By Brian Ives
After being delayed for about a year, Pitbull’s “Climate Change” is going to finally be out this Friday (March 17). He’s pretty laid back about the delays (as he told us, “I don’t worry about delays”). Part of the reason for them is the song ‘Hey Ma,’ which was originally going to feature Britney Spears, and which now features Camila Cabello. In this Radio.com interview, he discusses “Climate Change” – both the album and the global threat, which he pays close attention to, as a proud representative of Miami (“the 305,” which is their area code). He also discusses ‘Moonlight’ and how the film addressed the taboo subject of sexuality, and how he went from “Mr. 305” to “Mr. Worldwide,” and his new career as a motivational speaker who “opens” for Tony Robbins.
Before to talking about Climate Change, go behind “Hey Ma,” your song on The Fate of the Furious.
I wanna say “Thank you very much” to them, ’cause they’re the ones that actually broke my career on the [2003’s] 2 Fast 2 Furious that they shot in Miami, and that was with John Singleton. They played a record of mine called “Oye” in that movie. So that franchise has coincided and run parallel with our career.
How did you get involved with the franchise back then? Was it, “We’re shooting in Miami, we want the guy from Miami?”
Not at all. The way it happened was Lil’ Jon was down in Miami recording, finishing up the Kings of Crunk album. We ran into each other in South Beach in front of Wet Willies. He’s like, “Yeah, I heard a lot about you.” I couldn’t understand what Lil’ Jon was saying, to be honest with you. But he said, “I like what you saying, I like what you saying. I don’t know what you saying.” So I didn’t know what he was saying, and he didn’t know what I was saying in Spanish on certain records. But he said, “This could work. I’m working with John Singleton right now on Fast and Furious 2. I think this could work.” Sure enough, he’s the one that made the connection. The rest is history. So thank you Lil’ Jon, and thank you John Singleton.
You didn’t know what he was saying, he didn’t know what you were saying. You’re “Mr. Worldwide”; I’m sure you play in places where they don’t speak Spanish or English. What have you learned about people from different cultures being able to enjoy the same things?
Man, what it’s shown me… to be able to travel the world had been a blessing and an amazing education. But it’s shown me that music is the most powerful thing, and music is a universal language, it brings everybody together. Breaks down barriers, no matter what you believe in, no matter what your culture may be, no matter where you’re from, everybody in one room listening to something that makes him feel good, you see ’em all coming together. So for me, it’s a blessing.
You made the business decision to go from being “Mr. 305” to “Mr. Worldwide,” and that means learning about other cultures. How much are you learning about other cultures?
What I’ve gotten a chance to do in my career is that I took it from it being music for the block, to music for my city, to music for the country [to the world]. I was down in the Dominican Republic and I heard Bob Sinclar, “World Hold On.” I was in Santo Domingo and I seen these beautiful women that I knew did not speak English. But I went over and asked them, “You know what that song’s saying?” She goes, “No, but I like it.”
I started jumping on global records, which was when I was transitioning into “Mr. Worldwide.” And that was a big thing at the time. A lot of people will just discredit you, but I’ve never been a person that was afraid to step out of the box and do something different. That was the turning point in our career.
There are probably people from within your community who will discredit you, and wonder why you want to appeal to a wider audience. But then you also have your sights on top 40 radio stations, who you had to win over.
It’s funny because one time I was back in one of my old neighborhoods called Little Havana. One of the kids, they ran up on me and they were like, “Man, you know what? You a sellout.” And I said, “Oh, I’m a sellout.” I said, “I’m gonna tell you something right quick. Check this out. You’re right, I am a sellout. I sell out arenas. You understand me?”
Sometimes you get caught up with people who hadn’t left their own block, so the vision’s not there. But now it’s a whole different story cause they’re starting to understand what it’s all about. Music was the avenue to be able to build an empire and create generational wealth. It’s not just making it, it’s maintaining it. A lot of people don’t understand that because they take words for granted. One of my other old neighborhoods, Wynwood, they say, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.”
And thank God that we’re able to now go back to the same community and build a school in it and give these kids a future and — how should I say this — give them a vision.
Not everyone is going to have a superstar career, but they can have a vision of having a successful career in sports or entertainment.
My mother always told me, “Money is a passport. It allows you to come and go, but it doesn’t make you.” So with that said, what we wanna do is give them the vision where they can control their own destiny, ’cause yeah, you can make a whole lot of money, but question is, are you making your money, or is the money making you. You get me?
