Is Pitbull Stealing Samples or Creating a Whole New Style?

Pitbull on the Stage at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami (Oct 22 2011)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?

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21 Responses to Is Pitbull Stealing Samples or Creating a Whole New Style?

  1. Interesting post. To be honesst, I think there is a big difference between the samples used in hop-hop by, for example De La Soul, who would “borrow” lots of pieces and blend them together to make a new track as opposed to Putbull who just rips off as many catchy tunes as he can fit into one song. Push the Feeling On is a classic and Pitbull knows that his audience (mainly teens) may not remember it and so can pry on their naievity as they flock to the shops to buy an amzing “new” track. The only style Pitbull has is knowing what will sell. Hip-hop used to be about producing authentic tracks with clever lyrics. When Pitbull gets a bit older and looks back at his career he may well be able to say that he made millions and gained chart success but he will know deep down that he will never in a million years be remembered aongside artists such as 2Pac, Biggie, Nas, Ice Cube and Mos Def – the true greats of hip-hop.

    • Emil_M says:

      Thanks for the comment! I agree with you that Pitbull’s rip-offs are nowhere close to pure sampling. He is not even mashing up. His talent is in hearing a tune and stripping it down to its catchiest components and then repackaging that into his own stuff. I know that to music “purists” like you and me that may not be something to be proud of, but c’est la vie, I guess. I still think he might be on to starting a new style — this style may not necessarily be something we like, but I am sure tons of teenagers would like it. And with smartphone apps that make music discovery so easy, I can only imagine how multitudes of music wannabes will be taking heed from him in unearthing somewhat forgotten catchy motifs and re-bundling them into their own songs, adding the occasional distinctive rap line in Spanish, English, Spanglish, or whatever other language they deem cool for the song.

  2. Very true, couldn’t agree more

  3. When it comes to borrowing samples and being able to blend them in such a way to make them seem like a new edit, I would have to point out Paul’s Boutique by Beastie Boys. What Pitbull does is nothing more than talking over an already produced and mixed arrangement. It explains why he is able to release music so quickly. There is not “process” in the studio to try and develop an album that is expressing a real passion or any real feelings. He is basically a commercial jinble writer at this point as well.

    • Emil_M says:

      Kenny,

      Thanks for the comment. Your thoughts are right-on with my overall sentiment. I definitely don’t take Pitbull too seriously and will be hard-pressed to categorize him as a musician.
      I think he has always been the front-man equivalent of a party DJ who mixes happy beats in a club on the beach. No real production going on, just mere sampling…

      Cheers,
      Emil

  4. Danny Cabinatan says:

    Well, he was tapped by P Diddy, or whatever he goes by nowadays, to run the Latin side of Bad Boy Productions, so it’s no wonder that he has P-Diddy’s influence to do nothing but sample other people’s music and just talk over it.

  5. rafael says:

    Google search, “Does Pitbull have an original beat”? literally brought me here. I saw a documentary on Pitbull and learned that he was originally a rapper with real flow. However, he was not hitting with his own music so he sampled the “Welcome to Atlanta” song and that was when he began getting noticed. Makes me think that he would have never came up if he didn’t sample. By the way, most of his lyrics in his songs are LITERALLY gibberish and cheesy. Despite that, he does have a keen sense for good beats that can become a hit if introduced to a bigger audience.

    • Emil_M says:

      Hi Jimenez, good comment. Thanks for contributing. I have also listened to some of Pitbull’s older (and more original) stuff. He was indeed an original rapper, but I guess he was smart to spot the short cut to fame and riches by sampling… His lyrics are gibberish and cheesy, but as my ex-girlfriend once said, “Well, they are crap but catchy.” She was very right, I guess.

  6. Jocelyn says:

    This last one from Pitbull has me up in arms. In his new song “Feel This Way” he teams up with Christina Aguilera, (who I adore, don’t get me wrong). But did he learn NOTHING from Vanilla Ice? Changing one note does not a new song make. Now I understand that most of the younger generation doesn’t even know what the 80s are, let alone the glory that is a synthesizer. But there is no way I’m not going to notice TAKE ON ME by the wonderfully stenciled A-Ha under nonsense rapping and disconnected warbling from everyone’s favorite diva. Boy, Please. When I first heard the song on the drive home one day I was stunned. This was clearly a beat I knew and could place, even though the radio DJ proudly announced the NEW single. It wasn’t until I found it on youtube and really listened that I realized that Pitbull had changed a note (a la “Ice Ice Baby” and yet another 80s heavy weight The Police) in the last phrase of the very iconic power ballad. Its a long string of “sampling” he does that just really ticks me off. If he was a DJ and was promoting it as a remix or mash up with credit to the original song I would have no problem. But he goes around like this is all from his mind and its infuriating! It sickens me that he can make millions stealing other peoples work while true artists who have original and innovative ideas struggle just to break on to the scene. You cannot get away with this level of plagiarism in academia or even art without serious repercussions and really it should be the same with music. Yes, appropriation is out there and I will not deny that it happens all the time. But I am astounded that no one has truly called him on this egregious habit.

