Armando Christian Perez — better known as Pitbull or Mr. Worldwide — has sold five million albums and had No. 1 hits in more than 15 countries. He's worked with artists like Usher, Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez. Now, he brings the party to the big screen in the new animated feature film Epic, which also features the voices of Christoph Waltz, Colin Farrell, Steven Tyler and Beyonce.
Pitbull's reach is worldwide — and to him, it's an opportunity to get a message across. Here, he tells NPR's Michel Martin about using music as an escape from the drug trade, how he's the only "pitbull with papers" in Miami, and his Epic role as a well-dressed toad.
On Global Warming and his career trajectory in music
"It's all about a global movement, it being a global market, making global music. So I've gotten a chance to tour the world, learn from so many different cultures, different sounds, foods, dances. And I'd just like to apply that to the music. Global Warming, it being that that's exactly what we're doing right now. We are creeping up on the world, little by little. Something that people before maybe didn't believe or they heard about it but they didn't understand it. And I think now it's when it's coming to full reality.
"You constantly have to defend your success. Because, see, the more successful you become, the more of a target you are. With that said, I think Dr. Dre had one of the best lines I ever heard. He said, 'As hard as you work for your money, there's four or five people working harder to take it from you.'"
On the name 'Pitbull'
"I think they're misunderstood, sometimes misrepresented and fit a stereotype. So as far as myself, the reason that 'Pitbull' came across was because I feel I have the same mentality of the dog or the breed for the simple fact that don't believe in the word 'lose' — and when they do, fight to the death. And with me being in the music business, in the entertainment business, you constantly have to be on your toes, constantly being reinventing yourself, and constantly coming up with new ideas, and finding ways on how to be creative enough so it's new, cool, sexy to the public. So with that said, that's where 'Pitbull' comes from — the fight. You know, I'm in love with the fight. But at the same time, pitbulls are illegal in Miami, so it makes me the only pitbull with papers. The only legal pitbull. [Laughs.]"
On escaping the drug trade through music
"I try to show that: Look, I came from something. I don't necessarily wanna stay there. So therefore, that's what music was all about, was the escape. So I want to teach everybody out there the same thing. Sometimes, in order to inspire, you have to let them know exactly where you're from, so that they know exactly that you know where you're going."
On being called 'commercial'
"The whole point is to touch as many people as you can, to get the message across. It's something that my grandmother used to do with the food when I would eat. Lettuce and tomato, I didn't necessarily like it. So what she would do is, she would put it under the rice and the steak, which I loved. And next thing you know, after a couple bites or a couple meals, let's say, I was asking for the tomato and the lettuce. Through the music, it's the same philosophy, if you apply it. Because there is a message in the music. I am telling you things that really are happening."
On his Epic role
"When they showed me who I would be playing, which is Bufo, a toad, businessman/hustler, entrepreneur — everything's business, not personal — I said, 'Yeah I'm definitely game, and would love to be a part of the Epic opportunity.'
"When I first seen the toad Bufo, he was naked. When I came back for the second session, they had dressed him in a suit, and he was the only toad in the forest with a suit on. I loved it!"
On education outreach
"The most powerful thing that I'm involved with is education, which I feel is the real revolution. And our first school, we'll be going up in one of my old school neighborhoods: Little Havana in Miami. And it's called SLAM, which is Sports, Leadership, And Management. And that is a way of, I would say, engaging, entertaining and educating the kids through things that they really love. So this one being more about sports. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to become an athlete. You can become a therapist, a broadcaster, an attorney. But it keeps them engaged and creating a curriculum that they love to come to school."
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now we will hear from someone whose voice, if you like music, watch TV, even pass by a radio, you have surely heard. His name is Armando Christian Perez, but you probably know him as Pitbull. He's sold five million albums. He's had number one hits in more than 15 countries, hence another nickname, Mr. Worldwide. He's worked with top artists like Usher and Jennifer Lopez. Rolling Stone said his global hustle can't be stopped and the Los Angeles Times called him America's savviest party starter.
Now, Pitbull is bringing the party to the big screen. He has a role in the new animated feature film, "Epic." The film opens in theaters tomorrow and Pitbull joins us now from our bureau in New York.
Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
PITBULL: Hey, Michel. How you doing? Thank you for that lovely introduction, I will say.
MARTIN: Well, you are welcome.
PITBULL: Appreciate it.
MARTIN: You know, we last talked to you in 2008 when you were part of a project to get out the Latino vote, so we wanted to save some time to talk about that, as well as the other big splash you're making with your music. But we want to start with your role in the new animated feature, "Epic." We wanted to know what drew you to the project.
