Calle 13 is a five-time Latin Grammy Award and Grammy Award-winning Puerto Rican hip hop and alternative-reggaeton duo formed by step-brothers René Pérez Joglar (born on February 23, 1978 in Hato Rey, a subsection of San Juan, Puerto Rico), who calls himself Residente (lead singer, writer) and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez, (born on September 10, 1978 in Santurce, another subsection of San Juan) who calls himself Visitante (multi-instrumentalist, particularly keyboards, vocals, beat producer). Their sister Ileana (aka PG-13) has contributed the female vocals to some of their songs, and so has Residente’s mother, Puerto Rican actress Flor Joglar de Gracia (on the single “Tango del Pecado”).
Although most people have labeled Calle 13’s music as reggaetón, they have tried to distance themselves from the style. Visitante, being a professional musician, tries to fuse diverse styles in the group’s songs. Early cuts featured elements from jazz, bossa nova and salsa, while recent songs feature cumbia, tango, electronica and others. In their recent tours around Latin America they have added different musical elements according to the place the band is playing in, yet many of their songs carry the traditional reggaeton “Dem Bow” beat such as in their hit Tango del Pecado and the remix to “Suave”.
Singer Residente is reluctant to label their music in a specific genre, instead calling it plain urban style. He has a clear preference of hip hop over traditional reggaeton and both he and his brother justify it by saying that only three songs out of fifteen songs in their eponymous debut album, as well as four out of fifteen songs in their album “Residente o Visitante”, feature reggaetón beats..
Residente’s lyrical style is inspired partly by the lyrical approach used by artists such as Vico C and Tego Calderón, trying to minimize what they refer to as “clichés” of the genre -such as open confrontations with other rappers, known in Spanish as “tira’era”, or tiradera. Residente’s trademark, by his own account, is a lyrical style full of sarcasm, satire, parody and shock value, which some critics and fans have likened to Eminem’s. It also uses Puerto Rican slang considerably (which in turn incorporates a sizeable dose of Spanglish), as well as allegory.
Residente’s distinctive lyrics treat a wide and random variety of subjects. He mentions (and sometimes derides) celebrities and known icons such as Diddy in the song “Pi-Di-Di-Di (La Especialidad de la Casa)” (“The Specialty of the House”); Mickey Mouse, Red Man, and 2Pac, in “Tengo Hambre” (“I’m Hungry”); 50 Cent in “La Crema” (“The Cream”); Madonna (“I mean, Maradona”, Residente says) in “Sin Exagerar”; Puerto Rican singer Nydia Caro (rather affectionately) in “La Era de la Copiaera”, wrestler Abdullah the Butcher in Tributo à la Policía (“A Tribute to Police”), and most controversially, his diss track aimed at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Querido F.B.I. (“Dear F.B.I.”). The song “A Limpiar El Sucio” (“Cleaning Up The Dirt”) is rumored to be a veiled (some say direct) attack on Puerto Rican entertainment journalist Milly Cangiano.
Visitante, on the other hand, is strongly influenced by electronica, world music, and particularly Latin American folk and popular music. Recently, Visitante has claimed to be influenced by music from Central Europe such as Fanfare Ciocarlia (particularly its collaboration with Roma band Kaloome, also known as “The Gypsy Kings and Queens”) and Emir Kusturica’s group, “The No Smoking Orchestra”). In live presentations, Visitante can be seen playing a variety of instruments: an electric guitar, synthesizers, an accordion, a melodica, a Puerto Rican cuatro and a theremin.
Residente and Visitante come from a family with strong ties to the Puerto Rican arts community. Residente’s mother, Flor Joglar de Gracia, was an actress in Teatro del Sesenta, a local acting troupe; Visitante’s father (who later became Residente’s stepfather) is currently a lawyer, but at one time was a musician.
When they were children, Eduardo would visit his brother at the Calle 13 (13th Street) of the El Conquistador subsection of Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico every week. Since the subsection is a gated community, visitors were routinely asked “¿Residente o visitante?” (“Resident or visitor?”) by a security guard when approaching the community’s main gate. Therefore, Cabra would identify himself as a visitor, while Pérez would have to insist -often, he claims- that he was a resident to clear the gate. The pair named themselves Calle 13 after the street their family’s house was on.
Residente originally studied to be an accountant, and his brother finished a computer science degree. An art course prompted Residente to pursue a career as a multimedia designer, and Visitante became a full-time musician and producer. Besides this, Residente was a fan of what was then called “underground rap” in Puerto Rico, and started to earn a reputation as a lyricist (Residente says, with some embarrassment, that his moniker at the time was “El Déspota”, or “The Despot”). Meanwhile, Visitante participated in Bayanga, a rock and Brazilian batucada group.
