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Why the rapper known as Residente delayed releasing his most recent album

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Residente is one of the most decorated musicians in Latin music. He's won a record 28 Latin Grammys, many of them as part of the group Calle 13.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ATREVETE-TE-TE")

CALLE 13: (Rapping in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: Residente was supposed to put out a second solo album last fall, but instead released it late last month. NPR's Lilly Quiroz spoke with him about the album and his career.

LILLY QUIROZ, BYLINE: In December, Residente posted this video to Instagram.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RESIDENTE: (Through interpreter) It seems impossible to release this album while a macabre genocide is slowly destroying Palestine. It hurts a lot. I can't be indifferent. Why doesn't everything come to a halt, just like it did during the pandemic? Everything would stop, so that way, we could focus on Gaza.

QUIROZ: He says he finally gave himself permission to release the album late February.

RESIDENTE: (Through interpreter) I didn't think my Instagram video would make things stop. I mean, it would have been really neat if humanity stopped, but the world goes on.

QUIROZ: In a way, he continued to protest by adding a song that wasn't originally on the album. "Bajo Los Escombros" or "Under The Rubble" is a song that features the Palestinian singer Amal Murkus.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAJO LOS ESCOMBROS")

RESIDENTE: (Rapping in Spanish).

QUIROZ: Residente is no stranger to protesting and speaking his mind.

RESIDENTE: (Through interpreter) All of my career, I have used my voice to try to help in whatever way possible for different social movements that promote positive changes. For several years, I did a lot for education during my time with Calle 13 and now as Residente.

QUIROZ: In 2019, he joined forces with Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny on the streets of San Juan in a massive protest against Puerto Rico's former governor, Ricardo Rossello. Puerto Ricans wanted him out of power for his mishandling of Hurricane Maria and corruption scandals that plagued the administration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

QUIROZ: Together with Bad Bunny and iLe, they came up with a protest song called "Afilando Los Cuchillos" or "Sharpening The Knives."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFILANDO LOS CUCHILLOS")

RESIDENTE: (Rapping in Spanish).

QUIROZ: The song became a rallying cry and later, the governor would resign.

RESIDENTE: (Through interpreter) People saw a change, and there is a change that is still ongoing. Perhaps not in government, because they continue to govern badly, but generations were able to see that protesting can get things done and things can be changed.

QUIROZ: Words matter. So it's ironic that his latest album is called "Las Letras Ya No Importan" - "The Lyrics Don't Matter Anymore."

RESIDENTE: (Through interpreter) I was being ironic, "The Lyrics Don't Matter Anymore," but it is the most important thing to me.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: If Residente didn't exist, he'd have to be invented.

QUIROZ: That's Felix Contreras. He's the co-host of NPR's podcast Alt.Latino.

CONTRERAS: His mastery of the language, his analytical thought process and the way he puts it all together with the most impressive music behind it, it makes him, I think, the best political and social observer in music right now, which puts him in the history of political and poetic musical observers like Ruben Blades and Bob Dylan.

QUIROZ: Contreras says that Residente has created his own genre.

CONTRERAS: What he's done with lyrics, what he's done with words, what he's done with rhyme, what he's done with rhythm of language, the syntax and all that, you could hear some of that in other people, but for me, it's not as concise, it's not as piercing and it's not as thought provoking as any of the artists out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CEREBRO")

RESIDENTE: (Rapping in Spanish).

QUIROZ: This is from the new album. It's called "Cerebro." Here, Residente goes head to head with the legendary Busta Rhymes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CEREBRO")

BUSTA RHYMES: (Rapping) Copacabana then I be making a lot of [expletive] want to hang up everything that they be doing 'cause they know that I'ma bang up every hood and every block and every club. I keep it jumping until I'm seeing everybody just put their [expletive] hands up.

RESIDENTE: (Rapping in Spanish).

QUIROZ: Even though Residente measures up to one of the fastest rappers out there, he says he's not really accepted in the hip-hop scene.

RESIDENTE: (Through interpreter) They accuse me a lot that I'm not a rapper and I don't care. Some people don't understand that I don't want to be a rapper. I want to be an artist, and I want to do things differently.

QUIROZ: In an effort to not stay in a box, he explores more than just rapping in this album. He softens up and sings in the song "313."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "313")

RESIDENTE: (Singing in Spanish).

QUIROZ: And he takes part in a country-like nortena with Mexican singer songwriter Christian Nodal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POLVORA DE AYER")

RESIDENTE: (Singing in Spanish).

QUIROZ: The actress Penelope Cruz is also on the album. Ricky Martin, Vico C, Big Daddy Kane, Arcangel, Jessie Reyez - Residente is respected enough to bring together all these big names, but still, he's not shy about challenging his peers. He's always trying to get more people involved in social issues. In his video from December, he called out artists at the Grammys for not mentioning the ongoing war. But he doesn't see much movement, especially in the hip-hop scene.

RESIDENTE: (Through interpreter) In the rap genre, I feel super alone.

QUIROZ: Yet Residente remains committed to influencing those around him ethically and musically.

RESIDENTE: (Through interpreter) What I try to do is culturally evolve the urban genre and move it forward so that it doesn't stay in the same place.

QUIROZ: And even if they don't follow, he'll be fine knowing he did it for himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL MALESTAR EN LA CULTURA")

RESIDENTE: (Rapping in Spanish).

QUIROZ: Lilly Quiroz, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL MALESTAR EN LA CULTURA")

RESIDENTE: (Rapping in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lilly Quiroz (she/her/ella) is a production assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. She pitches and produces interviews for Morning Edition, and occasionally goes to the dark side to produce the podcast Up First on the overnights.