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Music as a means to an end: Pitbull’s pan-American Dale

The only surprise about the title of Pitbull’s ninth album is that it wasn’t used earlier. As Trent Reznor took twenty years to write a song called “Discipline”, Pitbull is only now naming a record after the catchphrase he’s persistently called out since 2010. Though I’m about as familiar with the Spanish language as I am with the finer details of plate tectonic theory, dale is an affirmative word which – at least in his hometown Miami –  translates as “go ahead” or “do it”. It’s a fitting nod to the self-made history of the man, and is also a floating signifier applicable to any circumstances requiring motivation. The universality of the word and its link to Pitbull’s international ambition is worth exploring further, but we’re here for Dale the album.

This is a stylistic break from previous releases; those anticipating another bunch of bangers are bound to feel let down. Spanish and English lyrics coexist as they long have, but here the former language is predominant. The 128 BPM club beats, rent-a-crowd chorus girls and ambulance siren synths have been traded in for less frenetic tempi and more spacious arrangements. Even the product placement has eased off (plugs for Voli, the Vodka company in which Pitbull holds a major stake, are conspicuously absent). A Pitbull song called “El Party” carries a certain set of expectations, but it turns out to be a third slower and a lot groovier than you’d think; the low, hoarse tones of Cuban singer El Micha make him an inspired choice of guest.

“Como Yo Le Doy” has the most memorable chorus here, and topped the Chilean charts a few months ago on the back of it. “If she’s texting me at this time, she’s looking for Richard, or should I say… DICK”, Pitbull hypothesises during the language-switching first verse. Little is left to the imagination, but that’s just part of his charm. “No Puedo Mas” makes its reference points blatant. Pit begins by declaring his intention to “take it back to the 80s!”, and in case we still haven’t been clued in, collaborator Yandel helpfully recites the chorus of “Don’t You Want Me”. Again, no points for subtlety, but the song gets by purely on surprise value.

There’s still a fair share of dross, however. “Chi Chi Bon Bon” passes by without leaving an impression, “Haciendo Ruido” is notable for the presence of Ricky Martin and not for much else, while “Hoy Se Bebe” might encourage OneRepublic to consult their legal team. Unfortunately these tracks are sequenced consecutively, striking a triple blow to the album’s momentum. But really, these strengths and shortcomings are of secondary importance to Pitbull’s marketing strategies. At this point in his career, the music is almost a means to an end.

 “Across the World”, the penultimate track on 2009’s Rebelution, begins with a mission statement: “It’s like these boys wanna make music for they hood, they city… I’m tryin’ to make music for the world”. For a man who had previously identified as Mr. 305 in tribute to his beloved Miami, this was a significant change of outlook. In 2010, Armando saw him courting Latin-American markets, following shortly after he stormed onto international top 10 radio. Its music was still doggedly mid-tempo dance pop, but the words were mostly delivered in Spanish. While the same language takes a leading role on Dale, this time the sounds follow suit.

Where Armando’s release only had a top 10 Usher feature to compete with it for attention, here he’s releasing an album in Spanish while concurrently promoting last year’s pop-focused Globalization. With Dale there are few attempts to create a knockout hit, because there’s no urgent need to. June saw the release of Globalization’s fifth U.S. top 40 single, “Fun”, while “Piensas (Dile la Verdad)” from Dale has been a hit in Spain despite barely registering elsewhere. That Pitbull was chosen to write the official 2014 FIFA World Cup song – “We Are One (Ole Ola)” – despite holding no Brazilian heritage is a testament to how strongly he’s associated himself with South America, and if sales are any indication (the single performed much better in Argentina and Colombia than the U.S and U.K.), the fondness is mutual. What emerges from this Billboard soup is that for several years, Pitbull has been crafting business plans on a global scale no contemporary of his would appear to be capable of matching.

The album cover image for Globalization is a world map taking the shape of Pitbull’s head. Tellingly, North and South America are the two continents on display. On the front of Dale he’s facing the camera sans trademark sunglasses for the first time since debut album M.I.A.M.I. His full name, Armando Christian Perez, is printed along the bottom. Though it’s tempting to dismiss these aesthetic choices as coincidental, they’re probably designed to build yet another piece of the sprawling Pitbull empire. We’ll find out in time. Giggle all you like at his relentless claims to the title of “MR WORLDWIDE!” (I counted seven), but the Dale Lama is close to fulfilling that vision. 

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