SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Calle 13, the Puerto Rican rap duo, first started recording in 2004. And in the decades since, they have become one of the most beloved bands in the Spanish-speaking world. They hold the record for most Latin Grammy wins - 19. They're also one of the most controversial Latin bands. They are politically outspoken, and vocal supporters of the Puerto Rican independence movement. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports on how the duo went from making raunchy club hits to becoming Latin-American political troubadours.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: When they first stepped on the scene in the mid-2000's, Calle 13 got plenty of comparisons to another rapper - Eminem. Frontman Rene Perez Joglar was as funny as he was raunchy. Armed with the beats and hooks created by his stepbrother Eduardo Cabra, the duo elbowed their way through a crowd of gold-chain-clad Puerto Rican reggaeton stars and became a club hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALLE 13 SONG, "ATREVETE TE, TE")

GARSD: Who cares if you like Green Day? Who cares if you like Coldplay? Perez Joglar taunted Latinas in one of their most famous lines.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALLE 13 SONG, "ATREVETE TE, TE")

GARSD: I swear that by law, all Puerto Rican women know karate, they cook with salsa de tomate and dip rice in avocado - aguacate - so they can harvest nalgas de 14 kilates - 14 karat butts.

NURIA NET: It was playful. It was very imaginative. I wasn't offended at all.

GARSD: Nuria Net is the managing editor at the TV and digital network Fusion. And she says while most Puerto Rican hip-hop artists were riding the thumping mix of Spanish-language rap and Caribbean beats known as reggaeton, talking about sex and drugs and violence...

NET: Calle 13 rapped about the female body - de nalgas; you know, the curves, bodily fluids. You know, it was just so much more graphic and poetic, but even raunchier than reggaeton and urban music 10 years ago.

GARSD: Beyond their concern for derrieres made of highly valuable metal, the duo had a political streak from the very beginning. One of their first songs, "Querido FBI" - or "Dear FBI" - was an enraged protest following Puerto Rican nationalist Filiberto Ojeda Rios's death in a shootout with the FBI.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALLE 13 SONG, "QUERIDO FBI")

GARSD: They've urinated on our flat. He bled to death, my people, I tell you, he bled to death, rapped Joglar furiously. He says back in those days, he just said what was on his mind.

RENE PEREZ JOGLAR: (Through translator) Back in those days, I didn't care about anything. I had no commitments. I was relaxed.

GARSD: He may have been careless, but he had a huge impact on Latin music, says blogger Juan Data.

JUAN DATA: Calle 13 helped break a lot of barriers, introduced intelligent rhymes to the mainstream of Latin America, something that Latin-American mainstream radio - or music in general - never experienced before.

GARSD: Calle 13 experimented with sounds from across the Latin world, collaborating with rock bands like Mexico's Cafe Tacvba or Panamanian salsa legend Ruben Blades.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA PERLA")

GARSD: Calle 13 slowly cemented its status as Latin music's socially conscious band. But on their newest album, "Multi_Viral," the duo reflects on the heavy weight of being outspoken in an increasingly polarized Latin America. They're finding out that being serious can get you in as much - or more - trouble as being the raunchy jokester. Perez Joglar says he has gotten his fair share of attacks, and even some death threats.

JOGLAR: (Through translator) If I say one thing, it's wrong. If I say the other, it's also wrong. It's like this game of Tetris - like, a puzzle that gets harder to solve every day.

GARSD: It's something he talks about frankly in the new song "Adentro."

(SOUNDBITE OF CALLE 13 SONG, "ADENTRO")

GARSD: He raps, some call me a communist, others a demigod. The ultra-right hates me and so does the left.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALLE 13 SONG, "ADENTRO")

GARSD: Perez Joglar insists he's always been thoughtful about his message, but he's rethinking his strategy for delivering it.

JOGLAR: (Through translator) I have always been thoughtful about my message. There's things I will say again but in terms of a strategy, to reach people instead of scare them away, perhaps there are things I could do differently.

GARSD: By the end of the record, the band seems to have figured out how to deliver that message.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALLE 13 SONG, "ASI SON LAS IDEAS")

GARSD: The song "Asi Son Las Ideas" is a cinematic tune about the power of ideas, but it's also danceable and catchy. It's Calle 13, 101. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALLE 13 SONG, ASI SON LAS IDEAS")

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