Residente: Puerto Rican Rapper Takes on the Word ‘America’

When the Puerto Rican rapper Residente hears individuals from the US discuss with themselves as “Individuals,” the phrase usually grates him, snagging his ear like material on a nail. In a lot of the nation, it's a phrase that bounces round freely, rolling off tongues and not using a second thought — easy, simple shorthand, some consider, for the individuals or tradition of the U.S. However pan out to the remainder of the continent, and to many, it appears extra like a symptom of a narcissistic, narrow-minded imaginative and prescient of the world.

“It's important to be actually dumb, actually hole/It's like saying Africa is barely Morocco,” Residente raps in “This Is Not America,” the lead observe from his forthcoming album. He's fast to level out that “America” is the identify of a complete hemisphere, not only one nation, as activists and politicians — particularly these from Latin America — have famous for many years.

The track's video is a visceral intestine punch that flashes scene after scene of the violence that the remainder of the continent has suffered due to U.S. imperialism. A mom breastfeeds her child by way of a wire fence separating her household on the border; a company CEO enjoys a lavish meal as an indigenous little one appears on within the background. To Residente, all of this ties again to the identify “America” and its reflection of U.S. self-importance.

“It's a method of forgetting concerning the individuals making the remainder of America,” he says on a Zoom name one afternoon in late February. “You could have Latin America, you've got Central America, you've got America, you've got South America, you've got the Caribbean — the entire thing is America. I see it as an selfish factor. Your ego needs to be so massive that you just suppose that you're the middle of the world.” For him, the identify symbolizes a nationwide ethos that's liable for centuries of erasure and brutal exploitation. “Excluding the remainder of the historical past and doing no matter they need with the identify of a continent … it's form of like getting colonized, once more, by the U.S.”

Residente, 44, explains this whereas sitting at house in Los Angeles, carrying big headphones and the beleaguered expression of a boxer who refuses to go away the ring. Since 2005, when he shaped the reggaeton duo Calle 13 along with his stepbrother Eduardo Cabra, he's been sounding off on political points, and his stinging, smart-alecky singles have gained him 27 Latin Grammys — essentially the most of any artist in historical past. He's a polarizing determine who represents a mandatory and profoundly radical voice to some, whereas others see a posturing, fake-woke superstar. He's been on the middle of conversations round Puerto Rican independence, and his blunt candor has gotten him into spats with conservatives and leftists alike. He's additionally made headlines for feuding with artists like J Balvin, whom he denounced as a clueless racist in a scathing eight-minute freestyle in March.

Residente's subsequent combat could be the most important one he's ever taken on. Over the previous three years, he's been figuring out the complexities of an bold, multipart undertaking supposed to spark discussions concerning the historical past and id of individuals from the U.S. He sees it as a long-term linguistic battle — one which he hopes will change the very method a nation thinks about itself.

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Residente photographed in Los Angeles in 2022

Carlos Jaramillo for Rolling Stone

Residente has been calling out U.S. imperialism and arduous energy from the start of his profession: His breakout track was “Querido FBI,” a searing diatribe that burst out of him simply after he discovered {that a} Puerto Rican independence chief named Filiberto Ojeda Ríos had been killed by the FBI in a botched raid on his house. “I wrote it that very same night , like at 5 within the morning,” he says. His staff despatched the observe off to radio stations in Puerto Rico, the place it turned successful. “It was the primary time that I noticed how highly effective phrases may be.”

Calle 13's work remained heated, centering on messages of struggles in Latin America. In 2017, Residente went solo with a self-titled album impressed by his world travels after taking a DNA take a look at to be taught extra about himself. A extra private flip in his music coincided with intensified political exercise on social media, the place he lambasted Donald Trump and the mismanagement of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

A few of his hotheaded declarations drew scrutiny. In 2019, he angered the web with a volley of tweets during which he appeared to contend that privilege didn't exist amongst Latinos. Now, he chalks it as much as a Twitter misunderstanding exacerbated by translation points. “I assumed that they have been calling me ‘gringo,' or no matter,” he says. “For me, it's the worst factor, as a result of I'm anti-colonization, and Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S.” He claims that he's all the time understood the racism and colorism that pervades Latinidad: “Whenever you're whiter, you've got extra privilege. I all the time knew that. That's not one thing that I simply discovered.” Nonetheless, he had a whole lot of listening to do, notably concerning the variations between xenophobia and racism. (He provides that he tried to attach straight with a few of the individuals who rightfully known as him out on-line: “One thing that takes, like, two hours of your day on Twitter, you resolve it in quarter-hour of speaking.”)

Months later, a barrage of racist and homophobic textual content messages leaked from the administration of Puerto Rico's then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, as did proof pointing towards corruption. As Puerto Ricans started calling for Rosselló's resignation, Residente sprang into motion — releasing protest anthems alongside Unhealthy Bunny, Ricky Martin, and his youthful sister Ileana Cabra, and mobilizing individuals to indicate up at demonstrations. “Everybody was so mad,” he says. “It turned a stupendous protest.”

Residente's was a labor-rights , and the rapper has recollections of seeing him attending strikes as a child. These he's discovered new inspiration within the methods youthful persons are fascinated about the world. It's one of many causes he believes his new undertaking is coming on the proper time. “We have now newer generations instructing us a whole lot of issues that I didn't know,” he says.

The album, which options collaborations with up-and-coming artists just like the Dominican rapper Nino Freestyle, features a track about Cuba and one other about slang used within the Caribbean. After we spoke, Residente was planning collaborations with visible artists comparable to Alfredo Jaar — the Chilean conceptualist whose 1987 set up interrogating the thought of America impressed the identify of Residente's single — and searching into internet hosting conversations at universities to search out alternate options for “American.”

Most essential, he desires individuals to pay attention, and he's hopeful they are going to. “As soon as you know the way that phrase can harm somebody,” he provides, “that's the perfect final result: to vary that and to make a distinction.”


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