PITBULL: When I heard the storyboard, it reminded me of a couple of films that I watched earlier, when I was younger, and simplicity actually is what brought me to the project. I said, if those two films were as successful as they were when I was younger, this is definitely going to be something. I would say, a knock out of the park. No? And when they showed me who I'd be playing, which is Bufo, a toad, a businessman/hustler, entrepreneur. Everything's business, not personal. I said, yeah. Definitely. I'm definitely game and would love to be a part of the epic opportunity. Right?
And, when they told me who was involved, that's I started voicing animated frog, Beyonce Knowles, Steven Tyler, Colin Farrell, then it just became a true honor to be a part of the whole "Epic" experience.
MARTIN: The film takes you to a world that's kind of hiding in plain sight. Leaf people who inhabit the forest and keep it in balance between the forces of life and death, if I can put it that way. As you mentioned, you play a tough guy toad named Bufo Toad. Get it straight. Not frog.
MARTIN: And I want to play a clip from the film. Here you are with Josh Hutcherson. He plays a young mischievous leaf man warrior, a soldier named Nod, and Colin Farrell plays the leader of the leaf men named Ronin. And here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "EPIC")
PITBULL: (as Bufo) You know I like you.
JOSH HUTCHERSON: (as Nod) Yeah. I like you, too, Mr. Bufo.
PITBULL: (as Bufo) And yet you don't do what we agreed. It's called teamwork. Maybe if you understood that, the leaf men wouldn't have kicked you out.
HUTCHERSON: (as Nod) They did not kick me out. I quit.
PITBULL: (as Bufo) I admire your independent spirit, Nod. I'll miss that. Feed him to something. A snake would be good.
COLIN FARRELL: (as Ronin) Ah, snakes just swallow you whole. Now, if you put him in a hornet's nest, that's a show.
PITBULL: (as Bufo) Oh, look, it's Ronin, defender of the weak, pooper of parties, here to ruin the fun.
FARRELL: (as Ronin) I didn't ruin all of it. I let you hit him.
HUTCHERSON: (as Nod) Twice.
FARRELL: (as Ronin) Hop along now, little froggy.
PITBULL: (as Bufo) Easy, Ronin. It's a big forest out there. Even leaf men got to sleep.
MARTIN: Was that fun?
PITBULL: Oh, absolutely. It was a lot of fun, very surprising how I feel once I seen my voice on the animated figure, you know, on the toad. Toad, frog, they look alike, you know, tomato, tomato. But I felt like a little kid again and it was definitely a different experience, but not difficult due to the fact that I live my life behind a microphone, so... But Chris Wedge was great at just giving me the lines, telling me exactly what they were looking for and they picked up the hand gestures, the facial gestures, so when I seen the frog - actually, when I first seen the toad - when I first see the toad, Bufo, he was naked. When I came back for the second session, they had dressed him in a suit and he was the only toad in the forest with a suit on. I loved it.
MARTIN: Well, I was going to ask because your shows - your performances are known for being really high energy and cool, of course, very cool, but high energy. And I just wondered if it was constraining for you to have to just be behind a mic and you're not even really interacting with any other people. Right? I mean, you're there by yourself. Right?
PITBULL: Yeah. That's why I say it was different, but not difficult. And when he was, you know, feeding me lines, I said each line probably 50 to 100 times and it was eight hours worth of sessions as we did. It took about a year to do because it was four different sessions at two hours apiece and, for me, when the kids seen it and they seen, you know, pooper of parties, they started to make fun of it and make fun of me - my kids. That's why I said, oh, boy, this is definitely going to be an epic adventure, an epic ride and something to learn a whole lot from. I'm going to go from Pitbull to Bufo the toad.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Pitbull about some of his latest projects. We were talking about the new animated feature "Epic," which is in theaters tomorrow. But first, now I want to wheel around and talk about your music. First of all, why are you Pitbull? You seem very nice. I don't see you gnawing on anybody's leg or how did that - how did you get that nickname?
PITBULL: You know, see that's the beautiful thing about pit bulls that they, I think they're misunderstood, sometimes misrepresented and fit a stereotype. So as far as myself, yeah, the reason that Pitbull came across because I feel I have the same mentality of the dog or the breed - for the simple fact they don't believe in the word lose and when they do fight to the death. And with me being in the music business, in the entertainment business, this is something that you constantly have to be on your toes, constantly be reinventing yourself and constantly coming up with new ideas and finding ways on how to be creative enough so that it's new, cool, sexy to the public. So with that said, that's where Pitbull comes from - the fight, you know, I'm in love with the fight. But at the same time pit bulls are illegal in Miami, so it makes me the only pit bull with papers. The only legal pit bull.
MARTIN: You know, speaking of, I'm glad you mentioned reinventing yourself because, as you mentioned, you're from Miami, Cuban American. You have roots in rap but you really expanded beyond that. You call yourself Mr. Worldwide and other people do.
