Last year, the once mighty TVT Records filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and eventually shut its doors, leaving a number of artists in limbo. But for Miami rapper Pitbull, who signed to TVT in 2004 and released four albums on the label, the turn of events provided an opportunity to break free and prove his bite was as big as his bark.
First Pitbull released the Lil Jon-assisted track "Krazy" last October through the Orchard, the digital music distributor that acquired TVT. The song reached No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Pitbull's highest-charting single at the time.
He then signed a one-off deal with the independent label Ultra Records for the release of the infectious "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)." The track, which was licensed to the Fox show "So You Think You Can Dance," peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 in June. It was Pitbull's first top 10 on the chart, and it has sold 1.7 million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. ("Krazy" is his second-best digital track, with 808,000.)
As if that weren't enough, the rapper found a new home with Polo Ground Records, an indie label started by the A&R executive who had signed him to TVT: Bryan Leach. Pitbull will release a new album, "Rebelution," in conjunction with RCA Music Group and his own Mr. 305 label, Sept. 1.
" 'Rebelution' stands for a fighter. I feel like I've been fighting in music and creating new ways and new opportunities to make things work even when people thought it wouldn't," Pitbull, born Armando Perez, says of the set's title. "It also stands for situations within my family and all the political issues back in Cuba."
Pitbull worked with producer Jim Jonsin, who executive-produced the album, as well as Lil Jon, Collipark, Play-N-Skillz and Drop. Jon, Akon, Pharrell, T.I., Trick Daddy, Jackie O. and Jennifer Lopez are among the collaborators.
"Pit's the type of person that goes from city to city and picks up on what's hot and applies it to his music, so the direction on this album is ever changing and growing," says Jonsin, who has been friends with Pitbull for seven years. "There is realness about him that all people should have. If you have the time to get to know him, you love him. He should run for governor."
The album also features the follow-up single, "Hotel Room Service," which is No. 9 on the Hot 100 this week; "Call in the Wild," dubbed "an international soccer stadium record" by Leach; and "Blanco," which is featured in the recent "Fast & Furious" movie.
There is a narration on the album that gives the impression listeners are taking a tour of Miami-more uptempo, dance songs are introduced as representing South Beach, and other tracks stand for different neighborhoods. "It's a way to further show how I've been raised in Miami and why I have so many different musical influences," Pitbull says.
Leach says the rapper is a high priority for the label. "At TVT there was no marketing, so no one took the opportunity to showcase who Pit was. People knew his records, but not him. That's what I'm putting most of my energy into," he says.
An online contest for a "Miami-style makeover" will launch on Pitbull's social networking site, PlanetPit.com; the grand prize is a full spa day in the city.
Offline, Pitbull appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" July 16, is reading scripts for possible movie roles and going on tour starting Sept. 18. There's also a deal with Sony Latin to assist with crossover plans, including appearances on soap operas and hosting opportunities, as well as his label Mr. 305, to which he recently signed Cuban-American singer Niya.
"Our goal is to really expand and put Pitbull and his brand on the map. He's got records, but his artistry hasn't been displayed like we plan to," RCA/Jive chairman/CEO Barry Weiss says. "Pitbull has a rap sensibility but pop upside potential. The rap weight has always been there, but no one ever really tapped into his true pop potential. With 'Calle Ocho' being No. 2 on the charts, this just sets a precursor for some really big things."
And Pitbull is ready for just that-bigger and better. "My time at TVT was not a battle, but more so me beating someone else at their own game-being strategic and playing chess," he says. "It was a blessing. It feels like I went through four years of school of hard knocks and learned from it. I sat back, studied and learned, and when it was my time to strike, I did."