You might be sitting in traffic listening to the radio or getting your groove on in SoBe. Or maybe you're relaxing at home, catching the late-night circuit, when you hear a familiar, unmistakably Miami accent. There's Pitbull, kicking out yet another jam from his fourth and latest studio album, Rebelution.
It's his most successful CD, debuting at number eight on the Billboard 200 and selling 41,000 copies its first week. Its biggest single, "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)," has charted in at least 22 other countries. That includes the number one slot in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Greece, and even Romania, Russia, and Turkey. It would seem Pit is blowing up. But in his mind, he's been blowing up for years. This isn't the pinnacle, he says. It's only the beginning.
"This last year, '09, was basically the setup for what's going to happen in 2010," says the fast-talking, charismatic Cuban-American. "It's basically my first year liberated in the music business. I learned how to fight my way out of certain situations. And this year, I have the opportunity to be global and international with no one trying to stop my music."
Pitbull: At the Pepsi Musica Super Bowl Fan Jam. With Nelly Furtado and Paulina Rubio. 5 p.m Friday, February 5. On the sand at Eighth Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Tickets are free; ticketmaster.com
Those are thinly veiled jabs. Pitbull doesn't hide from the widely publicized falling out with his former record label, the now-defunct TVT. (It was also the erstwhile home of his great friend and collaborator Lil Jon.) In fact, he blames the imprint's lack of support for preventing him from reaching his current level of success earlier. "What people fail to realize is I was a part of a situation that didn't allow me to grow," he says.
When TVT folded in 2008, it was to Pit's benefit, scoring him the much more muscular backing of J Records, Polo Grounds Music, and the Sony group. "It's only people trying to help us now, and that's why you feel this tsunami," he says. "All these years we've been able to survive, but now all our survival tactics have been put into play, y imagínate, now we're ready for the war!"
But Pitbull chalks up all of his struggles to a necessary learning experience and wouldn't change anything about that fight. "When you go to a show and you see one hit after another," he says, "and you're like, 'Coño! That's right. I forgot he had all these records,' it kind of puts it into perspective."
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If Pitbull sounds a little cocky, you're probably misreading his swagger. And swagger is one thing he definitely comes by honestly. Consider that his debut album, 2004's M.I.A.M.I. (short for Money Is a Major Issue), produced five singles you probably know by heart: "Culo," "Toma," "Dammit Man," "That's Nasty," and "Back Up." And that's to say nothing of the tracks that blew up off subsequent albums El Mariel and The Boatlift, songs such as "Ay Chico," "Bojangles," "Go Girl," and "The Anthem."
Of course, none of those can compare to the meteoric success of Rebelution. Besides "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)," a host of other singles have made similar runs up the charts: "Krazy," "Hotel Room Service," and, most recently, "Shut It Down," featuring Akon. Again, those aren't only domestic charts, but global ones.
"A person can take over the States, but that's only 30 percent of the world. It's one thing to make music for your city, another to make music for your country," Pit says. "But when you make music that's worldwide and everyone sings along no matter what language they speak or culture they come from, that, to me, is power."
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Of course, no matter where the globe-trotting rapper heads, one thing he never forgets is where he came from. The Miami native always represents his roots, proudly touting both his heritage and his city — even if, at one point, those things made the road to success a little bumpier.
"It was like three strikes against me," he says. "Number one, white with blue eyes. Number two, Cuban-American. And number three, from Miami. Nobody was looking at that. They were like, 'Aw man, them boys from Miami can't rap.'"
But Pitbull has founded his career on overcoming hurdles. It's something he says he carries in his blood. "My grandmother was in the [Cuban] revolutionary war, my aunt was a political prisoner, my mother came in the Peter Pan, my father brought boats over in El Mariel. So all I have is fighting blood in my veins."
And though he has now gone global, Pitbull is always a hometown guy. "I'll forever be a Miami boy," he says. "I just happen to be a Miami boy who went from Mr. 305 to Mr. Worldwide."