Photo by Greg Watermann – Pitbull
cover of Pollstar Feb. 7, 2022 issue
Armando Pérez knows a lot about hustling and grinding. His approach to his career as the superstar rapper, singer and party starter better known as Pitbull has been to make smart business decisions, much of which he credits his early years for teaching him how to cut deals. Growing up in 1980s Miami, when cocaine was around every corner – and where Pitbull dealt in order to make ends meet – didn’t hurt. For Pérez, it was about survival, which today gives him a unique perspective.
“If it wasn’t for the way that I grew up, the environment I grew up in and the people I was around, I don’t think I would have the same drive, the same hunger,” he tells Pollstar, “but the most important thing, the same appreciation.”
Around that time, three albums spoke to the young Pérez so much that they wound up changing his life: NAS’ Illmatic, Biggie’s Ready To Die, and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, while his other musical influences included salsa, merengue, booty-shaking bass music and 2 Live Crew.
“What helped me about those albums? I could relate to them,” Pérez says. “No matter what cities they were from or what they were in, we were all going through the same struggle one way or another. When you’re growing up a certain way, it’s not about Black, white, pink, purple, orange or where you’re from. The only color that matters is green.”
Photo by Greg Watermann – Mr. 305
Pitbull performs at the Hollywood Casino Amphtiheatre in Tinley Park, Ill., on Aug. 22, 2021.
That hustle is how Pitbull, 41, also known as Mr. 305 or Mr. Worldwide, and the keynote speaker at this year’s Pollstar Live! conference, built himself into a global brand. In 2019, he was listed as one of the Top 20 highest-paid hip hop acts in Forbes. His long list of partnerships includes Espanita tequila, Voli vodka, his own NASCAR team, his SiriusXM radio station Globalization, his Mr. 305 independent record label and so many more that it can be hard to keep track of them all.
Much like how Pérez grew up with Nas, Biggie, and Snoop, a generation of kids grew up listening to Pitbull. And as he set out on his most recent run, 2021’s “I Feel Good Tour,” all of those kids and more showed up.
“It was a party. It was ‘Animal House,’ I don’t know what else to tell you about it,” says Brad Wavra, VP of Touring at Live Nation, which promoted “I Feel Good.” “It was a toga party. It was a Hawaiian luau. It was whatever you want to call it. And, by the way, he’s got an older audience, too. My mom and dad, your mom and dad coming out for date night. That also surprised me: Where did all these people come from at the upper end? And then the young thing is what put it over the top.”
Entotal Agency was co-founded by Tom Muzquiz and Jorge Sanchez in 2016 and is in partnership with Pitbull.
“A big part of this last tour that was very insightful for us was that it skewed very young,” says Muzquiz. “Armando’s shows bring a lot of energy and a lot of positivity. And we found out really quick on this last tour that a lot of his fans were chanting back a lot of his sayings on positivity, especially from songs like ‘Give Me Everything’ and ‘Time Of Our Lives.’”
That positivity led to the “I Feel Good Tour” seeing success beyond their wildest dreams.
“We were excited about the fan reaction to our package with Iggy Azalea, with Pitbull’s Globalization DJs and how the demographics of the audience have widened since his last tour,” says David Zedeck, co-head of United Talent Agency’s music department and Pitbull’s agent. “The tour was selling across multiple age groups and exceeded expectations not only in traditional ‘Pitbull’ markets, but across the tour.”
Sixteen of the tour’s 32 dates sold out, and its highest-grossing shows came at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif. ($905,066 grossed from a tour-best 22,287 tickets sold), and PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. ($890,850, 17,284 tickets), according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports. In total, “I Feel Good” grossed more than $20 million and sold more than 424,000 tickets.
Photo by Greg Watermann – Mr. Worldwide
Pitbull, his dancers, and band perform onstage during the “I Feel Good” tour.
Yet, considering COVID-19, the tour’s biggest miracle might have been that there were no postponements or cancellations. Every show went off without a hitch, and all key personnel remained safe. Etix founder and CEO Travis Janovich, who was involved with “I Feel Good Tour” ticketing, attributes the success of the tour – which took place between the pandemic’s Delta and Omicron waves – partly to perfect timing.
“That is another rarity,” Janovich says. “Just seeing my industry, ticketing, cancellations are constant. It’s everywhere. So everything worked out where the timing could not have been better in the sense of the post-peak Delta but pre-Omicron. I mean, no one ever would’ve said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that,’ where we know there’s Delta and Omicron, and put a tour between it.”
As a man whose mission is to help spread positivity to both his fans and the team around him, it was important for Pitbull to get back out on the road. That their run saw zero cancellations didn’t surprise him.
“I believe in the law of attraction,” says Pérez, echoing the messages of positivity he learned from Tony Robbins, the famed motivational speaker his mother used to play in the car. “What I mean by that is when I’m out there performing for my fans and the public that I attract, I feel that we are all on the same frequency when it comes to the world’s fear. Fear is either forget everything and run, or face everything and rise. And I feel like they come out to face everything and rise, and we’re all out there trying to make the best out of this situation.
