x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pitbull's barking all the way to the bank

Pitbull's phenomenal rise from scruffy rapper to suave Mr Worldwide is the result of some smart decisions. We trace the career of the Cuban-American pop star, who is set to perform in Dubai on Friday.

From left, Pitbull, Enrique Iglesias and Prince Royce. AP Photo / Matt Sayles
From left, Pitbull, Enrique Iglesias and Prince Royce. AP Photo / Matt Sayles

These days, if you want a hit, send for the Pitbull. The Cuban-American pop star and rapper (real name Armando Pérez) is dominating the airwaves with solo hits and collaborations with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Usher and Enrique Iglesias. As well as amassing a global following, the 31-year-old has been praised by industry heads for his business acumen, with endorsement deals ranging from Dr Pepper and Kodak, and even the dance exercise Zumba. Charting his career, we retrace how Pérez transformed himself from Miami's thuggish Mr 305 (Miami's telephone area code) to the designer suit-clad Mr Worldwide, and explain how he is barking all the way to the bank.

Step 1: Rep your state

You gotta keep it real ... real local. Most of Pitbull's early tunes from 2001 to 2003, including 305 Anthem and Defend Dade, were brawny love letters to his home city of Miami.

Pitbull even went as far as speaking on behalf of his city, addressing naysayers in some tracks under the term "we". He earned big props from the local scene for his realistic portrayal of Miami and eventually cemented himself as a local legend after receiving the Key to the City in 2009.

Step 2: Get the right hook-up

Pitbull's polished flow has been a work in progress. Signing up with Famous Art Music and Management in 2001, Pitbull and the agency's chief executive Robert Fernandez worked together on tightening up the rapper's sound.

"At that time, his music had a lot of verses and took a long time to get into the hook," said Fernandez in an interview with Hit Quarters last year. "So we took time in getting the songs catchier and less on the rap side." In 2002, Fernandez arranged a meeting with the hip-hop super-producer Lil John. The pair hit it off straight away: Lil John offered Pitbull a guest appearance on his Kings of Crunk album and co-produced Pitbull's first hit, 2004's Culo. Cashing in on the attention, Pitbull worked overtime, notching up dozens of guest features and releasing solo albums and mix-tapes.

Step 3: Find the sound

Pitbull is no innovator. His strength always lay in melding Latin music such as merengue, cha-cha and Miami Bass with hip-hop's latest trend. His early albums, especially his 2004 debut M.I.A.M. I. (Money Is A Major Issue) and El Mariel (2006), injected a rugged Latin flavour to the crunk sounds dominating hip-hop at the time. Last year's Planet Pit, his sixth album, found him zeroing in on pop music's embrace of dance.

In a 2011 Billboard interview promoting the release, Pitbull stated his aim was "to create an album where every record on it could be a single, where every record you go to, you're just like 'wow'." Judging by the chart success of its four singles, including the No 1 Neyo collaboration Give Me Everything, mission accomplished.

Step 4: Dress with success

It is understandable that those fans who have come late to Pitbull would believe he was born in a suit – he is rarely seen dressed otherwise. But before the designer threads and fancy aviators, there was a scruffy- looking rapper wearing jerseys emblazoned with the Cuban flag, baseball caps, low-slung tracksuit pants and tank tops.

Another transition that came with success? Pitbull smiles a lot these days. While a scan of earlier images finds him brooding and ready to bite, the updated Pitbull is all pearly whites. Perhaps money really does buy happiness.

Step 5: Build the brand

Where other hip-hop artists would have been torn down by accusations of selling out, Pitbull's journey from Mr 305 to Mr Worldwide has been relatively harmless.

It is a wise move, too, because the market for a shameless solo party-rapper has been free ever since Will Smith decided to take up acting full-time. Pitbull is all about fun, and corporations all want a part of the brand. The photography giant Kodak signed him up as the face of its latest campaign, Dr Pepper and Pepsi enlisted him to tap into America's multicultural youth market and the dance fitness programme Zumba even licensed the Planet Pit track Pause for a specific workout routine.

Step 6: Stick to the plan

With a reported US$6 million (Dh22m) in earnings last year, Pitbull's records have always been commercial decisions. "This is called the music business. It's 90 per cent business, 10 per cent talent," he admitted to Billboard. "There is no genius to what I do." Citing the late Apple founder Steve Jobs as his hero, Pitbull told GQ magazine in April he aims to stick to his four-year plan: "2009 was freedom, 2010 was invasion, 2011 was takeover and 2012 is grow wealth."

Pitbullis performing at the Dubai World Trade Centre on Friday. Tickets cost from Dh295, www.timeouttickets.com