Die, reggaetón, die
Daddy Yankee has two daddies.
They’re also Puerto Rican, call themselves Residente (rapper, writer) and Visitante (programming, instrumentation), are known worldwide as Calle 13, and are responsible for killing reggaetón dead.
For that, we thank them.
Actually, to compare Daddy Yankee to Calle 13 at this point is meaningless: Calle 13 only records conventional reggaetón (a Panama/Puerto Rico mix of dancehall, hip-hop, and tropical rhythms) as if to prove that they can do it, too, but deep down, they couldn’t care less about the genre. What they do is music, absorbing like sponges the local rhythms of every city, town, and village they set foot in and mixing them with rap (closer to El Gran Combo than Dr. Dre) and arguably the best lyrics in Spanish-language alternative music.
Which doesn’t stop the conventional reguetoneros from getting pissed off whenever Calle 13 beats them at the great award shows, storming off or complaining like bitches.
“The public knows who is the real Queen,” said Ivy Queen — a great vocalist trapped in a cheesy, commercial reggaetón concept — after Calle 13 beat her in one of those Latin Grammy shows (Calle 13 won one Grammy and four Latin Grammy awards; Daddy Yankee only has one Grammy).
The reason is that Tego Calderón, Voltio, and Calle 13 — in their lyrics and their music — keep reminding us that what the bulk of reguetoneros are doing is crap; Calle 13 sweeps all their nominations, are the critics’ darlings and, more often than not, outsells them as well. (Their first two albums sold more than one million copies.) And, if Los de atrás vienen conmigo (“Those behind are coming with me”), Calle 13’s powerful third album, delivers the greatest beating ever suffered by the duo’s critics, the single “La Perla” is the knockout punch.
The song (“The Pearl”) is named after a San Juan neighborhood, but it is the symbol of the whole album’s intention: a message of unity in diversity to every single poor neighborhood in the Americas. Its rhythm is the usually dark, thunderous Afro Uruguayan candombe, this time softly played Brazilian style by an Argentine percussion group (La Chilinga, headed by Daniel Buira, former drummer of Los Piojos), and it has a rap written and executed to perfection by Panamanian salsa great Rubén Blades (who also sings in the chorus). A match made in Caribbean heaven, but directed to all barrios in the Americas, from San Antonio’s West Side to Uruguay’s Barrio Borro.
The chorus (written by Residente, as was the rest of the song), paints La Perla as a humble paradise surrounded by water, where the neighbors — despite complaining about gringo tourists “hurting the view”— leave their doors open and don’t lack anything because they have “the night as a bedsheet.”
In his self-penned rap, Blades talks to Calle 13 from Panama and pledges his allegiance to “neighborhoods with mothers who … died without vacations./ As my grandmother used to say, ‘Those are the cards: In a poor man’s home, even the fetuses work.’”
Whether or not you are familiar with salsa or candombe, the song instantly grabs you by the balls. But there’s more: A call-and-response salsa-style soneo between Blades and Calle 13 in which the author of “Pedro Navaja” (the biggest song in salsa’s history) screams that “a good man is not fearful, is not fearful of the darkness.”
“The song is a mix of barrio and national pride,” said Residente in Spanish on the phone from Mexico. “That’s something felt in any country, no matter what your political party is. And as far as the ‘a pair of gringos hurting the view’ line, it’s real. People hate it when there’s a bunch of tourists taking photos. I wrote what I saw.”
Even at their most trivial X-ratedness, Calle 13 outsmarts their counterparts and invariably tops booty references with left-field lines that put the song into a whole new category. “Electro movimiento,” a seemingly harmless ’80s-flavored dance single on the new album, ends with Residente inviting everyone to the party (“homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, those into bestiality, pedophiles, and heterosexuals”).
“Yeah, you can say there are two Calle 13s,” says Residente. “But triviality helped us reach a broader public that perhaps isn’t ready or interested in understanding our social message. But we always add the Calle 13 touch.”
“La Perla” has Latin Grammy written all over it, and if Calle 13 gets nominated (a slam dunk at this point), to see Blades/Calle 13 summit on live television is worth the torture of watching Univision for three hours.
Yes, they’d love to play the song at the Grammys. But, in another eloquent display of the aesthetic skills that took them to the top, they don’t want to do it “Latino USA” style — they want to do it right.
“Yes, I agree with you: it could be Song of the Year, and I’d like to play it at the `Latin` Grammy,” said Residente. “I got offers to play it at the Billboard, Juventud, and Lo Nuestro Awards. But `I want to` play it at the `Latin` Grammys with Blades, and I want to do it properly. I don’t like the idea of a broad with fake tits presenting our performance of a song like “La Perla.’”