Calle 13 - Entren los Que Quieran

Entren Los Que Quieran, Calle 13
Sony Music, Puerto Rico
Rating: 81 ★★★★
by Andrew Casillas

Placing yourself into any sort of zeitgeist isn’t fundamentally difficult (see any number of reality television “stars”), but maintaining your place in the cultural cognizance without shredding either your dignity or your integrity is, for all but a select few, virtually impossible. Yet here’s the point that the boys of Calle 13 find themselves in at this exact moment. If their career trajectory dovetailed quite nicely with the stagflation of the reggaetón era, their present situation finds them as the acknowledged flag-wavers of Latin pop music’s infantry. No longer are they the sharp upstarts here to save the radio from watered-down yet insanely popular Luny Tunes productions and N.O.R.E.’s racial-identity conflict. No longer are they so chic and buzzworthy that they won’t even return M.I.A.’s phone calls. No longer are they the best band in the world that your grandfather has never heard of. Today, they are the sound of Latin hip-hop; they are the mainstream; they are your grandfather’s favorite “young” group; the once-underdog now the establishment.

So how does Calle 13 react to their place at the top of the mountain as the inevitable backlash sets in? The way any of us would: by throwing a party as grand and glitzy as Rick Ross’s watch. There’s a sense of pretension and bravado that embeds Entren los Que Quieran, with taunts daring you to ignore what’s to follow. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Calle 13 tackles any potential backlash head-on by opening the album with its most polarizing track, the Mars Volta-assisted “Calma Pueblo.” Much of the disdain surrounding the song deals with its admittedly hard-to-defend lyrics, which are ignorantly polemic, at-worst, or misguided and vain at the least (see the Adidas shout-out). Yet, listening only to what’s going on behind those lyrics, it’s certainly one of the most interesting infusions of hard rock in modern hip-hop—though how much you actually like said music will depend on your tolerance for the Mars Volta. Possible wariness continues with the next two songs, which find Residente at his most hit-or-miss, straddling the line between pre and post-retirement Eminem, and swinging at far too much low hanging fruit—though Visitante doesn’t exactly help things with beats so nondescript you begin to recognize why this record premiered on NPR.

What follows is the very good-not-great Spaghetti Western-influenced “La Bala,” whose vehemently anti-violence lyrics provide the first instance on the record of the irreverent populism that Residente does better than any other rapper; this is followed by “Vamo’ a Portamos Mal,” which I would love to say sounds like the stepchild of Rita Indiana and Gogol Bordello, except it’s not as effortless as either of the above, but at the least there’s finally a song you can dance to. However, just when you’d be right to ponder jumping on the anti­-Entren los Que Quieran bandwagon, Calle 13 throws up a happy floater to close the first half in the form of “Latinoamérica.” A sparkling, almost gorgeous ode to Latin America and those who’ve sprouted from its lands, it’s here where Calle 13 stop forcing their statements, instead painting their passions with a easel full of blood while avoiding the self-serving neurosis that dragged down the earlier tracks.

After a brief interlude, the show continues—and this time, we finally see some fireworks. “Digo lo Que Pienso” provides us with our heartiest belly laughs yet, along with a beat that seemingly combines Bollywood strings with DJ Premier scratching (and it’s about damn time, too). “Muerte en Hawaii” stacks up subversion like building blocks, from its winking stereotypical ukulele and island sounds, to its seemingly random name-checking (GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ!), to its fanciful story (complete with talking animals), and its somehow fitting ending. Really, someone call Bigott and tell him that they’ve stolen his schtick and improved upon it. “Todo Se Mueve” is accompanied by a strut and guitar lick worthy of the Meters, while “El Hormiguero” provides enough rock for those rubbed raw by “Calma Pueblo” yet enough cumbia to keep things interesting.

Which brings us to “Prepárame la Cena,” the album closer, and perhaps it’s most impressive number. Tucked into the back despite, or perhaps because of, its pop sheen, the song works as an impressive showcase for the entire group individually and as an entity. Visitante’s production is perhaps his most impressive soundscape to date, with measured percussion and guitars, powerful vocal samples, and a grab-bag of tricks at the back-end. Lyrically, Residente keeps things simple and down-to-earth, while his cadence perfectly rides the beat without rocking it. And lest we continue to ignore her, PG-13 finally distinguishes herself as an actual singer, providing first-rate background vocals while delivering a warm, soothing chorus. Not the greatest Calle 13 song—but not far from the top either.

The album proper closes with a continuation of the Hollywood Revue theme of the Intro, except there isn’t a celebration. Instead, it’s calls of callate! and vehement booing, as if Calle 13 are fully aware of the expected backlash that’s about to head their way, which apparently anyone with an awareness of Twitter trends can already tell you is coming. The major criticism typically revolves around Calle 13 being a group of rebels without a cause, Kanye West-esque blowhards that are confused and naïve regarding the messages that they try to convey in their music. That they take the world too lightly for anyone to take their protestations as anything but mere barking, and those criticisms are more than fair. But show me a pop star who isn’t full of shit and I’ll show you a Taco Bell entrée that doesn’t suck. Really, we’re not here to talk about politics; we’re here for the music, and as pure musicians, this band has very little competition. With Entren los Que Quieran, Calle 13 doesn’t change the world, nor do they set it aflame. This may not be their best album either, but considering the spotlight facing them this time, this is can only be labeled as an unqualified success.