Calle 13’s Residente Talks Exploring Global Roots on Star-Studded Solo Debut

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A report from Yahoo Music.

As frontman of alternative-hip-hop group Calle 13, Residente sold hundreds of thousands of records and racked up more Latin Grammys than any other act in history. But when it came time to make his solo debut, the rapper-producer – born René Pérez Joglar – decided he wanted something more.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant,” he tells Rolling Stone over the phone, “but it’s really easy to make another hit. I don’t want to do it because the industry pushes you to do that, so, I decided to travel and trace my DNA … using music.”

A few years ago, Joglar took a DNA test that traced his genes back to 10 vastly different locales – from his native Puerto Rico to Armenia, Ghana to China. An artist long invested in breaking down boundaries of all kinds, Joglar decided that these results would serve as the conceptual framework for his next project – a self-titled LP accompanied by a documentary and book commissioned by Fusion Media Group, a division of Hispanic media conglomerate Univision.

Residente is Joglar’s first record since disbanding Calle 13, the wildly successful group he shared with his siblings Eduardo Cabra Martínez and Ileana Cabra Joglar. For his own project, the MC amassed new collaborators from 10 different corners of the earth, each artist local to a place of his genetic origin. Indie-pop singer SoKo lends a touch of French melodrama in the star-crossed love song “Desencuentro”; composer Goran Bregović and his Balkan brass band underscore Joglar’s cyborg-ian dystopia in “El Futuro Es Nuestro”; and Niger-born Tuareg guitarist Bombino guests on the slick, funky “La Sombra.”

Though the album finds him breaking away from Calle 13, Residente still turned out to be a family affair: On the album’s opening track, “Intro ADN/DNA,” Hamilton actor-playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the tale of how he and Joglar discovered they were long-lost cousins. A Nuyorican by way of Manhattan’s Washington Heights, Miranda had never crossed paths with Joglar, a Boricua born and raised in San Juan – at least not until the two had long grown up and become fans of each others’ music. Joglar, who later made a guest appearance on 2016’s Hamilton Mixtape, asked Miranda to emcee one of his concerts in Puerto Rico. While communing with Miranda backstage, Joglar’s mother, Flor, identified his lineage with clairvoyant precision: “You have your grandfather’s face,” she told Miranda. “He was my mother’s cousin.”

Joglar, the man Miranda calls a “global artist in residence,” spoke to Rolling Stone about building international solidarity among his fellow musicians, his stance on Puerto Rican independence and the making of Residente.

You’ve always had your own personality, but now that Calle 13 is no more, you’re establishing yourself as a proper solo artist. What has that process been like?
For this record, I had produced the whole album myself. And as always, I wrote all my lyrics. But I was surrounded by great people, very talented people. Great musicians, composers and a great mixer, Tom Elmhirst [Adele, Amy Winehouse].

People still know me by Calle 13, and you know, they stop me on the street. It’s nice, but I just want to start using Residente all the time. I decided to put everything under the name of Residente. The documentary: Residente. The album: Residente. I’m writing a book about the travels and the pictures and all of the creative process, and it’s going to be Residente also.

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