After Residente finished studying in Georgia at the Savannah College of Art and Design (Sound Design), and after spending a stint in Barcelona sneaking into film classes, he returned to Puerto Rico. Soon after, both of them started working in their music. They claim they initially did it as a joke, but they still managed to get some of their songs heard around.
At one time, Residente and Visitante sent a demo tape to Elías De León, the owner of White Lion Records, and the label offered them a record deal. While their first album was being mixed, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, leader of the Puerto Rican revolutionary group known as Los Macheteros, was killed in the middle of the course of arrest by the F.B.I.. Details about this raid still remain unclear, according to a Puerto Rico Department of Justice’s report issued on the matter on April 2008.
Angered by the F.B.I.’s action, Residente -a supporter of the Puerto Rican independence movement- wrote a song protesting against what had happened to Ojeda and asked his record label to allow the group to release it in the Internet through viral marketing through IndyMedia Puerto Rico, an alternative news website. The song, named “Querido F.B.I.” (“Dear FBI”), and produced by the group and local DJ Danny Fornaris, was written, produced and published during the thirty hours immediately after Ojeda’s killing. The lyrics include the phrase “Sin cojones la radio y las ventas, White Lion me dio pasaporte para tirar este corte” (“Bollocks with radio and sales, White Lion gave me -free- passport to publish this cut”), evidencing Residente’s wish to have the song distributed for free with permission from the label.
Public controversy about the song’s lyrics ensured immediate attention from mainstream media in Puerto Rico, and gave the band instant rise to local fame. The song, according to critics, “redefined what a reggaeton vocalist’s relationship to Puerto Rico should be”. Up to that moment, most local reggaetón artists had opted not to address political subjects in their songs. In comparison, “Querido F.B.I.” became the subject of debate at a forum hosted at University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras soon after its release, and had its lyrics posted in local newspapers such as Primera Hora and Claridad.
Eventually, a video clip for the song surfaced, which combines images from Ojeda himself, his burial, scenes from historical footage from the 1954 armed attack to the United States House of Representatives by Puerto Rican nationalists, and images of everyday Puerto Ricans holding protest signs. Spanish-Puerto Rican thrash metal band “Juerguistas y Borrachos” also issued a remix of the song, adding electric guitar riffs to it. Both media items were also released to the public through viral marketing.
Soon after this, the duo rose to fame in 2005 with two back-to-back hits on Puerto Rican radio stations: “Se Vale Tó-Tó” and “Atrevete-te-te!”. Both songs were later included on their eponymously titled debut album.
The first song’s title (“Se Vale Tó-Tó”) is a play on words, subsitituting “to-to”, a variation on the Puerto Rican slang term for a vagina (“toto”), for “todo” (all). An approximate translation of “se vale todo” is “all is allowed here”, or more accurately, “anything goes”; the song’s chorus is a reference to grinding while dancing. Residente personally directed and edited the video for the song, which was filmed on a relatively small budget of US$14,000.
The second single, “Atrevete-te-te!”, fused Colombian cumbia with Puerto Rican slang and cultural references, and features a clarinet duo (clarinet music is often featured in music from Colombia’s Caribbean coast), which is fairly reminiscent of a similar clarinet duo from Compay Segundo’s song “Chan Chan”. It became a major pop music hit in several Latin American countries.
After this rise to fame, the duo was sought by other reggaetón artists, and they collaborated with artists such as Voltio in the song “Ojalai” (also known as “Chulin Culin Chunfly”, whose name is a minor variation of a song written by Mexican comedy writer Roberto Gómez Bolaños, of whose comedic characters Residente is a fan), and with the Three 6 Mafia in the remix, singing or co-writing songs. At the end of 2005, they finally released their album, which received great critical praise and has been hailed as a cornerstone in Puerto Rico’s musical history.
In 2006 the duo kept on working as they broke into a wider-music scene with at least two more smash hits that were played throughout Puerto Rico and U.S. Urban music radio and television stations, including the songs “Japón” (“Japan”), and “Suave” (“Soft/Slow”). The group also had their first massive-venue concert on May 6, 2006 at the Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan. They also toured Central and South America, playing “Atrévete-te-te” before an escola de samba in Venezuelan television, and also visiting, among others, Guatemala, Chile, Honduras and Colombia. In an interview done during the production of their third album, Calle 13 stated that the production would include songs discussing poverty. The duo also noted that the production would include cumbia villera and “Sounds from Eastern Europe”.