Wednesday, November 26, 2014

album review: 'globalization' by pitbull

I'm a little surprised I haven't done a full-length review of any of Pitbull's albums, or really given an opinion on him besides just in passing. Let's change that, shall we?

So, Pitbull. Miami-based rapper, started off in the southern crunk scene of the mid-2000s, he really hit it big during the club boom of the late-2000s, able to transition his limited wordplay with just enough charisma to take on the role of the club VIP. And for a while, Pitbull's continued success was mystifying to me, because not only was he racking up a respectable number of hits, he was also simultaneously restarting the careers of Latin stars like Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, and even Marc Anthony. And that's not counting hits he got with T-Pain, Chris Brown, Christina Aguliera, Usher, Ne-Yo, Ke$ha, the list goes on! Pitbull was like The Game of pop and EDM-flavoured hip-hop, the majority of his hits were on collaborations. And yet his lyrical content was so thin and interchangeable between track to track that it was baffling that he had managed to stick around even despite the complete implosion of the club boom.

Well here's the funny thing - I've actually been to a Pitbull show when he was on tour with Ke$ha - surprise surprise, he's actually pretty good live despite the majority of his collaborators not being with him - and I noticed something about his audience: they were usually older or European. And then his chart longevity started making a little more sense. Say what you will about Pitbull, but he does have charisma and a unique presence, and since he's so thoroughly entrenched in his own lane and is thoroughly bilingual, and one of his most distinctive lyrical traits is his love of travel, it makes sense he'd attract that kind of audience, who likely wouldn't be as fickle as a younger, more trend-following fanbase.

So okay, I get why he's stuck around, but does that make his material any good? Well for me, he's hit-and-miss, as he doesn't really compose album statements beyond heaps of radio-ready singles. So with that in mind, I figured it could be interesting to check out his newest record titled Globalization. What did we get?

Well, honestly something pretty enjoyable. And speaking as a guy who has placed Pitbull on multiple lists containing 'worst songs of the year', this is a little unnerving and only a little humiliating. But I'm always honest with these reviews and yeah, I'll admit it, I enjoyed chunks of Globalization by Pitbull. Now let me stress there are still major flaws with this record that are pretty damn hard to overlook, and if you haven't bought into what Pitbull's selling before, you're definitely not going to be on board for this, but there are definitely enjoyable songs on this album, even if the many, many directions the record takes makes it feel more than a little messy and thin at points.

So let's start with the instrumentation and production - and I'll say this for Pitbull, he's got a knack for decent melodic hooks that do have a certain amount of Caribbean-inspired flavour. He's at his best working with loose, lightweight party vibes that allow him to relax and bring a ton of upbeat energy. What's important to note is that Pitbull is not trying to play the 'boss' or a hardcore rapper by any stretch, and he knows that - instead, he wants to get everyone drinking and dancing so he can meet up with a hot girl and take her around the world for a night. And his songs work best when they stick to that admittedly simplistic principle. Chris Brown sounds better than he has all year on 'Fun' with the loose disco inspired pan flute groove, 'Fireball' brings in Spanish guitar, handclaps, and cowbell for John Ryan, the jazzy horns on 'Celebrate', the guitars and lightweight whistles on 'Sexy Beaches' that compliment Chloe Angelides reasonably well, and the pseudo-reggae vibe of 'Day Drinking'. Probably the best pure melody line on this album comes in on 'Wild Wild Love' with girl group G.R.L., which goes for guitar-driven folk for the hook that unfortunately doesn't fit at all with the fuzzy bass line supporting Pitbull's verse, but it's still damn great - mostly because it's openly lifted from Ke$ha's song 'Last Goodbye' from 2012, which Dr. Luke also co-wrote. Where this album stumbles instrumentally is when, hilariously, it tries to go for more modern hip-hop trends and neglects the melody. 'Ah Leke' with Sean Paul goes over this heavy bass with stuttering percussion, and yet it's nowhere near as fun because there's barely any melody, and 'Drive You Crazy' has reverb-saturated 808s that quite literally drowns the melodies. Probably the worst instrumental is on 'This Is Not A Drill' with Bebe Rexha, mostly thanks to the glugging, reverb-drowned synths, heavy drums and bass, and even hi-hats on the closest this album gets to trap, and it flat out doesn't work because it's too cold and dreary to match with Pitbull's more upbeat flow and delivery.

