Calle 13 have come a long way since their 2005 debut, when they were a smartass pair of twentysomethings from Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, riding the international reggaeton boom with a club-minded mix of sex talk and political invective. With their fifth disc, frontman Residente and his halfbrother Visitante have made as ambitious a hip-hop album – if that's not too narrow a term – as any in any language. Beginning with an incantatory intro delivered by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, the album ramps up through "Respira El Momento," where Residente breathlessly escalates his Eminem-ish flow over dark piano, orchestral swells and choral drama. "El Aguante" pays tribute to human endurance, calling out a laundry list of dubious leaders (among them "Hitler, Idi Amin, Stalin/Bush, Truman, Ariel Sharon") over a pennywhistle stomp owing to both Gogol Bordello and the Pogues. And on the title track, driven forward by Middle Eastern vocals and guest Tom Morello's strafing guitar, controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – who recorded his spoken-word part in the basement of the Ecuadorian embassy in London – salutes "the power of people armed with the truth." The song, like the entire LP, is an object lesson in just that.
From The Archives Issue 1205: March 27, 2014