Resident… But Where? Residente Explores His Roots on Solo Debut
René Pérez Joglar. Most folks know the 39-year-old Puerto Rican “Residente” as the former emcee of iconic Latin hip-hop collective Calle 13. Yet, in spite of winning more Latin Grammy’s than any other artist, a few years ago Residente decided it was time to start a new chapter, so he disbanded Calle 13 and before long found himself taking a DNA test. Pérez would soon learn that his roots are an amalgam of European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Native American blood.
This discovery served as heavy inspiration for his latest project, the self-titled solo debut that released Friday, and its accompanying documentary. On Residεntә, Pérez explores these roots in a very unique way – he traveled to over seven different countries to record songs and parts of songs, before having it all parsed together back at Electric Lady Studios in New York. The result is an extremely eclectic album that covers all kinds of ground, both musically and lyrically.
Residεntә opens with “Intro ADN / DNA,” a sort of foreword from Pérez’ cousin Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda sets the tone for the record with bilingual bars akin to last year’s “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” which was inspired by Miranda’s Hamilton musical and fittingly features a guest spot from Residente himself. “Intro ADN / DNA” serves as the perfect link for Miranda diehards unfamiliar with Residente’s past material but avid enough to listen to a blood relative of Miranda.
Back in January I called lead single “Somos Anormales” a “hardcore rap track with a thumping bassline and a subtle Oriental influence.” I still stand by those words, but in the context of the full album it’s so much more than that. Somehow though, it doesn’t quite stack up to many of its successors. Take “Una Leyenda China,” for instance – the slow, trance-inducing stomp perfectly complements Pérez’ flow, particularly on the verses – or “Dagombas en Tamale.” Here, he pairs this same flow with a tribal feel.
Residεntә’s second single, “Desencuentro,” is absolutely beautiful in every sense of the phrase. The closest he gets to replicating this beauty is on the orchestral-like homage to his son “Milo,” but “Desencuentro” is on a whole other level. The powerful piano-driven blend of Pérez and French singer-songwriter SoKo together is really prominent on the chorus, before the song eventually culminates in an explosion of horns and a sudden cut-off. The abrupt ending honestly kind of irked me at first – where’s our musical closure, René? Apart from that, “Desencuentro” is flawless.
Elsewhere, Residente is noticeably frustrated but introspective, like on “Guerra” and “El Futuro Es Nuestro.” The former features fantastic choral lines throughout, while the latter boasts a march-like horn cadence and a varied vocal delivery from both Pérez and Yugoslavian guest Goran Bregović. His other major guest, Bombino, appears on the rap rocker “La Sombra,” pairing strangely well with the song’s infectious drum groove. Needless to say, all three of these tunes are highlights from Residεntә.
Residεntә takes the listener on a musical journey across the world with enough great moments to keep them entertained the entire time. Even its weaker moments, like the glowing “Apocalíptico” or the foot-tapping closer “Hijos del Carñaveral,” are strong enough to be highlights, had they, say, been found on a Calle 13 record. Anyone familiar with my pieces likely knows that I rarely give a release a “perfect score.” That said, this album just feels like it belongs in that category. We may only be three full months into 2017, but I don’t see many efforts topping this one.