Too much Latin music is like junk food, he said. “Everything has turned into like McDonald’s, where they sell you the food fast and you eat it fast, and they sell and you eat, sell, eat, sell, eat,” Perez explained during the Iconic Songwriter Q&A session at the 2017 Billboard Latin Music Conference in Miami, an intimate one-on-one with Leila Cobo, Billboard’s executive director of Latin content and programming.
“My first priority is not to sell,” Perez continued. “I have, like, five things that are more important. Maybe [that means] I’m not on radio, but I can fill an arena with 30,000 [people] because the public is not stupid. The public is intelligent. They like broccoli. Not just fast food.”
The comparison comes from Perez’s personal experience as a father: Milo, his son, didn’t like the green veggie at first, but Perez insisted. “I gave it to him little by little until he liked it. If you eat nothing but junk food, you die of a heart attack. But with broccoli, you can grow their minds.”
Growing minds, or expanding people’s knowledge of or exposure to important issues — LGBT equality, human trafficking, cultural diversity — has been a part of Residente’s career from the beginning. His lyrics, arguably the best and most provocative Spanish-language lyrics of all time, are known to be insightful and to carry double meanings — to have protein, so to speak — and to make people think. And that hasn’t changed on his debut, self-titled solo album, which was released just weeks ago.
“Every song, every word I write is because I feel it and live it,” he explained. “It is not because I want to sell a record or fill a stadium or get on the radio. I’m an artist. Some artists are more like business people. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being a business person.”
Just because all music is commercial, he added, does not mean all music has to sound the same. “If you look at the top five songs right now, I can’t differentiate who is who — they are so similar. It’s like preparing a sandwich: first you put a slice of bread, then cheese, then ham, then the other slice of bread,” Perez said. “If you give me 30 minutes, I can write a hit song. It’s too, too, too easy. And it’s a lack of respect to true artists, and it’s not good for Latin music as a whole. What we’re showing the world is 3 percent of who we are.”
Cobo noted that it’s not the artists’ fault that radios have formats. “Well then we have to change the formats,” Perez snapped back, and the crowd erupted in applause. If the music doesn’t connect with people right away, he explained, then treat it like broccoli. Give it to them in small doses until they get used to it — because they need it.
“It’s the obligation, the duty of the industry,” Perez stressed. “And by industry, I am not talking about a machine. I am taking bout human beings working to feed their children.”
His album Residente is doing its part. The 13-track release is a musical testament to a DNA test done years ago — which traces his lineage all over the world — and was recorded in the countries of his ancestors with local musicians in each one. The very first single, “Somos Anormales,” has already generated controversy because, written to celebrate diversity and equality, it features several people of different colors and nationalities coming out of a black woman’s vagina.
Residente the artist — who has won awards for his efforts to advocate for LGBT rights, against human trafficking and for Bernie Sanders, among other things — has said in the past that it wasn’t the vagina that offended people, but the fact that it was a black woman, and that at the end of the video everyone starts kissing each other, including men kissing men and women kissing women. But at the Billboard conference, he had a simpler explanation for the snub.
“People don’t understand art,” he said.
Maybe they need to eat more broccoli.