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."