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" Many of these other "traditional" sounds can also be heard in other reggaeton artists such as the salsa influence in popular reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee .
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 a la Policía ("A Tribute to Police"), and most controversially, his diss song 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 colaboration 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 Venezuelan cuatro and a theremin.
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 a botched (some argue intentional) ambush-killing by the F.B.I. that were trying to arrest him. 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.
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 ecola 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".
Ever since Calle 13 first single ("Querido F.B.I.") was heard on radio, they have been praised mainly for what many consider to be a unique musical and lyrical style. This was evidenced by the acceptance received by their debut album.
Reactions to Calle 13 have been as strong as they are diverse. Residente's lyrics have received praise by some critics for being highly innovative when compared to those of other Latin urban acts, particularly for their clever use of pop culture allegories and play on words. However, they have been equally derided for their use of profanity, and for being violent, sexist and, in one instance ("Japón"), racist.
In the band's first record, a subset of the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras' Choir was used on the song "Sin Coro", as to evoke a sense of classical grandeur to a song that overtly claimed that its chorus was nonsense. Some critics praised the idea for its cleverness, while some others panned it for being too pretentious (and for being a low note in the Choir's 50-year history). As a response to this criticism, when Calle 13 performed its first major concert in Puerto Rico on May 6, 2006, the choir opened the concert by singing a sonata of profanities with classical overtones that resembled the styles of Tchaikovsky, Rossini and Leoncavallo, among others. This litany, with some minor changes, has since become the introduction to the album Residente o Visitante, and is used to present Calle 13's live presentations.
The back cover of Calle 13's eponymous first album featured Residente's real-life grandmother brandishing a pistol, which angered critics and social activists in Puerto Rico. Residente later remarked that the intention behind the photograph was that of both parody and social criticism: he wanted to evoke the feeling that violence in Puerto Rico has risen out of control to the point that old people such as his grandmother would have to bear arms to remain alive. He also acknowledged -rather angrily- that many of his grandmother's acquaintances had even harassed her for consenting to have her photograph taken.
Critics point out that many Calle 13 songs, besides "Querido F.B.I.", advocate violence. Some of these songs include: "Algo Con-sentido" ("Somewhat Pampered", a play on words on "something that makes sense", since Residente insists in the song that its lyrics are incoherent), "A Limpiar El Sucio" and "Llégale a Mi Guarida" from the album Residente o Visitante''. Residente counters criticism against this by remarking that references to violence in his songs are sometimes made tongue-in-cheek; he points to the outro to "Algo Con-sentido", where he shoots various fans (acting as a sociopath) and immediately after stops shooting and reminds fans that the shootings are "as fake as many reggaetón artists are out there".
Residente does acknowledge constant references to sex and sexual practices in many songs. Some of these practices include: fellatio ("Querido F.B.I., "La Fókin Moda" and "La Era de la Copiaera", among others), sex in public ("Se Vale To-To"), urolagnia (various), coprophilia and gokkun ("Mala Suerta con el 13"), and anal sex ("Uiyi-guaye"). He reminds people that urban music is mostly sexual, and that, again, many of these references are made in parody (particularly in the song "Mala Suerta con el 13", where his duo partner in the song, Spanish rapper Mala Rodriguez, protests about the small size of his penis and his problems with premature ejaculation).
On the subject of racism, "Japón" is criticized for its stereotypical depiction of Asians. Residente raps the song in conversational style with a fictional "Japanese" who actually speaks in Spanish with a strong "ching-chong" accent (using Chinese rather than Japanese phonemes). He then makes fun of the Japanese's proficiency in mathematics and martial arts and their lack of physical attributes such as large breasts and buttocks. Residente remarks that the song was actually written as part of the soundtrack for an experimental theater play in Puerto Rico, and thus does not necessarily reflect his own views; however, some Asian community groups in Latin America (particularly in Venezuela and Peru) protested about what they perceived were the song's many inaccurate Asian stereotypes.
Non-Puerto Rican critics have expressed their inability to understand much of Calle 13's Puerto Rican slang, as well as the many Puerto Rican cultural context and language references used in the band's songs. An example of these are two expressions, "¡Salamaya!" and "Guaynabo City" that were popularized by Puerto Rican comedian Sunshine Logroño. Residente counters by saying that it was about time that Latin America opened up to Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture without the sometimes negative filtering and bias Latin American media outlets tend to apply to both.
Calle 13 has angered many Reggaeton artists such as Don Omar, Ivy Queen and Wisin Y Yandel for winning the Best Urban Album award in the Latin Grammy. According to Ivy Queen she believes that Calle 13 is unfair in winning so many awards for there are many other talents in the genre. Such comments can be viewed on Youtube. Daddy Yankee believes that Calle 13 is a very talented group but has expressed his concerns about them as well. Few rappers have supported the group, such are Tego Calderon and Julio Voltio.
In light of the criticism directed towards the band, Calle 13 has become a cultural reference to be reckoned with in Puerto Rico. An example of this is the constant references made to the band and to Residente by satirical writer Fiquito Yunqué in the weekly pro-independence newspaper Claridad. Yunqué's columns sometimes feature Calle 13 lyrics as their titles, and Yunqué even introduced the band onstage at one of their live performances in Puerto Rico (mentioned in the section "Major success in the Americas" below).
