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AQ Feature

AQ Top 5 Storytellers: Residente

This Puerto Rican rapper's quest to learn his own story gave others a platform to tell their own.
Krista Schleuter

This article is adapted from AQ's most recent print issue | See the rest of our Top 5 Latin American Storytellers | Leer en español

‘‘I wanted to make music in different parts of the world because I needed the voices of the world to tell their own stories.”

With those words, Residente, the 40-year-old Puerto Rican rapper, producer, activist and winner of more Latin Grammys than anyone else alive or dead, invited viewers to tag along on a two-year journey to Siberia, China, West Africa and beyond, chasing his genetic — and musical — roots.

In 2015 he walked away from Calle 13, his provocative and wildly successful alternative rap group, to launch the project — based on a DNA test.

Frustrated with what he saw as the music industry’s lack of authenticity, he set out to discover music in his ancestral homelands, record an album and film the journey. Along the way, he sought to highlight overlooked artists, giving each a platform to tell their story.

“One of the things he did was pick exceptional musicians that aren’t well known so that the world would recognize them,” said Luis Sanz, the 23-year-old composer and Puerto Rican cuatro player Residente handpicked for one track. “That was very humble of him. … Not many artists would do that.”

It wasn’t the first time the 28-time Grammy Award-winning artist, born René Pérez Joglar, has used his platform to amplify unheard voices.

In 2006, he invited cameras to follow Calle 13 on a quest to tell stories of the “real” Latin America for the documentary Sin Mapa. He called attention to the plight of immigrants in the 2009 song “Pa’l Norte,” and again in a 2016 collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done).” The Nobel Peace Summit Award winner even traveled to the war-torn Caucasus, highlighting the human costs of war in “Guerra,” a track on his new LP.

The album was released to critical acclaim in 2017, earning Residente three Grammys as he continues to use his fame as a megaphone to advocate for Puerto Rico, human rights and peace.

“He’s telling the real stories of each country,” Sanz said. “What makes Residente special is his sincerity. When he sees an injustice, he speaks out against it, period.”

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García Torres is a production editor for AQ

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.


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