By B. Caplan
By Laurie Charles
By Laurie Charles
By S. Pajot
By Laurie Charles
By Jessica Militare
By Kat Bein
By Kat Bein
Juan Wayne's black cowboy hat fits tight against his skull, and the paper cutout of the Virgin of Guadalupe taped inside it rubs annoyingly against his head. The 14-year-old grabs a hollow glass tube from the dashboard of his beat-up Chevy, stuffs it with steel wool, taps out two fat yellow chunks of crack rock from a prescription bottle, pushes one in the glass, and lets the acetylene-fueled glow from his pocket torch burn a rotten fog into his lungs. He quickly loads another jumbo, slugs some bitter mezcal straight from the bottle, pushes an extended clip into his AK, and grabs a machete.
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Seconds later, Juan is hacking into the screaming necks and faces of the innocent young female factory workers who will soon form another mass grave on the U.S.-Mexico border. And the same day, 15 pounds of white travel into Texas, a junkie millionaire snorts ten dead bodies' worth of powder, and a young Bolivian begins walking north, coca leaf between his teeth.
Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the United States. Puerto Rico's Calle 13 is the biggest band in Latinoamérica, and its music is political as fuck. But is the U.S. ready for the rhythm of revolt? Only if the motherfuckin' beat rides.
Less Daddy Yankee selling "Gasolina" to the gringos than Rubén Blades having a beer with Uncle Luke in the Tierra del Fuego, Calle 13's René Pérez Joglar (AKA Residente) and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez (AKA Visitante) aren't just another pair of Puerto Ricans making American asses shake. Lead voice René was just a kid in Puerto Rico when he discovered the Wu-Tang Clan, Lords of the Underground, Run-D.M.C., and 2 Live Crew.
"I didn't know what they were saying. But I knew the word fuck," Resi recalls. "I remember they took my 2 Live Crew away from me and tried to hide it. But I found it."
So American hip-hop made its mark on the kid, and our dirty uncle taught him how to cuss. "That's why I started using bad words." But he cites Blades's Buscando América as having more of an impact. "That album, I connected with the lyrics."
His commitment to the written word, just as much as spoken word, is evident on the group's website, where all the lyrics to the songs from Calle 13's latest album, Entren los Que Quieran, are posted. "It's so great what a group of letters can do when you put them together. That's why I love words and freedom of speech."
Residente proudly invokes his right to rail against the system. In fact, Calle 13's first notoriety came from "Querido FBI," a vitriolic anti-imperialist rap that gained traction because it was released quickly after a Puerto Rican activist was gunned down in San Juan. Next, a couple of sex-soaked party tracks — "A Tre Ve Te Te" and "Vale To To" — put the duo on the map. But the group first hit the scene on the conscious hip-hop tip, and the pair's musical progression is marked by mining deep-rooted musical and cultural elements from Cochabamba to São Paulo and integrating them into tracks, lyrics, videos, and live shows.
Puerto Rico is a long-held U.S. commonwealth that many people call Welfare Island. Our president is the Puertorriqueños' president, our wars are theirs too, we pay their bills, they get to be citizens, our richest corporations get a tax shelter, our military gets a valuable port and a major weapons testing site. Everybody's happy, right?
Wrong. Residente is a member of the small minority (5 percent or less) of Puerto Ricans who want their country to be independent. "It's my way of thinking as a rapper and as a frontman," he says. "But that's not our main thing. What we fight for is free public education everywhere and to create a connection with the rest of Latin America.
"Puerto Rico is disconnected," he continues. "We are a colony for the US. We watch MTV and whatever else you put on TV. In school, the history classes we receive are from the U.S. We don't travel. We save all year and go to Disney and think we've been around the world. The U.S. knows how to maintain a colony, and it's doing a good job."
Last year, when Calle 13 played at Cuba's Anti-Imperialist Square for several hundred thousand screaming fans, three- to six-foot waves slammed against Havana's famous sea wall as Residente proclaimed, "We need to make a bridge from here to Puerto Rico so that cars can pass between and back and forth." The crowd erupted in approval.
But Miami's old-guard Cuban community, notorious for spite and protests against even the smallest sign of interaction with Castro's Cuba, have been less accommodating and even downright hateful. However, Residente isn't worried about exile backlash. "We said more in Havana in one day than they've ever said from their houses in Miami. If you have something to say, you go to the place and say it, not hide and throw rocks from far away," he argues. "I have a lot of Cuban friends in Miami, and I think the new generation doesn't think the same way. I feel sorry for the older people for what they lost. But you have to move on and be open for change."
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