Pitbull brings the house down at the Mall of Asia Arena last Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, as fans couldn’t seem to get enough of him – jumping, bouncing and dancing to his every beat and singing along until hoarse to the delight of the rapper.
MANILA, Philippines – “Manila, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
He may not likely be an avowed Nietzschean, but Armando Christian Perez, a.ka. Pitbull, seems to know the power of resiliency reflected in the quote of the German thinker. Currently on a world tour to promote his seventh studio album, “Global Warming,” the man who calls himself “Mr. Worldwide” addressed the crowd Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena. He stressed his reason for pushing on with his stop in Manila, despite the monsoon floods that debilitated many parts of Luzon in mid-August.
“In Miami, we’ve been hit by many hurricanes. When you fall, you got to bounce right back up,” the Cuban-American rapper said. And bounced the crowd did, as he led them along through a 60-minute set of Mexican-inflected party tunes: a mixture of dance, house, electronica, and Latino hip-hop. Frenetic beats, booming kickdrums, bzzaps, and oonce oonce – welcome to the sound of Pitbull.
The 8 p.m. concert started early by rock-show standard, which is an hour or two later. At 8:15, someone announced, “It’s time to party!” Before the Bull’s set, a Filipino-American-looking DJ regaled the audience. Armed with a laptop, console, and sound monitors, he spun house music over samples such as Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” adding layers after layers of synths and loops.
Perhaps discouraged by the lackluster reaction from the audience, who just sat munching popcorns and hotdogs as if they were watching a basketball game, the spinner went off the stage after less than an hour. A six-man crew came and whisked his instruments away. The people took pictures of the bare stage, shouting among themselves, “Ayan na si Pitbull [Here comes Pitbull]!”
One cannot simply blame them. Here, Pitbull is an anomaly. While some profess their love for his music, others see him as a “sell-out,” a charlatan, a “product” more than a talent.
“People asked me stupid questions, like ‘Pitbull, how come you don’t make music for the streets no more?’ I say, ‘I didn’t make music to stay on the streets, but to get out of the streets. I want to make music for the world,’” The 31-year-old former MC said.
Perez was referring to his past life. Like many Cubans deported by Fidel Castro at the height of his campaign to rid the country of citizens who didn’t believe in the communist ideal, his parents immigrated to the United States, in the city of Miami. The Bull broached the topic of exodus in his early records: 2001’s M.I.A.M.I, 2006’s Mariel, and 2007’s Boatlift. As a teenager, he hustled cocaine in the streets before finding rap music, his first love. The fledgling Tony Montana quit the “blow” for the beats.
He didn’t shy away from these truths, but showed them like badges, like scars from backyard brawls. “We’ll take you back to our city…Miami!” He sang “Welcome to Miami,” a true-to-form gangsta rap, an ode to his beloved city, where one can find “palm trees, blue skies, gangsta and goons/and where parties don’t stop ‘till the next afternoon.”
Listening to his song is like having a déjà vu; you know you’ve heard it before, you just don’t know where, which only means everywhere. Some tracks that rang a bell: “Don’t Stop the Party,” and “Hotel Room Service,” as well as “Rain Over Me,” his collaboration with Marc Anthony, “Dance Again” with Jennifer Lopez, “Give Me Everything” with Neyo, and “Party Ain’t Over” with Usher.
The Bull is fiercely proud of his Mexican roots, as exemplified in a smattering of his Afro-Latin rhythm-tinged hits: “Bon, Bon,” “Bojangles,” “Ay Chico (Lengua Afuera) and the immensely popular “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho). He spoke to the audience in pithy Mexican phrases. “Arriba, arriba, andale,” he said, like the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales. His percussionist, who hails from Venezuela, upped the ante by speaking in Spanish. He could be urging the audience to go wilder, to which the crowd responded with more cheers, pressing forward to the stage with their cameras.
Obviously, with all its references to blings, cash, and “b@#*#*s in the car,” hip-hop is a music genre not particularly feminist (unless it’s Mary J. Blige or Erykah Badu). Pitbull’s mass appeal contradicts this generalization. The ratio of women to men in attendance here–6:1. They cheered, danced, and threw their arms around, even those standing way up the General Admission Area. They were mildly intoxicated from the beer, wiggling in their high heels, glittery dresses, and plunging necklines. The place resembled a huge club with relentless dance music, complete with annoying bouncers who had a good time watching all the bouncing.
The coterie of musicians that propelled Pitbull’s hymns played tighter than an oil drum. The saxophonist went for a solo during their cover of — gasp — ”Eye of the Tiger.” I rooted for the bass player who played the Chinese scale riff in the song “Back in Time,” the original soundtrack for the movie Men in Black III. The portly bassist mimicked the cry of Ozzy Osbourne during the intro to “Crazy Train.” It was a cue for headbanging, but the song ended abruptly as it began, and more party music rattled off the speakers.
Thankfully, they used another sample: Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (To Party).” Seeing the boys on screen with the late Adam Yauch, who succumbed to cancer last year was a nice treat. For a while, it was the 90’s all over again.
“Thank you, Manila. This is Mr. Worldwide, checking out,” Pitbull said, bowing out of the stage. He flashed his trademark grin, that neat lip-curling thing. He felt grateful to the fans. He vanished in the dark amidst raining confetti and the barrage of smoke machine. The crowd was in frenzy. While I didn’t fight for my right to party before the Beastie song, I found respect for the Bull. You have to give it to him. The man’s got cred.
Originally posted at 7:59 p.m.