Pitbull wants the world to fall in love with his culture. First, the music. Next, the food.
Pitbull says he doesn’t want Cuban coffee.
Presented with a tray of Cuban pastelitos, croquetas and a fresh brewed colada meant to share, he demurs.
“If I drink café cubano, me pongo a volar ahora mismo. I’ll jump on this table,” he said in Spanglish, like any Miami-raised boy would. He never was a coffee guy, he says.
“I had too much energy. Abuelita would give me café and phew! El cafe for me is good in café con leche and to dip with a tostada.”
But then he sees the coffee uncovered. “No, now I got to take a little sip at least. Si me vuelvo loco, you know why.”
It doesn’t take much to entice Pitbull, the entertainer. The common saying in Miami is a party doesn’t get started until the first Pitbull song comes on.
If his music were tangible, it would be his first restaurant, iLov305, on South Beach (where else?), where the room is awash in color-changing LEDs, the bar top becomes a runway for dancers and the menu is filled with dishes from his youth at prices partying tourists will be only too happy (or too delirious or too inebriated) to pay. (Think $21 Cuban sandwich and $49 ropa vieja meant to be served family style.)
South Beach comes with a price (and a price tag).
That’s Pitbull, the businessman, the hustler. “I remember when they wouldn’t let me on Ocean Drive,” he says, laughing.
But Armando Christian Perez, the man, is the result of being raised by a village of tough women, in tough neighborhoods, who taught him to take on the world like a pit bull: “It bites down and doesn’t let go until it gets its piece.”
“I was raised by women. Women made me a man. That’s what I owe my whole success to,” he said.
His grandmother was part of Fidel Castro’s revolution, living in the mountains. An aunt was a political prisoner after the revolution revealed itself as totalitarian and his family denounced it. And his mother came to the United States alone as an unaccompanied child as part of the Peter Pan program, where desperate parents sent their children out of the country, alone, rather than have them raised under oppression. Many never saw their parents again.
“When you have that kind of adversity and perseverance, I don’t think anybody runs around feeling like somebody treated them a certain way, they just look for solutions. That’s what they taught me: No problems, just solutions. Hardworking,” he said. “And always about moving forward, no matter what.”
His mother, Alysha Acosta, is his “superhero.”
“Whether there was an eviction, if there wasn’t food, she would say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to figure this out.’ It became part of the journey, part of the adventure.”
As he snaps into a croqueta, this one from Cao Bakery, the new generation of Vicky Bakery, in South Beach, he’s taken back in time by this street food. He calls them the “best meal replacements” that remind him of growing up in poor neighborhoods — Allapattah, Wynwood and Little Havana — before anyone applied the words “curate” and “gentrification.”
“It’s a part of our DNA,” he said. “It’s timeless. It’s our soul food.”
Those neighborhoods — growing up shoulder-to-shoulder with immigrants with Spanish, Haitian and Jamaican roots — informed his tastes in food and his rhymes.
“In the song, ‘Feel this moment,’ when I say, ‘reporting live from the tallest building in Tokyo, long way from them hallways filled with zoes and oyes,’ those are little messages. It’s part of the code, part of the blueprint, part of the blood,” he said. “We learn from each other. That’s the real special thing about Miami.”
And when he recalls living for a time in West Miami, what he calls “one of the nicer” neighborhoods where he moved, he remembers lining up for churros and hot chocolate at nearby La Palma when the temperature drops below 60 — a sign of a true Miamian. The store owners remember he used to serenade the ventanita waitresses there.
“When I say I bleed Miami, I mean it,” he said.
But it’s not until a ground beef pastelito catches his eye that he proves he’s Mr. 305, first and foremost. He tears the top off, leaving only the bottom and a thin sheet of puff pastry covering the meat.
“And I hit that thing so I can get the meat quicker,” he says before taking a huge bite, making a yummy sound and pumping his arms like he’s at the club.
He sucks the sticky, glazed golden pastry off his fingertips.
“It’s a beautiful thing to give your culture to the world and have the world fall in love with it,” he said. “And what better way to do it with than music — because music brings everybody together just like food does.”