So it’s teaching them that, “Hey, your vision can really come to life exactly how you want it. It’s gonna be a lot of hard work and you gotta stay focused.” If you take the word “success,” okay, think about it: “suck-cess” and really break it down, on your way to becoming successful there’s gonna be a lot of people sucking at you.
Diddy said, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” I say no, more money, more solutions, cause you’re solving everybody else’s problems. That’s really what you’re doing. So when you’re teaching these kids: yeah, [success] looks beautiful, sounds great, but it’s gonna be a journey. Are you ready for that journey? That to me was even the conversation I was having with Camila at the video shoot [for “Hey Ma.”] “Hey, buckle up. Buckle up.”
At the Oscars when Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney accepted his Best Picture Award, he said, “We’re two boys from Liberty City up here on this stage representing 305.” I read that it had the lowest budget of any Best Picture winner ever. How did you feel about their big win?
I heard about the movie and I’ve seen a brief documentary on what they had going on. That was shot in probably one of the worst projects in the United States of America. It’s called the Pork and Bean Projects in Liberty City. I was very proud. Being a Miami boy, you always got a chip on your shoulder, cause everybody, they count you out. Notice: anything we’ve built in Miami, they count you out. When
I was very proud. Being a Miami boy, you always got a chip on your shoulder, ’cause everybody, they count you out. Notice: anything we’ve built in Miami, they count you out. University of Miami created their dynasty, before that they were the underdogs, and even though they had undefeated seasons they still come back and the AP polls say that they’re number two. How are we number two at this point? But that’s all right, that gives us that fight.
So being a Cuban-American, first generation out of Miami in the rap game, yeah, that’s unheard of. And to be able to get in, look what Khaled is doing, look what Ross is doing, Flo Rida, Trina, Trick, Uncle Luke with 2 Live Crew — he was the first to fight for the First Amendment, to go straight to the Supreme Court. We built to be fighters. And that’s why the NFL’s filled with Miami boys, because that’s what they instill in you.
For them to be able to win that Oscar, it shows that underdog mentality. [It had the] Lowest budget, but it was all about the story. It was all about the story.
And to be a Miami boy in those kind of projects and deal with homosexuality, okay, [that’s] a no-no [there]. Them boys are not playing about that. So I understood where they were coming from, and they painted the picture well as far as what the situation was. I’m very proud of them. 305 ’til I die!
As you say, homosexuality isn’t easy to talk about in the projects.
Especially those projects. I’m a person that respects what anybody wants to do with their life. There’s two words in life that have a definition but can’t be defined: normal and happy. Whatever your normal is, that’s your “normal”; whatever makes you happy, that’s your “happy.” As far as being from Miami, Miami being a melting pot filled with so many different cultures, it got me ready for the world. My whole life I’ve grown up around Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Bahamians, Nicaraguans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Columbians, you name it, the list goes on. So therefore, it allowed me to adapt to any environment. So once again, thank you, Miami, I appreciate it.
On “Freedom,” you sample the Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free.” To a career-minded businessman like you, it must be interesting to see a band of guys in their 70s who can still sell out stadiums.
That was their vision. I’m sure when they were in their mid-thirties nobody believed on what they were gonna continue to do with their careers. But like we were talking about the whole Miami mentality, that’s what makes an underdog. When people tell you “No, not gonna happen.” You like when people knock you down. You like when people don’t believe in you. That ignites that next record, that fire. So the Rolling Stones, we have the utmost respect for, and yes, we wanna be able to not only sell out stadiums when we’re 70, but to own the stadium that we’re performing in.
You had an album called Global Warming, this one is called Climate Change. I know you don’t get into politics in your lyrics. But I know you have property and businesses in Miami, so climate change actually affects you. Are you using these terms in your album titles to bring it into the lexicon of people who may not be watching NPR or other news sources that discuss global warming?
Well, look, my mother taught me about global warming in ’91. I’ve been watching the change, and being in Miami, we have the Everglades. Anybody that wants to know what’s going on, go to the Everglades. It’ll tell it to you.
Now with that said, if you notice, I named the albums, the last three albums, one was Global Warming, the other was Globalization, and now this one’s called Climate Change. If I made a record about [climate change], nobody would listen to it. I make records for people to have a good time, to enjoy, to escape, and give them a chance to forget about what’s going on in the world, but with the titles, they start to connect the dots like a treasure hunt that I put together for them.
Yes, this is something that I watch closely, something that I witness with my own eyes. I travel the world, I see what’s going on. And the news in the United States is different than the news around the world, I’ll tell you that right now. So with that said, when you see the droughts in California, when you see in Miami the sea level rising, when you see mountains that have no snow on it no more, when you go down to Sao Paulo in Brazil, turn on the tap, water doesn’t come out in one of the biggest cities in the world. Okay, yes, it’s real.