On that note, let's talk about Pitbull himself - probably the best part of this album. Now you don't need to tell me that he's not a great rapper by any stretch of the mind: he repeats punchlines and his catchphrases to the point of meaninglessness, his references to sex are often flat-out ridiculous and often step over the line of sleazy, and he drops references to better rappers more often than he ever should. What gets perplexing is that for a rapper, he shows off more dexterity with his flow and style that implies that if he was less interested in having a good time, he could actually do something more here. His imitation of Run DMC's 'Walk This Way' flow on 'Fireball' was at least interesting, and he does switch up his flow enough to show some versatility as a rapper, and his technical rhyming skills have actually improved. And you know, you could definitely make the argument that the empty calories that encompass all of his content does seem like a waste of his talents, especially when there doesn't really seem to be a lot to Pitbull. He basically has one of two modes - having fun at the club, or picking up chicks for sex at the club, and outside of the odd grabbag of pop culture references, there's isn't a lot beyond that. Hell, the inclusion of his World Cup theme 'We Are One' with J.Lo and Claudia Leitte is basically just another club party jam, which is probably why Shakira's football jam 'Dare (La La La) usurped it and outsold it on the charts.

And yet here's the odd thing: the guy has personality and charisma, and his love of travel and self-awareness surrounding how much he doesn't fit into the modern rap scene does set him apart. The fact he's worked with Lil Jon in the past makes complete sense, because it's another case of personality making up for unique ideas. It helps that Pitbull does his absolute best to sell how much goddamn fun he's having, and he's working his ass off to make sure everyone else has fun too, especially the women. And it elevates songs that really aren't much beyond your standard party jam -'Time Of Our Lives' shows him reunite with Ne-Yo for a song about getting a moment of respite from the daily grind with the acknowledgement that everyone is going through rough times, even him, and though he doesn't really describe them, he can sell that weariness surprisingly well. 'Sexy Beaches' is about no consequence beach hookups, and 'Day Drinking' is exactly about what it sounds like and it's played with the same lethargic kickback vibe that Little Big Town oversold so much on their most recent album. Hell, on 'Wild Wild Love', Pitbull tries to drop into his pickup mold with all five of G.R.L. and he doesn't know if it's possible that he could handle all of them, but damn he's going to try. And what redeems him is the way he sells it - there's ego, but it's not overdone or forced. He's looking to get laid, sure, but he's also looking for them both to have fun, and the fact that he is trying hard does redeem some of the sleaze - maybe it's his lightweight production or charisma, but it's hard not to root for the guy or at least respect his hustle. That said, the overload of sexual double entendres on 'Drive You Crazy' does get absolutely ridiculous and more than a little gross, the attempt at a baller attitude on 'Ah Leke' was surprisingly varied if completely unconvincing, and I'd argue 'This Is Not A Drill' was played a little too seriously.

In other words... okay, the question becomes why this album was made, and what its purpose was, because it's hard to say this album fails when the only thing it was trying to do was create a high-energy dance vibe to produce a nondescript 'good time' at the club. By that low standard, Pitbull actually does a pretty good job in that environment, and I could believably make the argument that he is slowly becoming a better rapper from a technical perspective. Do I wish he showed more detail or told more of a personal story? Yeah, but I get why he doesn't, in order to maintain that global appeal. This album's goal is to be lightweight, disposable fun in the barest possible way, and I'm not going to lie and say it doesn't accomplish that. That said, when you aim for that standard, I can't exactly say you get a world-class project here either, and the real duds on this album leads me to give Globalization by Pitbull a 6/10. If you're a fan or looking for some decent disposable pop rap, give it look. Otherwise... eh, it's Pitbull. At this point, you know exactly what you're getting. 

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