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Calle 13 Cross Spanish Rap's Musical Borders
4/17/07 - exclusive interview

While the Grammy-winning duo Calle 13 hails from the musical hot spot known as Puerto Rico, it would be incorrect to refer to them simply as reggaeton artists. René Pérez aka “Residente” drops rhymes in Spanish over an eclectic variety of beats courtesy of his stepbrother Eduardo José Cabra Martínez aka “Visitante.”


While only a fourth of the tracks fit the reggaeton genre, Residente's lyrical content definitely moves beyond what's expected by painting vivid and sometimes comical mental images with his music.



The marriage of distinct flows with diverse beats make Calle 13 today's biggest innovators in the Spanish rap game. Their new album "Residente/Visitante" drops April 24th, meanwhile Residente took a moment away from promotion to speak with in this exclusive interview. Tell me a little bit about the new album, "Residente/Visitante"

The new album is like a new thing, its not a continuation of the first album, its like something completely new. I think we were affected by the traveling that we did last year to South America, we bought a lot of instruments from different countries over there, like Peru, Colombia, Chile. In every country, we got something, my brother did some beats.... I don't know if its good to call the music that he makes beats, because its not like hip hop beats, its a mix. Its like music and... como se dice... There's a lot of folkore and traditional music from those countries, but he mixes it with a little bit of hip hop and I'm rapping over it. In terms of the lyrics, in this album its Residente, more like a biography, autobiography. The way I'm describing things, I'm talking about things I did during that year. At the same time, you still have the black humor that we always use. Its more social than the first one. We have one song about the immigrant, we did it with Orishas from Cuba, its very nice. My brother played the cuatro venezolano, like a small guitar but with less strings. And we did a collaboration with Mala Rodriguez from Spain, a hip hop artist from there, I respect her a lot. We also did a collaboration with Tego Calderon, I like his lyrics also. And Vicentico, he's from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, he's from Argentina. This album is very Latin, we didn't mix anything. We put Latin music that we made in the first one, now its harder, you can feel it more.

You mentioned Mala Rodriguez from Spain, who I'm a fan of, how did you connect with artists like that, did Sony set it up or did you contact her people?

La Mala called my cell phone, I'm a big fan of hers. She just called me and we started talking, then we decided to do something together. She liked our work, obviously I like her work. I always like to meet the person before I do something with that artist. The same way with Orishas, I met them first, and then we made the song. They respect our work, we respect theirs, it was very fun, it was a new experience because I don't do a lot of collaborations. I'm very picky, I don't like to collaborate with everyone. When I did the collaboration with Nelly Furtado, I met her first, we talked for a while, then I started recording. That's how I do it, with Vicentico it was different because we wanted to work with him. I called him, we needed a voice for that song. The Mala Rodriguez song, we did it together in the studio, the Vicentico song we did separately. I did the track first, then he recorded his voice.

Didn't you also collaborate with Gustavo Santaolalla who composed the music for Amores Perros and Motorcycle Diaries?

Yeah, my brother Visitante went to L.A., he did the beat and played the piano. He sent it to Gustavo Santaolla, we met him eight months ago. I don't know if it was the first Billboard, but we met him over there, then my brother sent some ideas to him. He liked the idea of mixing tango with reggaeton, so he collaborated with us. At first we wanted to do something different, not reggaeton, tango with something else. I think it was very, not something, como se dice.... Diabolico. To mix reggaeton with tango is like a sin, you know. Something that's supposed to be wrong, but at the end its something good. That's why we maintained the rhythm.

How much of the production on the new album is done by your brother, Visitante?

Practically everything, you know. We collaborate with some people, like one of the tracks that Tego Calderon is on, he collaborated with Toy from Control Machete, a Mexican Hip Hop group. Santaolalla, musicians from different countries. We have a Cumbia, but this Cumbia we did it in Bogota, Colombia. He collaborated with a percussionist over there and a guy who played the accordion. There's a lot of live instruments in the new CD.

What's the significance of the names Residente and Visitante?

Right now with the immigration thing, I think its very important. Like our names, every time you visit a place, you can be a resident or visitor.

But how did you come up with nicknames in the first place?

Because of our place, I used to live in Calle 13, I was a resident over there. My brother used to visit me because his father was my stepfather, so he became the visitante. Now we have a lot of other meanings, because of the immigration thing. Maybe you're a resident, sometimes a visitor, sometimes you're well invited and sometimes you aren't.

You went to college in Georgia in the U.S., ever consider doing songs in English?

I don't know, my English is f**ked up. I really need to know what I want to say. If I can really translate what I'm thinking in English really good... Like good good good, I'll do it. But right now I'm not prepared, I have to practice, I haven't spoken English in a while.

