Music that’s a mission
A street beyond reggaeton
Calle 13’s lead rapper-Rene Perez (aka Residente) and keyboardist-programmer and half-brother Eduardo Cabra (called Visitante) have given the burgeoning reggaeton genre a much-needed shot in the arm, winning the best urban artist award at last fall’s Latin Grammy ceremony.
Some have suggested that reggaeton (a popular urban mix of hip-hop, Latin beats, reggae and rap) was becoming stale, with predictable artists monotonously rapping about hooking up, getting paid, sex and food.
But why stray from a winning formula?
Because Calle 13 — so named because while growing up, Residente would often visit Mr. Perez on 13th Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s middle class Alto Trujillo neighborhood — never considered itself a reggaeton band.
“We don’t have a particular genre to call our own, but we’re definitely not a reggaeton band,” Residente says in Spanish during a phone chat from Puerto Rico. “This is not hip-hop. We’re rock, because that allows us to do what we want to do in our very own style.”
Residente holds a master’s degree in fine arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, while Visitante has a bachelor’s degree in accounting. In contrast to the bling-happy norm for reggaeton stars, Neither wears gold medallions, with Residente usually comfortable in a white wife-beater and jeans, and Visitante in a beret and funky indie rock shirts.
Their musical idols include Whitesnake, Poison, Ruben Blades, Eminem and one of Puerto Rico’s original reggaeton stars, Tego Calderon. The varied influences help explain Calle 13’s genre-busting inventiveness, which includes, for example, a clarinet solo in their breakout smash hit “Atrevete-te-te” — which dares intellectual girls to “come out of the closet” and “go hyper,” let loose.
They also mix in rock, electronica, cumbia and rap with lyrics that are funny, political, even scandalous. “La Jirafa” uses heavy percussion in the group’s search for the “one,” while the sarcastic and overtly sexual “Se Vale To” uses ‘80s-style synthesizers.
The group’s newest hit, “Tango del Pescado,” adds tango accordions to reggaeton beats, with a swaggering Residente rapping to a bride-to-be: “I’m coming straight from hell/Your daddy is more square than a notebook and he can’t comprehend my modern language.”
Although not the devil himself, Residente does have a mischievous smile and a cocksure stage presence. He calls this song, “progressive tango — a super cool mix, a theme we really loved.”
Calle 13 performs Wednesday at the 9:30 Club (www.930.com). Doors at 7:30 p.m.
— Alfredo Flores