Spend a few minutes talking to Latin-American hip-hop artist
Pitbull, born Armando Christian Pérez, grew up immersed in Miami’s rich mix of cultures and musical genres.
“Growing up Cuban-American, music is a big part of the culture,” Pitbull told Pollstar. “You wake up to it. You go to sleep to it. And Miami is like a musical melting pot. You’ve got salsa, merengue, freestyle, booty shaking music. All those things combined are what makes up Pitbull.”
Once the singer knew the music business was what he wanted to do, he took every break he could get.
“I’ve always looked for people that were willing to work with me,” he explained. “That’s why I’ve worked with everybody across the board. It was anybody who would let me get into the studio. It’s been a grind and a hustle, but it made me look to take advantage of opportunities, even if they were on a smaller scale.
“It was great training for the situation I’m in now – to be able to see opportunities that other artists might pass up, not seeing how to maximize them.”
The situation Pitbull is in now is ownership of a monster summer jam called “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho),” a reworking of Nicola Fasano’s and Pat Rich’s “75, Brazil Street,” which borrows a sample from Chicago’s “Street Player.”
The track melds reggaeton and Euro-style dance music and has been a crossover juggernaut. In the U.S alone, the song landed on the Latin, pop, R&B, rap and CHR charts. And it’s done just as well overseas, climbing singles charts and giving the singer his first Top 10 hit in the U.K.
But don’t think Pitbull’s success is built solely on his recorded output. Unlike a lot of hip-hop artists, who mostly play one-offs and tour sporadically, the singer and his team have worked hard over the past couple of years to establish his reputation as a live performer.
Latium Entertainment’s Charles Chavez first encountered Pitbull while working for MCA and got his chance to manage him two years ago.
Chavez told Pollstar he quickly decided that for Pitbull to move beyond a limited audience, he’d have to make some changes.
“He’s not afraid to work,” Chavez explained. “If it’s the right thing to do, he wants to do it. So he was always working, but he was never a touring act. He was just doing shows – spot dates, fly dates – every weekend, whether he had an album or not.
“I came in and said, ‘You are a touring act. You’ve developed your own fan base, so we have to make it bigger.’ Our goal was international.”
Soon after Chavez came into the picture, he brought in William Morris Endeavor’s Cara Lewis, who told Pollstar the success of “I Know You Want Me” isn’t just luck.
“He’s got this major hit – it’s an anthem,” Lewis said. “I think it’s because it’s about him and he’s built this incredible touring base.
“He’s totally focused and he’s so charismatic. He understands the business. It’s very, very refreshing to get an artist who understands so much of the business.”
Under Chavez’s watch, Pitbull selected a band – another thing that sets him apart from a lot of hip-hop acts – and hit the road with Baby Bash. It soon became apparent he was ready to fly solo.
“An hour of seeing Pitbull in action is energy, energy, energy,” Chavez said. “The fans are exhausted, but they leave happy and want to come back again. Word of mouth is the best promotion, so he sells out.”
Pitbull agrees with Chavez about word of mouth, but believes the Internet has made that easier.
“Back when I started grinding it out, the only people you would get to shows were locals,” he explained. “When people would come in for Memorial Day, you would have to hope to get them to come and then go back and spread it to others in their cities.”
Another thing Pitbull clearly gets is what’s fueling the trend for hip-hop heavyweights like 50 Cent, who collaborated with reggaeton stars Wisin & Yandel on the track “Mujeres In the Club,” to turn an eye toward the Latin community.
“I think what’s going on is that the Latin community as a whole worldwide is growing at such a rapid pace that there’s a void that needs to get fed,” the singer explained. “I’m the one who’s feeding it. Other artists are seeing that once they tap into that demo, they’re loyal consumers and loyal fans.”
Pitbull has been out on the road this summer doing promotional dates for his upcoming album, Rebelution. He and his band are gearing up for his third tour in two years this fall, which will take him across the U.S. and then to South America, Europe and Japan.
Chavez and Lewis agree that when he returns to the States early next year, it’ll be to much larger venues and inventive pairings with other acts.
“He’s multicultural and multi-genre, so it’s all about doing interesting packages for long-term growth,” Lewis said. “He’s all about long term.”
And for those who would categorize Pitbull as merely an ethnic artist, he has a message.
“People always try to pin me into different genres and I always surprise them. I make them say, ‘Well, maybe this guy isn’t a reggaeton artist. Maybe he isn’t a crunk artist. Maybe he’s just a good artist who makes great music.”