This past Saturday, I saw Pitbull live at Enrique Iglesias’s concert in Miami. As I watched him perform for about 40 minutes, I got reminded of a question that had been dwelling in my mind since Pitbull started gaining popularity in 2009. Is Pitbull owning his success to shamelessly stealing samples from older hit songs, or is there more to him than that? As the night progressed and the gig went on, I started forming an interesting (and somewhat unexpected — at least to me) perspective.
A New Style?
Sampling is nothing new, especially in hip-hop and rap songs. Mixing a nice, classic sample in one’s set has almost become a rite of passage for every self-respecting DJ. But Pitbull brings this to a new level. He is not resampling the original. Nor is he remixing or recording a cover version. He is taking (generously) inspiration from all the music he hears around him and creates a unique amalgam of cool-sounding motives, which he then layers over modern Latin beats and catchy Spanglish rapping. The result is almost guaranteed success.
What May Hold Pitbull Back
Pitbull has proven he has a “good nose” for smash hits — he can sense very quickly what is going to be hot and take full advantage of it. He has also demonstrated good skills in writing his own songs. For instance, the Give Me Everything collaboration with Ne-Yo and Afrojack does not feature any “borrowed” samples.
But there is one thing that may hold him back from true rock stardom. His sampling habits make him more of a producer and collaborator than a true performer. This became very evident during the gig in Miami this past Saturday. His set featured all the big hits in which he had been involved recently. But the set sounded somewhat disjointed and shallow. Pitbull was rushing through the samples, each song lasted no longer than 2 minutes. That is because he collaborates with at least one other singer on almost all of his hits. And, at the concert, he is forced to perform only his parts of the songs.
Unless he manages to bring all his collaborators on tour with him (highly unlikely), Pitbull has to develop more individual content in order to have a successful and fully-featured gig on his own. Until then, we’ll continue seeing him doing a great job as the fore-runner at other pop stars’ shows.
The Sample “Borrowing” Claim
Before I conclude this post, let me sort out the sample “borrowing” claim. I think it is no real secret to serious music fans that Pitbull has “used” some motifs in his hit songs that surprisingly resemble passages from famous songs performed by other artists. But for those who doubt, I have provided below two examples:
Example #1: Hotel Room Service vs. Push the Feeling On by Nightcrawlers vs. Hotel Room by Lord Kossity
Does the cool sax motif in Pitbull’s Hotel Room Service song sound very familiar? Well, don’t be surprised because that same motif was one of the reasons why Nightcrawlers reaped international success with their Push the Feeling On dance hit in 1992.
And what about that catchy “Hotel/Motel/Holiday Inn” lyrics? Think you may have heard them somewhere else before? Sure – there is this old-school hip-hop song Rapper’s Delight, recorded by The Sugarhill Gang back in 1979. You may have not been born in 1979, but I guarantee you that you have heard the song at least once in your life. Robbie Williams “borrowed” that famous line in his Keep On song from 2006. But my favorite pre-Pitbull reference to “Hotel/Motel/Holiday Inn” comes from Martinique-born French rapper Lord Kossity, who recorded his Hotel Room hit in 2007 (2 years before Pitbull).
Listen to the sax motif starting at 0:48 minutes in the Nightcrawler’s video:
Then fast forward to 0:40 minutes in the Lord Kossity’s video:
And then play Pitbull’s Hotel Room Service video below – sounds familiar now, doesn’t it?
Example #2: Bon Bon vs. We No Speak Americano
The second example is even more obvious. 55 years ago, Italian singer Renato Carosone co-authored a mix of jazz and swing, which had gained cult following since then. He called his catchy song Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’Americano. The song was given a new life in February 2010 when Australian duo Yolanda Be Cool and producer DCUP released a dancefloor-filling remix under the title We No Speak Americano. The song shot to the top of the charts all over the world, and Pitbull was quick to “adopt” the catchy motif in his upcoming single Bon, Bon, which was released in October 2010 (8 months after Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP).
For those who are curious, here is the original by Mr. Caronese:
And, if you need a refresher, here is the Yolanda/DCUP smash hit from last year:
Of course, the samples used by Mr. 305 (aka Mr. Worldwide) in his Bon, Bon song sound pretty similar:
What Is Your Impression?
What do you think about Pitbull? Do you agree with me that he is on to creating a new style in music? Or are you one of the skeptics accusing him of stealing glory by reworking old samples in his own hits?