Since his early days as front man of Calle 13, the irreverent Puerto Rican hip-hop duo, Residente has never shied away from politics. “As an artist, I feel a responsibility to speak up about what affects me and what surrounds me,” he once said. He has launched attacks on everything from exploitation in the music industry to colonialism in Puerto Rico. He’s also collaborated on tracks with Julian Assange, Eduardo Galeano, and Rubén Blades, and has partnered with UNICEF and Amnesty International. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Summit Award for his commitment to social justice and international human rights.
Despite his embrace of controversy, Residente—born René Pérez Joglar—has enjoyed unrivaled success. Calle 13 has won 22 Latin Grammys—more than any other musical artist ever—and raked in hundreds of millions of views on YouTube. Pérez’s latest solo project, his self-titled global music album Residente, won best urban music album and was nominated for album of the year in the 2017 Latin Grammy Awards.
I spoke to Pérez about colonialism, Bernie Sanders, and the path to recovery after Hurricane Maria. This interview has been edited, condensed, and translated from Spanish.
Miguel Salazar: I want to talk to you about Puerto Rico’s colonial status. You’ve always been very vocal in your rejection of the fiscal control board and the austerity measures imposed on the island, which have become even more untenable now. What’s the best way to move forward in Puerto Rico, and what would you do as governor?
Residente: The first thing I’d do as governor would be to restore the island’s sense of pride and self-esteem. The United States has no respect for our country, and that has to be fixed—that’s the first thing you would do in any kind of negotiation. I can’t sit down to try to negotiate with a record label without any confidence or bargaining power. If you don’t have that, how the hell are you going to negotiate?