Residente: global artist in residence. That’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda calls him in his verse on “Intro ADN/DNA,” and that’s the role he gamely strides into with the release of his new eponymous album. That album is a masterwork.
The theme is a DNA test. Residente has discovered that his genes contain traces of a multitude of cultures, and this album is his own world tour, in which he finds his progenitors and, for lack of a better phrase, himself.
What could so easily turn out cheesy and appropriative—what could sound like self- absorbed exploitation—just doesn’t. He is at all times respectful of the music he borrows, introducing his audience to new artists and genres and giving them the spotlight. In particular, the Tuareg guitarist Bombino shines on “La Sombra,” and Soko—a French vocalist—is lovely and melancholy on “Desencuentro.”
I don’t mean to give short shrift to the work Residente himself does on this album; it’s unparalleled. He succeeds on every front; in all aspects of his craft, he is a master. His poetic lyrics seem to come from a soul far older and wiser than his own. “Una Leyenda China” is exemplary of his rare knack for storytelling in rap. If this album were in English, Residente would be as big as Kendrick Lamar. Quote me on that.
Besides being a brilliant work of art in its own right, the album offers a glimpse into the bright future of non-English language popular music. Of course, plenty of non-English speaking countries have their own well developed traditions of pop and hip-hop—Korea, China, Russia, and many others. It’s pretty rare, though, for something both expensively created (producing, recording, traveling around the world) and also popular outside of its home country to be such a personal, reflective project for its creator, rather than committee-produced garbage.
Close as it comes, it’s not a perfect record. Each track is so intense that after seven or eight, the returns start to diminish. “Apocalíptico” is robbed of the power it should have had, only because it’s not more powerful than what came before it. A surfeit of intensity is, of course, a pretty good problem to have, when so much pop sounds so neutered. I’m hesitant even to call this pop; it’s too violent, too personal, too political.
But Residente is an alchemist. He transmutes the personal into the political, anger into love. It is his perfect honesty that allows him to perform that magic. He acknowledges that life is nuance—that everything is beautiful and that everything hurts.