de Desayuno" Residente proves he can write a beautiful ballad with imaginative lyrics. Visitante puts a wicked bossa nova/drum 'n bass sample under it – and it magically works.

More wicked samples, courtesy of Visitante and Oscar-winning producer Gustavo Santaolalla: "Algo Con-Sentido" is a 50's crooner disguised as hiphop, and "La Era De La Copiaera" sounds like a video game gone crazy. Both songs share the same subject: there's too much copying and fakery in Latin urban music these days. When Residente — literally gone mad — starts shooting everybody in sight, "Con-Sentido" ends with "Don't worry, this is fake – just like most reggaetoneros. OK?".

The absurdity does get irritating sometimes: "Uiyi Guaye" has a horrible chorus (though beatwise this is still prime material) and "El Avión Se Cae" is a bad B-side, at the most. But as a whole Residente o Visitante is even more impressive as their debut: Calle 13 have matured. Visitante confirms as a key innovator in Latin urban music, Residente proves his splendid lyrical skill and sharp sense of humor. You'll discover some real gems ("Tango del Pecado", "Sin Exagerar", "Pal Norte", "La Crema"), but really the album needs to be savored as a whole to appreciate all the irony and deeper meanings. I wish Calle 13 a great future, and a dozen more Latin Grammy's.

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