“The whole concert/show is based on a negative to positive,” he continues. “So what’s the ultimate negative to positive? While the world’s going through what we’re going through, we’re out here giving the world what it needs. Cause what does the world need? It needs an escape, it needs positivity. It needs that kind of energy so they can fight and survive and thrive through these tough times.”
It’s no wonder many in the crowd at Pitbull’s shows dress up like him and dance the night away, all while responding to the man and the messages he gives on stage.
“The best thing is when you have callbacks, you know, get the crowd chanting different hooks or different choruses and making them feel like they’re the performance,” Pérez said. “That’s one of my favorite parts of the shows.”
Photo by Greg Watermann – ¡Dale!
Fans at one of Pitbull
Pitbull’s most popular hits such as “Give Me Everything” and “Feel This Moment” include motivational messages of positivity woven into his party-oriented style. In fact, his speeches have helped him launch a career as a motivational speaker (see sidebar here
“I want [my fans] to take away what the message is about, how they can take their life from a negative to a positive [‘Took my life from negative to positive’ is one of Pitbull’s most famous lyrics from his 2011 No. 1 hit ‘Give Me Everything’] and do anything in life that they want to do,” Pérez says of the ultimate goal of his party jams that many of his listeners might not even be aware of. “That’s why when I’m on stage, not only am I performing, I’m also speaking to them between different records and letting them know that in the word impossible is ‘possible.’ And the most important thing I want them to take away from our shows is ‘why dream when you can live it?’”
UTA’s Zedeck adds, “He can authentically interweave his motivational messages and personal experiences in between songs. Everyone walks out of a Pitbull show happy, energized and motivated.”
Pitbull’s music and speaking engagements boast messages of helping oneself and others, but Pérez also puts his time, effort and money where his mouth is.
He established the SLAM! Foundation in 2015 to open charter schools in underrepresented communities to positively impact young students who may have had similar upbringings to his own. SLAM stands for “Sports-infused lessons that develop, Lifelong learners who persistently pursue Academic and personal excellence and are Motivated to become world changers.”
Pérez has an active hand when it comes to his students. He frequently visits his campuses and supports those attending his schools when it comes to their successes.
One former SLAM! student, Sergio Garcia, has made a name for himself in the world of breakdancing and earned a spot on the “I Feel Good Tour” joining Pérez onstage during select dates.
“What a blessing to be able to bring somebody that graduated from one of our high schools – our first high school in one of our neighborhoods,” Pérez says. “It goes to show you how it comes full circle. We have a saying: ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’ And therefore, everything we do is just that real, where you get a chance to bring one of the students on stage. And he’s one of the best breakdancers in the world and to watch him do what he does and give him an opportunity the same way my teacher gave me an opportunity when I was in high school.”
Photo by Greg Watermann – Don
These Pitbull fans kept the party going while dressing up as the Party Man himself.
“It’s really neat to see the product of his investment and what he’s done,” Janovich adds. “Here’s a kid who literally came through Armando’s school and was encouraged to follow a passion. And now he’s helping him even farther, bringing him on tour. Things like that are really, to me, unprecedented as to speak to how great of a person he is.”
Spread across the country, Pérez currently has 12 SLAM! schools which all help students learn other trades and find what inspires them. As the schools continue to facilitate the success of their students, Pérez has been looking into opening a campus close to a racetrack for kids who want to learn how to work as mechanics.
“I’ve met some kids along the way that, who knows where they’d be without him,” Wavra says. “Without that outlet for them, without that structure and care, without the chance to be what they wanna be, who knows where they would’ve been. If it was that he just opened up the SLAM! schools, he’d be an incredible human being.”
Pérez says that growing up as the child of Cuban immigrants inspired his many philanthropic endeavors and drove him to give back to his community. As a child, he bounced between numerous high schools in Miami, from Coral Park to Coral Gables, South Miami, South Ridge, but one teacher in particular changed Pérez’s life: Hope Martinez. Due to her belief in him, he wanted to be able to give back and help inspire kids like him and kids like Garcia.
“He’s such a good dude,” Wavra says of Pérez. “He just does what he has to do. I guess he’s Armando during the day, and then he puts on that sport coat and he puts on those sunglasses and all of a sudden, he turns into Pitbull. But I watch him take care of his band. He takes care of his dancers. He cares about everybody who’s on tour with him. So there’s this whole gentle side to him where he really cares about humanity. I think he is the perfect role model for every kid in America.”
Off the heels of “I Feel Good,” Pitbull and his team are planning to go back out on the road next year, bigger and better. The team hopes that the enthusiasm that appeared at each stop of the previous tour will continue to carry through to their next amphitheater run.
“We’re planning a new tour across the U.S. with a few stops in Canada for 2022,” Zedeck says of Pitbull’s future touring plans. “We’re also looking outside the U.S. later this year and 2023 to bring Mr. Worldwide to his fans around the world.”
The message Pitbull wants to leave is one of gratitude for his fans.
“Without them, there’s no me,” he says. “I say it all the time ‘cause it’s the truth.”