So for now guys, hey, all I can tell you is there’s no way you’re going to flip it, and I’m a very positive, optimistic person, but I’m also realistic. You can’t flip it, you can’t stop it, all you can do now is hope to contain it and learn how to deal with it. Remember I told you that.
So as a guy who owns businesses and property, you have to prepare; like a block that you own something on, might be underwater in twenty years.
Correct. As a matter of fact, by now Mayor Levine down in Miami Beach, he’s dealing with it right now as we speak. We just had a conversation about that, actually. So yes, they’re preparing for it, but like I said, you’re not gonna stop it. You can just learn how to deal with it. And the first way to learn how to deal with something is when you admit the problem, and there’s still a lot of people out there that are the longest river in the world: denial.
I know you’ve had other problems with the current administration; so what do you say to people in the administration who says that global warming isn’t a real thing?
Hey, look, when it comes to politics, politicians, I call it politricks. That’s exactly what it is, it’s everybody that has an agenda that acts like it’s a hidden agenda, all right? And I sit back and I watch and go, “Am I the only one watching this? What’s really going on here?” Because this is the best story of the tail wagging the dog at this point. Now for people, like I said, that are in denial, it’s no problem. Sit back and wait.
You’ve recently gotten into motivational speaking.
My mom put me on the Tony Robbins tip in 1990 by default. It wasn’t something I wanted to listen to. And I’ve had this conversation with Tony. One day in the car, I didn’t wanna listen to what she had on, so I went to touch the radio, and she hit my hand, hit my hand like that, and she said, “Hey, do you make the car payments on this car?” I said “No.” She said, “Then don’t touch my radio. You gotta listen to what I got going on.” And I think it was a time when parents were still parents, cause now I feel like kids parenting parents. It’s weird how this works out.
But I would listen to Tony, and subliminally, it got in my head. And he had this one story about KFC, Colonel Sanders. He said in order to sell his recipe it took him a thousand times. A thousand times! You know what it is to run into people and hear “No” a thousand times? There’s people that can’t even deal with one “No.” Imagine a thousand “No’s.”
So that clicked in my mind, and I said, “I like the word ‘No.’ Yeah, I like it. I like it a lot.” Because like I was saying before, it ignites, it inspires you, it motivates you to go, “Oh, no, I’m gonna have to prove these people wrong.” And on top of that, the same people you prove wrong, they become the ideal fans.
So I wanna be able to give that gift back. I wanna be able to go, “Look, guys, I understand that you guys dance and you listen to these records and have a good time, and thank you guys. Without you guys I wouldn’t be able to wake up and live my dream. But I wanna break it down for you cause there’s little things in here that you guys might think is just rap, but it’s not. And not only am I gonna break it down for you, I’m gonna show you, because I already lived it. I put out the record before we lived it, so this brought it to life. You guys can do the same thing.”
And that’s why we built SLAMs [the Sports Leadership and Management school], that’s why we grab these kids before life gets a hold of them and get that brain ready for it. What does that mean? You mold that brain, you teach it how to believe in itself, how to motivate itself, inspire itself, how to get out there and really become, and I mean this in the best way, a monster in the world. Because once life gets a hold of you, that’s where I think people make that left turn [and get into trouble].
I’ll use one example. Just think about it like this. When you’re a baby and you go to walk, what’s the first thing the family does? Calls somebody else and goes “Oh, my God, look at him, he’s about to walk” or “She’s about to walk,” and he falls, or she falls. “Get back up! Oh, my God, get up, do it again, do it again, do it again!” That’s what life was. That’s the reason you walk. If they didn’t do that when you was a kid, they go, “Oh, look at you, you fell. You’ll never walk again. You’ll never get up and walk.” Imagine when you’re a baby they did that to you.
That’s what life does to you. When you get older that’s what people do to you. “Oh, you wanna be a lawyer? Man, you ain’t gonna be no lawyer.” “You wanna be a doctor? You know how long you gotta go to school to be a doctor?” Or “You wanna be a Cuban-American first generation rapper in a game that’s full of African Americans? Are you crazy, man?” Right?
Well, when you learn how to flip that, that ‘no’ becomes a ‘yes.’ That is why I wanna get involved with that, and that’s why I sat down with Tony and Tony’s like, “Definitely. You can come and open shows with me and let everybody know what you go through constantly.” Even to this day, I wake up in the morning with lawsuits and [people saying] “That record’s never gonna work” and “What’s this new sound?” And I go “Woo! It’s gonna be a great year.”