INTERVIEW: Residente Talks Gaza & the Importance of Speaking Up as Artists

Courtesy of 5020 Records.

In a world where the boundaries between art and activism increasingly blur, few artists navigate these waters as skillfully as Residente. The award-winning rapper, singer, activist, and filmmaker, known off-stage as René Pérez Joglar, has long been a voice for the underrepresented, using his platform to spotlight global injustices and societal issues. More recently, he’s been the most vocal Latine artist about the crisis in Gaza, Palestine. With the recent release of his latest album, Las Letras Ya No Importan, Residente once again cements his status not just as a musical innovator, but as a steadfast advocate for social justice and and authentic artistic expression.

The release of Las Letras Ya No Importan didn’t come without its setbacks, experiencing several delays. “It was very complicated,” he admits to Remezcla, sharing the album’s postponement was a direct response to the crisis in Gaza. “I couldn’t do it. I was going to shoot my first video in October, and then I moved it, and kept moving it until I realized that I needed to make a video to tell my fans why I’m doing this, for Palestine, for Gaza.” 

Notably, Residente has been one of the few major Latine artists to vocalize support for Palestine, drawing awareness to the atrocities occurring in Gaza. He emphasizes the importance of using his voice to highlight global injustices, even at personal and professional costs. His outspoken stance, however, has not been without consequence. It led to lost business opportunities, including a major brand deal that directly resulted from him speaking out and sharing posts.

When asked about the responsibility of Latine artists to engage with social issues, Residente stresses the personal nature of such decisions.

I believe that as an artist, you should be a reflection of what’s happening around you, and this is happening right now. But I also won’t dictate what the ‘correct’ way to live is for others. For me, it was just impossible not to say anything, and I would have said something even if I wasn’t an artist,” he states, drawing parallels to historical silence during other genocides. 

I remember watching Schindler’s List and thinking that I can’t believe that so many didn’t speak up or stop this. And now we’re passing through something that is horrible, and not too many people are speaking up.”  

Perhaps it’s the artist’s personal experiences with living under colonial rule in Puerto Rico that inspires him to speak up. Residente reflects often on similarities between the experiences of his own people and the oppression that the Palestinians have faced for decades. “We share having someone on top of us, not letting us be free,” he says. “I know what it’s like to be colonized, and I know how it is to live with two flags.” This connection has been deeply reflected in his music and activism. From “This Is Not America” in 2022 to this year’s collaboration with Palestinian Artist Amal Murkus, “Bajo los Escombros.” 

Beyond the discussion of the state of the world, the artist gets personal in an unprecedented way in this new album. Las Letras Ya No Importan takes his audience on a deep nostalgic and reflective journey with him, touching on themes of maturity, loss, and the passage of time. “In the video for ‘Ron En El Piso,’ I’m burying my younger self. Then you have ‘Rene,’ which is kind of a sad song. And in ‘Polvora De Ayer,’ I’m talking about no hay tiempo que perder, no time to waste,” the rapper explains.

Las Letras Ya No Importan came with a tour announcement, which will begin in September. It’s his first official tour in years and will take place throughout Latin America, Spain, and only two stops in the U.S. 

Despite the album’s success and accolades, he admits that he no longer feels the connection he once felt with the music industry. With the same conviction he had in postponing his album release last year, Residente candidly shares that this album is very much a transition album, with another artistic form on deck, ready to shine next in his life. 

[Puerto Ricans and Palestinians] share having someone on top of us, not letting us be free. I know what it’s like to be colonized, and I know how it is to live with two flags.

“Film is my dream. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, to experiment visually,” he says with a smile on his face. “I always wanted to be the guy behind the scenes directing or as a writer. But things happened the way they did in my life, and I went with the flow.” 

Recently, his dream of directing, writing, and producing has become louder than ever before, and he is finally listening. During the pandemic when the world was put on pause, he began writing the script for his first film. Additionally, he directed all six of the music videos released as part of his new album. 

But as much as he’s diving into film, he assures he’s not completely leaving the music world after this album. “The next album, I’m going to be more free as an artist,” he says. “It may be a little less approachable, but I want to experiment the way I used to experiment way back when I was an art student.” 

As he paves the way for his own transitions of artistic expression, he worries that the younger generations are left with the unauthentic effects of algorithm-driven culture. “I hear Gen Z talk about how everything has been done before. It has not, and that’s such a superficial way to look at any art,” he notes. “Even if your art is based on something you’ve seen or listened to before, it will always come out different from you.” 

Residente explains that being honest with what is affecting you as an artist — whether addressing personal struggles or global injustices — is paramount in creating art that resonates. “Honesty inside art is everything,” he expresses.