MARTIN: People know you for your high energy music. Your latest album is titled "Global Warming," and I just want to play one of the tracks. This one is titled "Feel This Moment" featuring Christina Aguilera. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEEL THIS MOMENT")
PITBULL: Come on, feel this moment. (Rapping) I see the future but live for the moment, make sense don't it? Ha. Now make dollars, I mean billions, I'm a genius, I mean brilliant. This street is what scoot 'em. And made em slicker, to slick with the ruler. I've lost a lot, and learned a lot. But I'm still undefeated like Zula. I'm far from cheap; I break down companies with all my peeps. Baby we can travel the world and not given view, and all you can see. Time is money. Only difference is I own it, like a stop watch, let's stop time and enjoy this moment. Dale.
CHRISTINA AGUILERA: (Singing) One day when the light is glowing. I'll be in my castle golden.
MARTIN: What are you going for at this stage of your career?
PITBULL: At this stage of my career it's all about a global movement, it being a global market, making global music. So I've gotten a chance to tour the world, learn from so many different cultures, different sounds, foods, dances and I just like to apply that to the music "Global Warming" being that that's exactly what we're doing right now. We are creeping up on the world little by little; something that people before maybe didn't believe or they heard about it but didn't understand it and I think now is when it's coming to full reality. And with that said, I'm just looking forward to one way or another touching the world and hopefully we can make a change one way or another.
MARTIN: On "Global Warming," you talk a lot about success and being successful and thinking big and dreaming big.
MARTIN: I just want to play another cut from the album. The title track is "Global Warming." I just want to let you know it will bleeped.
MARTIN: We will be bleeping this so...
MARTIN: ...here is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLOBAL WARMING")
PITBULL: (Rapping) Take this as a, take this as a warning. Welcome to, welcome to global warming. I'm tired of this rap (bleep) cuz all they do is rap (bleep) about coke (bleep), crack (bleep), click clack. But they never sold coke or click clack (bleep). That's why I'm laughing to the bang, ha-ha (bleep). Private jets, I'm on that mile high.
MARTIN: OK. Who are you mad at?
PITBULL: Nah. That's not mad at all.
PITBULL: That right there, that's called emotions, it's called passion. Mad? I don't think you want to see me mad 'cause I wouldn't be that passionate. That right there is just my way of saying what I feel is going on in the music business and I feel that a lot of people that listen to music may be misinformed. And me being in the music business now for about 12 years, I've been able to grow, learn, develop, evolve and that's what I try to show through my music. I try to show that book, I came from something, I don't necessarily so therefore, that's what music was all about was the escape. So I want to teach everybody out there the same thing, you know, from something to nothing, motivate them, inspire them. Sometimes in order to inspire you have to let them know exactly where you're from so they know exactly that you know where you're going.
MARTIN: Just to clarify for people who aren't clear on everything in your story, you've disclosed previously that when you were a teenager you did get involved in the drug trade...
MARTIN: ...and you talked about music was your way out, your therapy. But do you feel you have to defend your success?
PITBULL: Defend my success? Constantly. You constantly have to defend your success. Because see the more successful you become, the more of a target you are. With that said, I think Dr. Dre had one of the best lines I ever heard in an old DVD that I seen a documentary on Death Row. And he said as hard as you work for your money there's four or five people working harder to take it from you. And to me I promise you, it's not about the money, to me it's about the journey. This is about creating generations and being able to say that my great-great grandkids say my great-great-grandfather started this through music in which evolved into the businesses that it involved into things that created futures to take full advantage of the opportunities in this country - being freedom and being you can control your own destiny. So that to me is protecting my success. So my success is my whole family's success. Everything that they fought for in order to enjoy what this country has to offer.
MARTIN: You've been getting attention from all sorts of people. Obviously, the album "Global Warming," you collaborate with all kinds of, you know, amazing people. And as you mentioned, you're part of this cast - this "Epic" cast.
MARTIN: Even Florida Senator Marco Rubio says you're on his playlist. I think you probably know that. We talked, I think actually, no. This is when he was talking to BuzzFeed this February. When we spoke with him he actually mentioned that you were on his playlist. But this is an interview he did with BuzzFeed back in February. Here it is.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: He basically collaborates on every song, every other song that I hear on the radio these days. He's been very successful so I think that's his message that he'll continue to grow on. But it's party music. I mean that's what it is.
MARTIN: What do you make of that?
PITBULL: I think that's great. I want to say thank you (foreign language spoken). I appreciate it.
MARTIN: Does it bother you if people say that you're music is commercial?
