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Few hip-hop or urban acts, in any language, match so much ambition to so much fun as the Puerto Rican duo, Calle 13, (Rene Perez and Eduardo Cabra, aliases Residente and Visitante, respectively). Five times grammy winners and the most musically adventurous music band in Latin music industry.
Calle 13 started as a collaboration of half brothers, Rene Perez and Eduardo Cabra, aliases Residente and Visitante, respectively. Perez and Cabra first met at the tender age of two, when the former's mother married the latter's father. The parents would later divorce, yet the half brothers remained close over the years.
Their moniker, Calle 13 (13th Street), arose from their living situation: because Cabra came to visit his brother regularly at his residence (i.e., 13th Street), rather than vice versa, he was the visitor whereas Perez was the resident. The brothers were always artistic; Resident (Residente) grew up writing poetry, film scripts, and songs which led to him to develop into an exceptional lyricist.
He studied for five consecutive years at the Escuela de Artes Plasticas in Puerto Rico and studied animation at Savannah University in Georgia. On the other hand, Visitante studied music formally since age six. They began recording music together in 2004, with the idea of hosting their work on a website, beginning with two demos (La Tripleta and La Aguacatona).
After quietly debuting stateside in 2005 on White Lion, a small reggaeton label in partnership with Sony BMG, they finally caught up. In September 2006 they won three Latin Grammys, for Best New Artist, Best Short-Form Video, and Best Urban Album.
In addition, there was the announcement of three nominations for MTV Latin America Awards; the duo was invited to perform with Furtado on the awards show. MTV Tr3s provided early support to Calle 13 by featuring the duo in its first-ever live performance of No Hay Igual with Nelly Furtado in New York's Time Square when the channel launched in 2006.
Calle 13 was also named as one of the first MTV Tr3s Artist of the Month selections in 2007. Recognizing Calle 13's commitment to social justice, MTV Tr3s also featured vocalist Residente as a panelist during its Beyond Borders immigration forum last year. By the end of the following year, Calle 13 had become the hottest new artist in popular Latin music, garnering widespread critical notices and steadily mounting album sales.
From the start, the duo has been a heat-seeking missile of controversy. When a radical pro-independence leader was killed in Puerto Rico during an FBI raid in 2005, Calle 13 responded with an enraged Internet single, Querido FBI (Dear FBI) vowing to kill 10 Marines in revenge.
Moreover, the duo also flirts with sex a lot, albeit playfully, if not outright jokingly, rather than commandingly or, worse, violently. They started out by throwing witty social satire atop reggaeton and hip-hop beats. All of this, along with some creative and fun-filled videos, made Calle 13 a refreshing alternative to the onslaught of reggaeton overtaking Latin music in 2005.
But on their second album, 2006's Residente o Visitante, they exhibited a political consciousness as sharp as their black humor, as well as an expanded sonic palette that incorporated music from all around the Latin world.
That year, Calle 13 was the toast of the industry with three Latin Grammys, including best new artist, for its debut album, with the devilish hit single, Atrevete-te-te (Da-da-dare), that turns sexual seduction into a weapon of class and race warfare.
Their 2007 album, Residente o Visitante, picked up rhythms and collaborators from across Latin America. This time there are more Latin American all-stars: the Mexican rockers Cafe Tacuba put a polka behind No Hay Nadie Como Tu (Nobody Like You) while the Panamanian songwriter Ruben Blades sings - and raps with ease - on La Perla.
Their sister Ileana (aka PG-13) has contributed the female vocals to some of their songs, and so has Residente's mother, Puerto Rican actress Flor Joglar de Gracia (on the single Tango del Pecado).
On their new third release, Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo (The Ones Left Behind Are Coming With Me), Calle 13 venture even farther afield, exploring sounds from Dixieland jazz to the Balkan chaos of Emir Kusturica. Perez keeps insisting he's crazy on the group's third album, Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo (Those From Behind Are Coming With Me). in Fiesta de Locos (Crazy People's Celebration) he announces that green worms are eating his brain.
But he's also like a visionary, seeing trouble and utopia, vulgarity and exaltation, competitive put-downs and universal brotherhood all at once. Calle 13's music pushes in just as many directions; one song categorizes it as urban music at a crossroads.
On August 25, 2008 MTV Tres kicked off its Tres Pass tour franchise with a six-city run by Calle 13. The channel also supported the tour and the release of Calle 13's newest album with a special promo campaign and additional programming.
Calle 13 live performances are always full of raw energy. They rock a full band - trumpet, trombone, congas, traditional drums and wood-and-cow-skin drums, bass and electric guitars - seeing Calle 13 live is more like being at a rock show than a rap or reggaeton concert. Here is where Visitante shines.
He commands the seven-man band with as much ease, confidence, and creativity as his bro commands the mic. The dem bow beat, so prominent in reggaeton, takes a back seat in Visitante's sound. It's still there, marking the pace of the music, but it's overshadowed by the elaborate guitars, trumpets, and keyboards.