Do you consider yourself a rapper or reggaetonero, or do you not even classify yourself?

I don't classify myself in anything. I think its bad when the people call us reggaetoneros because I think we're not the same. We play reggaeton and we do reggaeton, but if you call us reggaetoneros, its like generalizing our music. If you listen to our tracks, we have like three reggaeton songs out of a 15 song album. We're more like Urban Alternative. We don't have a name, we just do whatever we feel like, and we want to do it good all the time. That's why we mix live instruments and take a lot of time when we're writing and why we travel a lot. Just to capture different things. For example, a month ago I was traveling in South America just for fun and just to learn more. I was with the Indians, I don't know how you call it -

La Musica de Los Andes.

Yeah, I was in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, the Amazon. Different places just to learn. We know that all the travel that we do is gonna affect our music, that's why we do it. We're very conscious about that. We're for real with our music, that's why we're not playing the same s**t that everyone plays.

Your last album won several Grammies, do you think this one will do as well?

I think a lot of people is gonna listen to the album more closely, because we already have three Grammies, but I think that this album is better than the first one. The music is very huge, the mix that my brother did. The lyrics are more sincere than the first one, in a way. Not more sincere, its like its more biographical. In a way you have more Rene than Residente. You have both, you have Rene - that's my name - and Residente, my nickname, you have both, a dualism playing. I think its very psychological. Its huge, maybe we're gonna be nominated for more Grammies. I don't know about for the charts, I don't know because the album is more difficult to put on the radio than the first one.

So this album is more introspective, is what you're saying?

Yeah, we have a song its gonna be huge because its a cumbia. Its fun, the other songs are fun and really good, but I don't know, the Latin community likes pop music. They like pop-rock, a lot of s**t like that. To make a beat like Atrevete, it was huge, but we didn't mean to do something like Atrevete. We just did it because they told me that I have to do a short chorus, and I wanted to do it long, so I did Atrevete, a 12 part chorus. They told me that no one's going to learn how to sing a long song with a long chorus. So that's why I made Atrevete, to do the opposite, and doing that, it was a big hit. So maybe the cumbia is gonna be a big hit, I don't know maybe not. Or maybe one of the songs that I think is bad is gonna be a hit.

So you're making music according to what you want, not to get on the charts?

Yeah, we do whatever we feel, and that's very important. If everyone did that, you're gonna have variety on the radio. But now you listen to the radio, and you're listening to the same thing. Even the hip hop from the U.S., commercial hip hop is the same all the time. Saying the same thing, talking about the same s**t. Some of the hip hop artists, sometimes they do something different, but its difficult to maintain that. To be on the spot, and everyone listens to you, and to do whatever you want to do is very difficult. That's why we are doing it, its something you want to achieve.

You're experimental not only with the music but your videos, even the low budget ones were artistic, why did you shoot so many for the first album even if some weren't singles?

I think we're a group that is audiovisual, we use the visuals a lot, also for the pictures in the CDs and the album. Everything, we're trying to maintain something with a group concept as well, like our website, its also graphic. I studied art, so maybe that helped me with that, I'm always into giving criticism to people who work with me and also I choose the people that work with me, with the videos, pictures, everything. Sometimes I write a lot of the things in the video, a lot of the treatment. But they are really good directors, my friends that direct the videos, its a collaboration. If I do the same with a director that's not very creative, he can do it wrong.

What was your college degree in?

I studied Fine Arts in general, everything: painting, drawing. Then I went to a computer arts school in Georgia. Over there, I started doing computer animation, but then I got tired of that, and I changed to the basics, Fine Arts again. I started studying photography and film. I studied for eight years, I mix a lot of stuff.

Do you see yourself directing other videos or starring in movies in the future?

Maybe, I don't know about directing other videos. But I would like to do documentary films, or writing scripts or writing movies. I don't know, in general over here a lot of people are offering me different art exhibitions. Maybe next year I'm going to start doing stuff.

All your videos on Youtube have plenty of comments from the ladies, so I'm sure they want to see you doing film appearances.

Yeah, maybe. I don't know, because I respect a lot of the actors, my mom is an actress from theater. My sister also, I know that takes a lot of work to be a good actor. I respect that, so maybe I can do that. There some people talking to me because they want me to do some films, I don't know.

Doesn't your mother make an appearance in the Tango del Pecado video?

She sings at the end and she's in the video.

Do you have any last thoughts for your fans?

We're gonna do a lot of albums, more and more music, and I think this album is very important in our career. There's gonna be the third album, its gonna be the explanation. You know you have one plus one, and then the third album, its gonna be the mix between this one and the first one, I think. But this one is very important. Its very dark, the first one is more colorful.

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