Calle 13

On its self-titled 2005 debut, Calle 13 was hilarious and musically innovative, vocalist Residente's lyrics poking fun at every aspect of contemporary Latin culture while his cousin Visitante's beats combined reggaeton, hip-hop, and funk into a swirling, irresistible groove. The followup, last year's Residente o Visitante, was more thoughtful and musically broad-minded. Guests ranging from Cuban-expat rap group Orishas to Latin über-producer Gustavo Santaolalla and his Bajofondo Tango Club added flavors from all over the Latin continuum, and if it occasionally stumbled into arty pastiche, overall it was a sure-footed next step. The album also offered Residente a platform for a more explicit political consciousness than some might have predicted: "Pal Norte" was an immigrant's rant, and "La Cumbia de los Aburridos" was, as its title might suggest, dedicated to bored/frustrated Latin youth.

Los de Atrás Vienen Conmigo (The Ones Left Behind Are Coming with Me) is more fun than its predecessor. Café Tacuba and Rubén Blades are the big-ticket guests this time, the former serving as backing band and chorus on a relatively straight love song ("No Hay Nadie Como Tu"), while the seven-minute tropical jam "La Perla" finds Blades not only singing but also rapping, and holding his own — which might not surprise those familiar with the talk-singing on his own classic Seventies albums. Visitante's compositions — calling them beats or tracks now is ridiculously reductive — grab sounds from across the globe this time, including New Orleans second-line rhythms and Dixieland on "Gringo Latin Funk," early-Eighties electro on "Electro Movimiento," African guitars on "Esto con Eso," and a crazed Balkan whirl on "Fiesta de Locos." Though his vulgarity remains unrestrained, Residente is apparently sick of being Latin culture's whipping boy: "Que Lloren" and "Ven y Criticame" are direct responses to critics both inside and outside the reggaeton scene. (The chorus to "Que Lloren" translates as "I love it when they cry," and the latter track's title means "Come and Criticize Me.") Combining the fun of the debut with the sonic adventurism of the followup, this is a genre-redefining — if not genre-shattering — triumph. Formerly Latin music's court jesters, the members of Calle 13 have become its future kings.

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Phil Freeman
Contact: Phil Freeman