PITBULL: Oh, no way shape or form. The whole point is to touch as many people as you can to get the message across. It's something that my grandmother used to do with the food when I would eat is to say (foreign language spoken). The lettuce and tomatoes I didn't necessarily like it, so what she would do is she put it under the rice and the stake, which I loved. And the next thing you know after a couple bites or a couple meals they say I was asking for a tomato and the lettuce. Through the music it's the same philosophy if you apply it because there is messages in the music. I am telling you things that are really happening. When I'm telling you catch me in Times Square, picture that with the Kodak. Better yet, take a picture of me in Times Square with a Kodak. Then you'll catch me in Times Square's New Year's Eve Ball with Kodak right behind me performing. These are things that I'm speaking and coming to life. When I say next step (foreign language spoken), next step at the White House (foreign language spoken). That means if there's no car we'll get there in a raft. It doesn't matter. And look who's speaking about me, my (foreign language spoken). And who was I with shaking hands and making sure that everything was good for his campaign in Florida, which was Barack Obama. So one way or another you see in the music is the ultimate prime example of law of attraction. And if you really listen to what I'm saying and don't hear it, there's some people that hear it, there's some people that listen and that's a big difference. That's when people start to categorize. But I think what (foreign language spoken) said, there's nothing wrong with what he said and I think that what he's doing is really is tipping his hat off to me.
MARTIN: Well, I think he is too. So I'm glad you mentioned that because I want to loop back to where we started, which is your work with Voto Latino, which is a group - a non-partisan group - that tries to get more Latinos engaged in the political process.
MARTIN: Now that you're Mr. Worldwide, you've got all kinds of interesting deals going. You've got a vodka line. You've got, you know, people have seen your work in beer commercials but it actually goes beyond that. Your entrepreneurial ventures go beyond that.
MARTIN: You actually have a lot of other things. You clearly have something you want to say. Have you ever thought about saying in the political arena?
PITBULL: My grandmother always told me there's two things you don't speak about when you're at dinner, which is religion and politics. So with that said, I think I have a stronger reach on the public by not being political. So through music I can get the message across and not only through the music may lead them to the simple fact that they actually respect and believe what I'm trying to tell them or I would say educate them on. And I think even with the music, as it becomes more successful and more of a target, then obviously you're going to see more political things happening. But it's all about what's better, I would say for the country, the people and a bigger step, the world. And through music, I always say it's a universal language, it touches everybody. It breaks down barriers, walls, cultures, countries, beliefs and through music you can really unite people. So that's why to me music is more powerful than politics.
MARTIN: So what's next for you? What are you doing next that has gotten you excited?
PITBULL: Well, as far as a career, I mean we'll be on tour we're going to be coming up now. Actually, I start the 23rd, we'll be out there. And with that said, I'll be out there with Kesha, which she's crazy, fun, wild, sexy and a hard worker also. So I can't wait to watch her and learn from her. But other than that will be working the new single with Jennifer Lopez called "Live It Up," a new single we have coming out called "Outta Nowhere." But the music is what leads into I say all the businesses and the reason that we do deals with marquee brands is to be considered a marquee brand and that way would become equity owners in things such as let's say a Voli. And also the most powerful thing that I'm involved with is education, which I feel is the real revolution. And our first school we'll be going up in one of my old school neighborhoods - Little Havana in Miami and it's called SLAM, which is sports, leadership and management. And that is a way of engaging and educating - I would say engaging, entertaining and educating the kids through things that they really love. So this one being more about sports. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to become an athlete. You can become a therapist, a broadcaster, an attorney. But it keeps them engaged in creating a curriculum that they love to come to school. So that's going to be a lot of fun doing that. That will be open this summer. And then we'll also be coming with the jam, which will be just artist and management.
MARTIN: So you're not busy at all?
PITBULL: Yeah. Exactly.
PITBULL: Exactly. Thank God, working hard. Thank God.
MARTIN: Well, what would you like to go out on? What song would you like to go out on?
PITBULL: As far as from the album?
PITBULL: "Outta Nowhere."
MARTIN: OK. "Outta Nowhere." All right. Pitbull is a recording artist, actor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is featured in the new animated film, "Epic," which opens in theaters tomorrow, and we caught up with him in New York.
Pitbull, thank you so much for speaking with us.
PITBULL: Oh, Michel I really appreciate it. To all the fans out there, I want to say without ya'll there is no movement, there is no Pitbull. I always say it because it's the truth. (Foreign language spoken) and everybody out there, God bless and thank you. Dale.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUTTA NOWHERE")
PITBULL: (Rapping) I live the fast life, going nowhere fast. I see my past life and politely pass. But I'm already planning on doing it big. For my life after death, I live my life after death. Baby what you think our train is for? That's to properly prepare you for war. So I keep you on your toes. So you could look out for your friends that...
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Remember to tell us more, go to NPR.org/TELL ME MORE. You can find our podcast there. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. The handle is @TELL ME MORENPR. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUTTA NOWHERE")
DANNY MERCER: (Singing) Outta nowhere. Every time one of us ending up in tears. Outta nowhere, outta nowhere. Is it good that we hurt every day? Is this worth all the pain that we feel inside? Am I too blind to see this is happening to me? Outta nowhere, outta nowhere. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.