The other side of Miamy lurks right behind the sandy shores and sweaty nightclubs of South Beach. From the proud Cuban communities like Little Havana to the mean streets of Liberty City, the city has another side that isn’t all sunshine and martinis. Like his hometown, there’s another side to Pitbull.
Somewhere behind the bling and club bangers, the Cuban-American MC wants to be more than a party-starter known for the hypnotic beats and infectious hooks of club anthems like “Culo” and “Toma.” And like any artist, the line between art and commerce has left him conflicted.
“What I do is make hit records,” Pitbull says flatly. “As an independent artist, I can’t gamble what I would love to give the public with the fact that I don’t have that major [record label] push. I have to be in the clubs and on the radio in order to survive in the game.”
Pitbull’s struggle to survive started before he was even born. He crossed the ocean from Cuba in a 1980 boatlift while still in the womb of his pregnant mother and arrived on the shores of South Florida where he was born Armando Pérez. His first-generation immigrant parents insisted that their son learn the ways of his Cuban culture, but by the time Pitbull was a teenager he was embracing another culture—hip-hop.
He renamed himself Pitbull and began popping up on mix-tapes. He also got his fi rst “hood” tattoo at the age of 15. “I just felt like if I was gonna be serious about my career and naming myself Pitbull then I might as well get it tatted on me and make it that stamp,” he says of the piece which reads “Pitbull spits flames.”
“[Tattoos were] definitely looked down upon,” says Pitbull about the role of ink in the Cuban community. “[If you had a tattoo] either you were in jail or you were some type of hoodlum, at least that’s what they thought.”
Although he has several tattoos, few of them are visible when Pitbull wears a long-sleeved shirt. “It’s like I can be a gentleman and a goon at the same time,” he says with a laugh.
The newly tatted MC caught his first big break when he teamed with Luther Campbell, the 2 Live Crew founder and Godfather of Miami hip-hop, on the single “Lollipop.” The track caught the attention of producers and led to an introduction to Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz. The two became fast friends, with Pitbull appearing on Lil Jon’s Kings of Crunk and later joining Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz as an artist on TVT Records. His timing couldn’t have been better. Pitbull’s 2004 debut M.I.A.M.I. (Money Is A Major Issue) dropped alongside Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz and the Ying Yang Twins just as crunk exploded. Pitbull-featured remixes of Lil Jon’s “Get Low” and Ying Yang’s “Salt Shaker” dominated the airwaves and nightclubs.