I am writing this review at the Santa Monica Pier in LA, surrounded by sea, sand, a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., street singers of oldies, families, skaters; plunged in living a visually and sonically loud setting. I’ve chosen to pick a shade and to live it until I leave. Others would rather fight for space and audience for their own constructions than live in a shade. Residente, ½ of ground Puerto Rican rap group Calle 13, is one such MC, with his new album, Residente, traditionalist rap in an age when modernist spectacle (Atlanta trap hip-hop, for example) dominates.
Residente’s take on traditionalist, romantic, hip-hop is perhaps a mirror of his own person given that the title and his artist name are the same. “Somos Anormales” is loud, massive, as hip-hop was first meant to be by DJ Kool Herc, the genial Jamaican transplant who founded Hip Hop as Americanized sound system culture. “Somos Anormales,” “we are abnormal” in Spanish, is the slogan; synth, a drum kit, and guitar move the crowd.
“Milo” begins with melodic violin, and continues in the same way as Residente begins to rap, and the drums kick in. Residente raps lyrically, an agile master of MCing. “Desencuentro” is slow and romantic, as if poet Frederico Garcia Lorca rapping a street love ballad. Soko, a French singer-songwriter, brings her slow, chanteuse, take into what sounds like a young man and a young woman falling for each other at a park, dressed to express subcultural belonging, living for their take on modern life.
“Hijos del Canaveral,” a phenomenal track, is much like “Desencuentro”; romantic raps aided by singing, over baroque instrumentation. This time we hear an elderly man sing, along with an acoustic guitar adorned by pop-synth. It’s a phenomenal hip hop song, and proof that the genre is an elastic one.
Residente place in contemporary music is that of a crop of hip-hop albums that are beyond being a pure spectacle, Kanye West’s are an example, and interested in producing and furthering tradition, like Talib Kweli’s or J Cole’s for example. This time it’s in Spanish language, which is fine because hip-hop is now a global phenomenon.