  7. Emil_M says:

    Hi Jocelyn, thanks for your comment. Very interesting thoughts — I agree with much of what you are saying in your comment. I am also stunned that no one has publicly challenged Pitbull for all the generous sampling of dance and pop songs from the 1980s and 1990s. I think he is mostly relying not only on the fact that the 1980s sounds like ages ago to today’s teenagers, but also that many of the songs he is appropriating were bigger hits elsewhere in the world than in the States. If he acknowledged where all the samples came from and expressed his respect for the artists he had sampled, then I would have held him in great respect myself — because he would be that needed celebrity who keeps the memory of some of the golden hits from the past alive. But, alas, he is not doing this — presenting everything as his own “brilliant” and “ingenious” work. Which is why I started this blog post and am glad to hear that I am not alone in pointing out that the “emperor’s new clothes” are fake and the emperor is in fact naked.

  8. charallday says:

    song FUN that he has with CHRIS BROWN is NOT Gloria estefan…while it is 80s, it not CONGA …..IT is the JACKSONS (jermaine and Michael ) Tell me im not dreamin (too good to be true). Pitbull has always done this. With the exception of his first album(culo was sampled by a Jamaican artist but over there they just see it as showing love) so they didnt make a fuss…..I still have it and thought he was awesome but by the time his second much like his hair was gone…..never to be back. The difference between sean(diddy) and Christian(pitbull) is that its business with him… any sample. He has ever used, he gave credit for. Pitbull simply doesn’t and makes like that his new ish…. when I heard the chorus(hook) to the song I add tarted singing..”tell me im not dreamin”.Even showed my children sense they think anything they do is origi nal. Then took them to austinmahone …showed themthe original song….new new (was a huge hit in 89-90). Then went back through every song that was a hit because if the original. And much like when u tell ur kids whats really in hot cheetos….they slowed they’re fascination with mr.305. He used to be handsome too.now he looks like the oldhead in the clubs trying to speak to all the young girls.LOL

  9. At the end of the day , Pitbull is Pitbull, and a Pitbull track is a catchy track made exactly for what it is: a good time, a party time, a club time, a beach time, a catchy tune, a fun time. And the truth is, we need ALL kinds of music. This one does its job and feels in the gab and does great in doing so. He knows, and we all know he will never (or so far) be considered a classic, a legend ,a rock star, but decades from now we’ll be jaming to 2010’s dance ‘classics’ as a retro track at, again, a party. Great article. Agreed.🙂

  10. Peter says:

    The ‘flute-sample’ in the song FUN was used in an old (80’s 90’s) hiphop-song.
    I cannot figure out which song that was, but I know it for sure.

  11. Youri says:

    I think he is just stealing beats from other artists that have done well in the past. So many tunes are familiar to the music my parents used to listen to when I was younger. My opinion; he is a fraud that is smart enough to manipulate the music branch of today.

  12. Pingback: Is Pitbull Stealing Samples or Creating a Whole...

  13. Excellent write-up. I certainly love this site. Thanks!

  14. Jay says:

    Obviously real talent is not his best trait. It doesn’t require much talent to come up with material when you have the catchy tracks. Credit must be given to him, he saw an opportunity to reach success without much talent, and he is milking it as much as possible. Remember, just because you are famous, doesn’t make you talented. As we see the successful Kardashians, and remember “Jersey Shore”, zero talent but huge success. It is obvious we have lowered our standards. Guess the joke is on us, we are the ones worshipping these people, If they tried such things 20 years ago, they would have starved to death. My, how sadly that times have changed, for the worse.

    • Sue says:

      But the remade/sampled REO Speed wagon song now called “Messin Around” is fantastic, fun, upbeat, catchy! He is very talented at finding the best bits of these songs and making them new and fun. His performance with REO Speedwagon on ABC this summer was electric. Google it and tell me that you don’t love what he did with that song.

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