When Calle 13 took the stage at the Prospect Park Bandshell on Friday night, a roaring crowd and hundreds of Puerto Rican flags welcomed them with island pride. Thousands of fans filled the park to capacity and lined the surrounding fences just to get a glimpse of the Puerto Rican rap duo – stepbrothers Residente (René Pérez Joglar) and Visitante (Eduardo José Cabra Martínez), plus sister PG-13 (Ileana Cabra Joglar) – who were the headlining act at LAMC and Celebrate Brooklyn's free concert.
After performing a brief medley of old and new tracks from their 2008 album up to their latest, Grammy-winning recordings, Entren Los Que Quieran and Los de Atrás Vienen Conmigo, Residente gave a shout-out to Brooklyn and the transitional neighborhood Bushwick, which he could be calling home soon.
"I find Brooklyn very interesting," said the lead rapper during an exclusive interview backstage with Rolling Stone. "I'm looking for a neighborhood and space that's really booming artistically." Despite considering the new home of the Brooklyn Nets an epicenter of art and culture, René explains that he isn't officially Brooklyn-bound as of yet: "I haven't officially decided. I've been considering Brooklyn, but I'm still wrestling with where I'm going to settle down."
Call it an artistic recharge for his tongue-bending lyrics, which kick politically conscious messages tied to raw verses and sexual euphemisms. It's exactly those elements that have allowed Calle 13 to transcend beyond the Latin hip-hop genre and make them a global phenomenon.
A testament of Residente's mastery is his latest collaborative single with the New York-based Latino band Outernational (featuring Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith), "Todos Somos Illegales." The 34-year-old rapper laces the track with quick and heavy satire, challenging the exclusionary labels placed on marginalized groups in the U.S.
"I respect that North American musicians wanted to touch on that topic," he said at the bandshell, adding that "even though they were creative monsters working on the track, I was like, 'Whatever – I like the hook and I'm going to do something with this.' I [recorded] it in one night."
Being a voice for a progressive vision and painting a world of struggle and triumph, Calle 13's philosophy speaks for itself. "The people whose jobs are to protect and serve end up turning a blind eye to a lot of issues that are important to us," said Residente. "There's no creativity [in the government], and so they end up adopting the same old ways of doing things. Not everything has to be by the book. That obviously hasn't been working."
Calle 13 has begun working on their sixth studio album, expected to drop mid-2013, which will include some English tracks. "The album is going to be very Calle 13, but I want to include other languages in there," explained Residente. "I want to master English first, because I don't want other people translating my stuff for me."
Dwelling on why the group wants to record in English, he responded thoughtfully: "At a personal level, I want to communicate with my fan base in the States. Imagine 'Querido FBI' in English so they can really understand what's going on. There are a lot of people that are unaware of our message even though they listen to us."
Fans can expect the group's visionary style to continue evolving. "Very few people understand what's really going on in Puerto Rico and Latin America right now," said Residente. "We want to touch on those heavier topics."