Acceptance of Calle 13's music even influenced the Governor of Puerto Rico, Anibal Acevedo Vilá who, in December 2005, admitted to listening to Calle 13 because his son had copied some of their songs to his iPod. Acevedo claimed that "songs such as Calle 13's were eye openers" to him. As a result, since the country had a chronic problem of people being unknowingly injured or killed by stray bullets fired to the air on New Year's Eve, Acevedo felt compelled to invite the duo to La Fortaleza and to have them record a song against shootings bullets in the air as a way of celebrating the holiday.
The single, "Ley De Gravedad" (Law of Gravity) was released as part of a public-service campaign for that matter. Some political adversaries of Acevedo dismissed this as a trick to ingratiate himself with Puerto Rican youth and pro-independence advocates, and was criticized by the local press due to the fact that an artist who seemingly promoted violence with their "Querido FBI" song was now supposed to be a role model for anti-violence. However, the campaign was thought to be effective in reducing the injured, from twelve (and one death) the previous year, to three the year the campaign was run, though many members of the artistic community contributed to this effort in separate campaigns.
Residente was also linked romantically with Denise Quiñones, Miss Universe 2001. The apparent character mismatch between the two has fueled controversy in Puerto Rican media, and Quiñones's parents only met Residente nine months into the relationship.
Calle 13 recently teamed up with Julio Voltio to speak out against police brutality in Puerto Rico. After recording a song titled "Tributo a la Policía", Calle 13 distributed the single free on the streets in front of the Police Headquarters of San Juan.
As the duo has risen to fame, other international artists of various genres have sought them. In 2006 and 2007, they recorded songs with Canadian Nelly Furtado and Spanish Alejandro Sanz. In their recent album, they feature contributions with such diverse groups like Orishas (from Cuba), Argentinian Vicentico (from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs), and La Mala Rodríguez (from Spain), among others.
On November 2, 2006 the band won three Latin Grammys (Best New Artist; Best Urban Album; and Best Short Version Video, for the song Atrévete-te-te.) They later filmed a video along with Voltio for "Chulín Culín Chunfly", where Residente, dressed as a priest and later as Bruce Lee, is given a severe beating by a gang. On October 9, 2008, Calle 13 parcicipated in the “MTV Tr3s Pass Tour”.
Residente considered this album to be darker than the first, but also more introspective and biographical. As part of the album, Calle 13 filmed the video for their first single off the album, Tango del Pecado, on February 25, 2007. The video suggests a surreal sequence where Residente and Denise Quiñones are married in a garden, with barbed wire physically separating their families, Sunshine Logroño dressed as an archbishop to marry them, Tego Calderón and Voltio acting as best men, and various peculiar characters surrounding them. Gustavo Santaolalla intervened in the song's production.
On November 8, 2007, Calle 13, along with Orishas, performed the song "Pa'l Norte" at the 8th Annual Latin Grammy Awards, held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Their live performance featured the percussion/dance group Stomp. A troupe of dancers dressed in traditional Latin American garb and wearing bandannas in their faces (as if they were bandits) were also featured. Two members of the traditional Colombian folk cumbia band Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, as well as members from an indigenous tribe local to the Gaiteros' hometown in northern Colombia, followed Residente to the stage at the beginning of the song. The subtext of the presentation was that Latin Americans were "invading the North" (the United States) and were there to stay.
Calle 13 earned two Latino Grammys later that night. The Gaiteros de San Jacinto, who had also received a Grammy for their album "Un Fuego de Sangre Pura", could only accept it when Calle 13 intervened to finance their trip to Las Vegas and obtain a temporary visa to visit the United States on their behalf.
The group's presentation was considered by critics and many viewers of the award ceremony as the highlight of the night. One approving viewer, sitting in the audience at the Center (and who was mentioned in ad libbed comments by Residente during the song) was salsa singer and international media celebrity Rubén Blades. Blades is quoted as saying: "That combination of urban (feel), particularly the indigenous people's entrance, made such a big spiritual impression on me that I think it is one of the most special moments I've ever witnessed, as far as live presentations go". Blades later received Residente and Visitante in his native Panama, served as their host for one of the video podcasts in his website, and publicly gave them a copy of one of his songs' lyrics, expecting them to at least consider using them in a future musical collaboration.
A later tour of the Americas had Calle 13 perform to sell-out crowds in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. The band also performed in the United States, including an appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on April 27, 2008.
The band received all three possible audience acceptance awards when they performed at the 2008 Viña del Mar International Song Festival in, Viña del Mar, Chile, taming the usually demanding crowd (traditionally nicknamed "El Monstruo", or "The Monster" -because of its fickleness- by Chilean media). They also performed to a sold-out crowd at Luna Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They finished their tour at the 34th. Annual Claridad Support Festival in San Juan on April 24, 2008, performing for one of the largest crowds ever assembled at the Festival (according to the newspaper's directorship board). Denise Quiñones joined the band onstage for their abbreviated song set.
2006 MTV Latin:
2007 Latin Grammys: