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CNN SPOTLIGHT

CNN SPOTLIGHT: Pitbull

Aired June 20, 2014 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PITBULL, MUSICIAN: Welcome, everybody, to "Planet Pit."

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): One part performer, one part epic party host, 100 percent pure Pitbull, the international hit maker.

PITBULL: When I say Mr. Worldwide, it's because we're all around the world.

TURNER: Performing to sold-out arenas around the globe.

PITBULL: Now we have got to think maybe another name, like, Mr. Another Planet.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: A one-time hustler.

PITBULL: I have never been a thug. I have never been a gangster, but I have been a hustler.

TURNER: Turned humanitarian.

PITBULL: This is changing the world little by little.

TURNER: The underdog's ascent from rapping on Miami streets.

PITBULL: I always used to mess around with words.

TURNER: To the center of the world stage.

Tonight, CNN SPOTLIGHT: "Pitbull."

(on camera): Hello, everybody. I'm Nischelle Turner.

Pitbull's rise as an artist is really the American classic tale of hard work, ambition, and big dreams, the son of Cuban immigrants whose sound is shaped by the streets of Miami. The story of Armando Christian Perez starts here.

PITBULL: Welcome to my city.

TURNER (voice-over): As Jay-Z is to Brooklyn, Pitbull is to Miami. PITBULL: They call it the magic city. And what makes it so

magical to me is what it's done in such a short period of time.

TURNER: Pitbull had his own magic ride, from troubled teen to hit machine in just about a decade, so popular globally, he's one of few artists ever invited to write a World Cup anthem. He opened the tournament with a new song.

PITBULL: I used to perform right down there. That's Bayfront Park.

TURNER: From the top of Miami's Freedom Tower, there's a view of the path Armando Perez followed to become Pitbull, the pop star.

(on camera): In your early life, here in Miami, is it safe to say that it was rough?

PITBULL: Yes, I would say it was just, more than anything, interesting. You're talking about the '80s in Miami. Everybody was involved, I would say, in extracurricular activities.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER (voice-over): Everyone, including Armando's father. For a time in his teens, Armando follows his father's footsteps into drug dealing.

PITBULL: I have never been a thug, I have never been a gangster, but I have been a hustler.

TURNER: But Armando's Cuban expatriate dad imparts some useful lessons too. In Miami's Little Havana, he encourages the boy to recite the works of Cuban poet Jose Marti.

PITBULL: That was the first time I have seen how powerful words were. So when I was -- being 5 years old and being able to move a bar full of people over one poem, it was definitely mind-blowing for me, obviously, but it also showed me what my mom, my mother has always told me. The pen is mightier than the sword.

TURNER: Armando's mother, always a strong presence in his life, tries to steer him away from the drug trade, pervasive in the neighborhoods of his youth.

(on camera): When did it come to you to say, you know what, this ain't the life; I'm not about this life?

PITBULL: A transaction was made, and me being greedy, OK, I was maybe 17, and I had did something to the product that I shouldn't have done. And I almost killed that person over -- over $20. So, I said, if I could do this to somebody like that, man, this isn't right.

TURNER (voice-over): The experience profoundly impacts Armando. He turns away from the hustle and toward rapping.

PITBULL: I was moving through so many neighborhoods and so many different schools, I was building a name for myself and then picking up different styles where I would go.

TURNER: A teacher at Miami's Coral Park Senior High takes notice.

PITBULL: She said, you got talent. I didn't understand what it was when somebody tells you, you have got talent, other than your mom. Your mom says, you have got talent.

TURNER (on camera): You, baby.

(CROSSTALK)

PITBULL: Yes, yes, yes. OK, mom, you know? But my mother was right.

TURNER (voice-over): Their encouragement pushes Armando to nurture his musical talent. Mom's motivational move?

PITBULL: When she could take me to school, she would put in Anthony Robbins tapes. It motivated me subliminally. I didn't understand what was going on, because if I wanted to go to touch my mother's radio, she would go, hey, did you pay for this car? No, don't touch my radio.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: After graduating high school, Armando pursues his music full-time.

Simon Vozick-Levinson is a writer for "Rolling Stone."

SIMON VOZICK-LEVINSON, "ROLLING STONE": He was making really sort of hard-edged Miami street rap at that point.

TURNER: Street rap on a rough road as a rare Latin rapper on the scene. Armando chooses the stage name Pitbull, out of administration of the fighting spirit of the breed.

PITBULL: People say, you can't, you won't, you never will. Those kind of things turn me on. No is great. I love no, because I know I'm going to get to a yes, one way or another.

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. 305, Pitbull!

TURNER: As Pitbull, Armando builds a massive Miami following. He picks up the moniker Mr. 305, after the city's area code.

The Cuban and Caribbean flavors of his hometown, peppered with colorful slang, influence the sound of Pitbull's 2004 debut solo album, "Miami."

PITBULL: If it wasn't for that atmosphere, I couldn't have started my musical career. TURNER: Three more albums follow. Pitbull's music matures and

so does his image. Baggy pants and baseball caps are traded for tightly tailored suits.

PITBULL: What I have shown is evolution, I think, through the music business. And I always say to the shows. They be like, man, chico, how come you don't do music for the street no more? I said, man, I made music to get out the street, not to stay in the street. How come you be putting on these suits now, chico? Because this shows maturity, it shows growth, it shows evolution.

This is what I want to teach you all. This is what this music is about. This is what this journey is about.

TURNER: In 2009, Pitbull's journey has him moving up the charts.

"Hollywood Reporter" music editor Shirley Halperin.

SHIRLEY HALPERIN, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": I think when "I Know You Want Me" came out, it sort of took him out of being Mr. 305 to being Mr. Worldwide.

TURNER: In an interview with CNN as the song is hitting its peak, Pitbull credits his growing success to good old-fashioned dedication.

PITBULL: I have gotten a chance to do it, like they did back in the day. They went city to city, club to club, lounge to lounge, building a foundation, building loyal fans.

TURNER: Coming up: Pitbull's hard work pays off and Miami's hometown hero catapults to superstar status.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER (voice-over): 2010, Pitbull's distinct sound is in demand. He's collaborating with top artists like Usher, Enrique Iglesias, and Jennifer Lopez.

(on camera): You have been called the king of collaborations. Do you like -- I knew that might kind of grade on you. You don't love that?

PITBULL: No. I mean, for me, I'm not the king of anything, to be honest with you.

Collaborations, they looked at me, and the movement that we have had. Like, if it's something knew -- you grew up in hip-hop. Everybody us collaborating. They're still collaborating. I just call it global music.

TURNER (voice-over): His global music really resonates in 2011's "Give Me Everything," giving Pitbull his first number one song.

HALPERIN: I think, when it comes to his collaborations, he's very strategic about it. I think he's very smart.

TURNER: He's also very admired by the artists he teams up with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's something about a man who, at every turn, shows up with a suit on and will sweat for two hours in it. I mean, he's committed, man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's really creative and really enthusiastic and energetic and humble.

HALPERIN: He just knows how to channel the heat of an artist into a collaboration that would work for both audiences.

PITBULL: Collaborating to me is so key, why? Because you're bringing everybody's people together. And you're doing what music is supposed to do, break down boundaries, release barriers. That's what makes this power.

So the more people I get a chance to collaborate with, the more people we get to touch.

TURNER: Pitbull expands his reach in 2012 with "Global Warming."

PITBULL: The demo that we skew, the people we speak to, yes, it's very special and a wide range.

Hey, how you doing? Everything going great?

You have grandmothers that dance to me, and obviously down to the granddaughters.

TURNER: His performances are a mix of Spanish and English.

PITBULL: When it's organic, it's natural and it's fun, you know, people, whether they understand the language or not, it's all about the way you deliver it.

HALPERIN: He has figured out what will speak to everybody. And that's a very unique characteristic for a pop artist, to be able to bridge that many different kinds of people just with your music. He's really sort of touched on this magic sauce.

TURNER: Pitbull's sauce is cooked up in an uncommon creative process. He writes and records when and wherever the moment strikes.

PITBULL: Reporting live from the tallest building in Tokyo.

TURNER: This session turned boo a top track with Christina Aguilera.

PITBULL: Reporting live from the tallest building in Tokyo.

TURNER: Feeling the moment is a frequent theme in Pitbull's music.

HALPERIN: There's definitely an element of his music that's very escapist. And it really is about just sort of losing yourself in the dance and the moment and the beat.

PITBULL: You all having a good time?

TURNER: His songs are like the soundtrack to an over-the-top party. And everyone's invited.

(on camera): Your music is known by a lot of people as party music.

PITBULL: Good.

TURNER: You want to do that? It's feel-good music.

PITBULL: Good, good, good, absolutely.

When you make this music that makes everybody feel good, that is the goal of the show. When you come see me for an hour-and-a-half to two hours, I want you to escape, no mortgage, no bills, no baby mama drama, no child support, no economy messed up, no war, you know, no terrorists.

Man, just come here, lose your mind, and enjoy. So my show, it's almost like a motivational speech. It's there to inspire. I'm there to give you everything that I got and show you that, man, I came from nothing too. I feel you. Now, when you leave here, go out there and get them.

VOZICK-LEVINSON: Pitbull certainly raps about partying a lot, and he certainly has a good time in life. There's no question of that. But I think, when it's time to get the work done and he needs to finish an album or go on tour, he's all about business.

TURNER (voice-over): Pitbull's music business is booming.

His single "Timber" featuring Ke$ha has been a number one hit in 15 countries. His videos have been watched on YouTube more than three billion times.

HALPERIN: I feel like he has tapped into something, where he knows that he's grabbing you with that hook.

TURNER: Combining country and folk influences with a hip-hop dance beat, "Timber" pulls off a trick Pitbull has come to master.

VOZICK-LEVINSON: His reputation as an artist is that he's good at making crossover pop hits.

TURNER: He's got another one in "Wild Wild Love."

HALPERIN: As long as Pitbull keeps doing what he's really gotten very good at, which is traveling the world and picking up new sounds and sort of importing them to the U.S., I really don't see the string of hits stopping anytime soon.

TURNER: Pitbull's not resting on his success.

PITBULL: Cool. Give me a drop on where it says, I do the coaching, they do the playing.

You put yourself on a pedestal, you're going to plateau. You know, you put yourself on a mountain peak, you're going to fall.

Now I need the hook part after my verse.

I always use the saying, because it's true, if you don't know where you're from, you don't know where you're going. And if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.

And, believe me, I know where I'm from and I love it and enjoy it. I wear it on my chest. Everywhere I go, everybody knows, Mr. 305, Dade County, Miami boy representing. When I say Mr. Worldwide, it's because we're all around the world. Now we have got to think maybe just another name, like, Mr. Another Planet or something.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER (on camera): Mr. Pluto.

PITBULL: Yes. Yes.

TURNER: Mr. Neptune.

PITBULL: I'm going to have to jump on a plane with Branson.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: Exactly.

Back on tour.

TURNER (voice-over): Coming up:

PITBULL: Welcome to my city.

TURNER: Mr. Worldwide back home in Miami, his billion-dollar business and his priceless passion project.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PITBULL: There it is.

TURNER (voice-over): Meeting is Pitbull, who offstage goes by Armando Christian Perez, you quickly sense his love for his hometown and his Cuban culture.

(on camera): It's a little bit breathtaking.

PITBULL: It's very breathtaking.

TURNER (voice-over): We meet in Miami's Freedom Tower, a building where thousands of Cuban refugees were processed for immigration in the 1960s.

(on camera): We're in a place right now, the Freedom Tower, today, that means the world to the Cuban-American population. What does it mean...

(CROSSTALK)

PITBULL: It mean exactly that, freedom.

It's a word that I don't think we appreciate that much. And for those that didn't have it and then they get it, and they do exactly what they're supposed to do with that word, create their own destiny, build opportunity, use the freedom that this beautiful country gives to us, that's what this is about.

