After Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” went supernova, some reggaetón heads got the message: Evolve or turn into the next “Macarena.” Luckily, brotherly duo Calle 13 has been busy toying around with reggaetón’s true and tested blueprint, delivering a much needed boost of lyrical creativity and a genuine thirst for rhythmic innovation. Its self-titled 2005 debut blared from every bodega on the block, leading to collaborations with the likes of Three 6 Mafia and Nelly Furtado. So now, understandably, all eyes are trained on Calle 13’s sophomore effort—a lot of weight for a young act to carry.
The first thing that hits you about Residente o Visitante is that it doesn’t really feel like a reggaetón record. Beatmaker Visitante still gets down with digital riddims, but he also lets loose a torrent of divergent styles, dropping hip-hop beats, Latin-funk horns, and tango accordions along the way. The end result sounds like the Dust Brothers day-tripping on peyote and lost in Mexico. But the game belongs to rapper Residente, who sets out to defy the tiresome macho posturing that bogs down countless reggaetón videos. In the irony-charged “Sin Exagerer” (“Without Exaggerating”), he assumes, along with top dog Tego Calderón, the personality of a boasting barrio mack daddy, with hilarious consequences. And yet Residente turns the satire down for album highlight “Me Voy Pal Norte” (“I’m Heading North”), a heartfelt paean of Latino immigration that recounts the passageway to the U.S. border. It’s not a flawless record—sometimes it feels like Residente and Visitante are trying too many things at once. But when it soars, they go places where few others acts—in any genre—dare to tread.