October 4, 2008 / 3:30 AM / 10 years ago

Calle 13 still defying labels on third album

MIAMI (Billboard) - Being a maverick can be extremely cool. And it can be rough. Just look at Calle 13.

The duo, made up of half-brothers Rene Perez (aka Residente) and Eduardo Cabra (aka Visitante), burst onto the Latin music scene with its 2006 self-titled debut, a mix of urban and alternative that was ostensibly reggaeton but whose witty, literary lyrics; electronic loops; and acoustic percussion defied the genre’s definition.

Moreover, Calle 13 was almost subversively irreverent, its humor ranging from sophomoric to macabre and full of sexual undertones.

It all added up to a hit. Despite limited airplay, “Calle 13” sold nearly 250,000 copies in the United Sates, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and the duo became a media and critical darling.

But its follow-up, the far darker and racier “Residente o Visitante,” didn’t do as well, notching slightly less than 100,000 copies. Now, the duo returns with an album that finds middle ground without really trying.

“Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo,” due October 21 on Sony BMG, is a mix of urban and alternative that sees Calle 13 collaborating with the likes of Mexican alt group Cafe Tacvba and Ruben Blades. Tracks like “Que Lloren,” which pokes fun at reggaeton and pop culture figures, are outright hilarious, strongly reaffirming Calle 13’s standing as an urban — not a reggaeton — act.

There are more radio-friendly tracks, like the soulful, uplifting single “No Hay Nadie Como Tu.” In general, the album expands on the group’s Caribbean base and goes on to explore international sounds, including the music of Argentina and Mexico, incorporating percussion and tubas that are reminiscent of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Akwid.

It’s a far more palatable release than “Residente o Visitante,” which drew controversy with its sexual and religious content.

“I think it’s a pretty album,” said Perez, who writes all the lyrics; Cabra handles music and arrangements. “Even when I criticize, the controversy isn’t as strong. This is an album with many colors, with a broad palette.”

Making an album that wasn’t “as strong,” however, was not a response to the previous release, Perez said. “I flow how I feel,” he said. “That’s the difference between artists and businessmen. The problem with the previous album wasn’t a bad word here or there, but the ideas. You can’t erase an idea.”

Regardless of how the public or radio sees it, Perez said he primarily thinks of Calle 13 as an urban act.

Being “urban,” he said, “goes beyond a rhythm or a style of dress. What good is it to dress like a rapper if you sing ballads? For me urban is a mix of things. It’s what you represent. It brings together everything around us, from dance to sexuality to politics to religion. All that can be urban. And, if in addition to that, you’re writing rap, and the music is rhythmically urban, well, it’s even more so.”


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