TURNER (voice-over): It's that Cuban American sense of opportunity and obligation that seem to drive Armando's ambition.

PITBULL: Being Cuban, a lot of our mentality's like that, meaning, we will start making the sandwiches, and then we will own the restaurant. We will clean the shoes. Then we own the shoe store. We will clean the house, then own the house.

TURNER: The house of Pitbull is impressive. He estimates he has close to 70 million followers on social media. That and an international fan base makes him hugely attractive to advertisers.

HALPERIN: One thing that he says over and over again is, don't put me out in front of your brand as representing the Latin market, because I am the worldwide market.

TURNER: His portfolio includes partnerships with Kodak, Voli Vodka, Bud Light, and Dodge, among others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's perfect.

TURNER: He has a fragrance line for men and women, ownership in a restaurant franchise, and, most recently, a deal with Playboy Enterprises to partner on projects.

HALPERIN: He's used these companies to help break his songs. He has taken an equity interest in the vodka company, so he's more invested in it than just being a spokesperson.

TURNER: Looking ahead, Armando soon kicks off a concert tour with Enrique Iglesias. He's got his own TV development company, and a new deal to host a nationally televised New Year's Eve party from Miami.

VOZICK-LEVINSON: He's someone who's not going to stop until he takes over the entire world.

TURNER: He's on his way to doing that. Pitbull opened the World Cup with a performance of this year's official theme song.

PITBULL: We're trying to bring people together. And, to me, the World Cup is the beginning of that journey. All of this has been training. The World Cup is just the beginning.

HALPERIN: To hook up with the World Cup is the biggest global audience that you can get.

TURNER: But the audience closest to Armando's heart is found at a school in Miami's inner city.

Sports Leadership and Management Academy, or SLAM, is a charter school with a sports-themed curriculum Armando helped create. He advocates for the school and motivates its students.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you guys know Pitbull?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You seen him around a little bit?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right or wrong? That takes -- and morals, right?

PITBULL: SLAM to me, the reason that it's so special is because they are me, you know? And I can go down the line on those kids and probably just sit with one, and I say, don't even talk to me. I'm going to tell you what's going on in your crib, in your house right now. I know. I feel you. Been there, done that.

If we catch them at that age, mold their minds, teach them what it is to be motivated, self-inspired, to believe in themselves, because coming from the neighborhoods that we came from, nobody believes in us. This is changing the world, literally, little by little.

ALEX TAMARGO, PRINCIPAL, SLAM ACADEMY: His message is always positive. It's always about education. You need to study. You need to be good for yourself. Don't let anybody tell you that you can't do it. And the students really thrive on that.

FERNANDO ZULUETA, PRESIDENT, ACADEMICA: we're in the inner city. We're in the toughest part of town. And it's just beautiful to see all these kids here thriving and as motivated as they are.

TURNER: Armando's drive to inspire, to make music, to live up to his Mr. Worldwide moniker all originate with the same goal, making his Cuban-American community proud.

PITBULL: There's nothing like walking down the street and a little old lady comes to you and says (SPEAKING SPANISH) which is my little son, almost (SPEAKING SPANISH) come here. (SPEAKING SPANISH) You are what makes us proud out there. You keep doing what you do.

An 85-year-old woman telling you that, that means the world to me, because now I know that we're making the right decisions, and they know that I'm not perfect. They know my story.

TURNER: There's one more chapter Armando hopes to include in the story of Pitbull, a concert performance in a free Cuba.

PITBULL: When Cuba opens up and I can perform in El Malecon, when I can do that, oh, man, first of all, you're going to have to stop me from crying up there. And it will be worth everything, everything.

Why you think they call me Mr. Worldwide?

TURNER (on camera): From Miami to the World Cup in Rio and yet another international tour, Mr. 305 has indeed become Mr. Worldwide.

Thanks for watching, everybody. I'm Nischelle Turner. Good night.

(END VIDEOTAPE)