Interview with Pitbull about Men in Black 3

International superstar Pitbull owes his break in the movie business to his raw talent, his global status and his razor-sharp lyrics. Oh, and he also owes a debt to a teenage girl.
“It’s true,” laughs the 31-year-old rap star. “The Men In Black director, Barry Sonnenfeld, asked his daughter, ‘Do you know this Pitbull guy?’ and she was like, ‘What do you mean, do I know Pitbull? Are you crazy? You’ve got to work with that guy!’”
The music sensation smiles: “Barry’s daughter was a major player in this.”

Much to the delight of Chloe Sonnenfeld, and millions of fans around the world, Pitbull delivers the signature track for the blockbuster movie MIB 3, the latest installment in the billion-dollar franchise that sees Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (and now Josh Brolin) protecting the earth from the scum of the universe. The song is called ‘Back In Time’ and it is a beat-laden slice of hip-hop infused with soulful groove and an uplifting, slick pop melody.
“I grew up loving the Men In Black movies and Will Smith is always someone that I’ve enjoyed watching,” continues Pitbull, who was born Armando Christian Pérez. “I’ve also admired what he’s done with his career, becoming one of the world’s biggest movie stars, but also an entrepreneur on the business side in Hollywood. So to be involved in Men In Black was a win-win situation.”
Pitbull says that when the studio behind the film series approached him, they only had one major stipulation. “They said they had a slogan for the movie, which is ‘Back In Time’, because in the movie they go back to 1969,” explains Pit. “They wanted me to take something from that era and modify it, so I went to a couple of producers that I work with and they came back with a great sample.”
Pitbull’s ‘Back In Time’ samples the onetime hit single ‘Love is Strange’ by R&B duo Mickey & Sylvia.
“It has been used in major motion pictures before, like Dirty Dancing and Casino,” concedes Pit, “but I knew the mark that record left on everybody. As soon as they hear it they know it, especially the guitar riff. So then it was a case of finding the right beat and arranging it. So that’s what we did.”
The ‘Back In Time’ video has already racked up millions of hits on YouTube and on Pitbull’s own site. “For Will Smith to approve me, while he is protecting his brand and the Men In Black brand, is a great honour, a blessing,” says Pit.
“I was a fan of Will’s music, especially ‘Summertime’ and ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand,’ and he was the first person on the hip-hop and rap side to bring home a Grammy. Will has totally maximized his potential in what he does, and on our end I think we’re trying to do the same.”

Indeed, the worldwide phenomenon says that he sees Will Smith’s evolution from musician to movie star to international producer as a path that he would like to follow. “We want to use music to create other opportunities, also on the acting side and the developing side,” Pitbull says. “I had to get the music right to get to this, but look at Will: he went from music to a TV show and TV show to movies and he did it in a very interesting way.”
A truly global star, Miami-born Pitbull has already chalked up six studio albums across eight years, along with his many collaborations and his ‘Money Is Still a Major Issue’ remix LP. He also has the ‘Global Warming’ album set for release this fall, which will feature a collaboration with the Colombian pop princess Shakira, singing in English once again.
His move into movies, too, is no flash in the pan. He cites Pacino and De Niro as his favourite actors, and Scarface as a prime contender for his best-loved movie. “I grew up around all of that, Tony Montanas by the dozen,” he says. “We would watch Scarface and be like, ‘Okay Tony’s cool but Sosa is the man!’
“There’s going to be a lot more interesting stories coming down the pipeline from Miami,” he adds, “and not necessarily all criminal. I’m here to tell stories that haven’t been told and to be a part of them whether I am in the movie, or producing the movie or funding the movie.
“I’d like to tell stories that have a lot to do with my family background and the way I have been raised,” continues the music superstar. “It’s like the Italians have done with the Mob movies. That is like the blueprint, but I’d like to flip a story from different perspectives, like Guy Ritchie does. For me it’s all about the journey.”
Pitbull’s journey is carrying him to ever-dizzier heights, and he owes his success to his raw talent, his huge self-confidence and his truly international status. Oh, and don’t forget, he also owes a small debt to a certain teenage girl.

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Quick Q&A with Pitbull:

Were you a fan of the Men In Black movies before signing on to record the theme song?
I grew up watching the Men In Black movies and Will Smith is always someone that I’ve enjoyed watching. I’ve also admired what he’s done with his career, becoming one of the world’s biggest movie stars, but also an entrepreneur, on the business side in Hollywood. So to be involved in Men In Black not only the movie, but the business and the franchise, is a win-win situation.

How did ‘Back In Time’ come about?
‘Back In Time’ came about because Sony called me up and asked me whether I’d be interested in doing a song for MIB 3. I said, “Absolutely.” They said they had a slogan for the movie, which is ‘Back In Time,’ because in the movie they’re going back to 1969. They wanted me to take something from that era and modify it. So I went to a couple of producers that I work with and they came back with the sample, “Love is Strange.”

It’s a great sample…
It is a sample that has been used in major motion pictures before, like Dirty Dancing and Casino but I knew the mark that record left on everybody. As soon as they hear it they know it, especially the guitar riff. So then it was a case of finding the right beat and arranging it. So that’s what we did; we went back to the studio, which loved it. Barry Sonnenfeld, the director, asked us to flip up a few words here and there, and here we are. And Barry’s daughter was a major player in this, too. He asked her, ‘Do you know this Pitbull guy?’ and she was like, ‘What do you mean do I know Pitbull? Are you crazy? You’ve got to work with that guy!’ So us pushing on one hand, and her pushing on the other, it worked out.

If you could go back in time where would you go?
I’d go to the 1980s baby, Miami! ’80 to ’86 and lose my goddamn mind for sure! Everybody I speak to about the ’80s, good friends of mine, I always ask them, “Man, tell me the stories, tell me the stories,” and they’re like “Man, I just don’t remember stories.” That’s why we say: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and what happens in Miami, never happened.”

Were you a fan of Will Smith’s music when you were growing up?
I was a fan of Will’s music, especially ‘Summertime’ and ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand,’ and he was the first person on the hip-hop and rap side to bring home a Grammy. I’ve been a fan for many years, though as you grow you obviously like other music. But more than anything I’m a fan of him and what he’s done, so to be involved in this is like the passing of the torch. For him to approve me, with him protecting his brand and the Men In Black brand, is a great honour, a blessing.

Do you have any fond memories of meeting or working with Will on MIB 3?
We didn’t talk business at all when I met Will; we just chatted and admired each other’s careers. There was no talking about MIB 3 or anything like that. What I did hear that was that when they mentioned, ‘Hey, Pit is interested in doing the soundtrack,’ he said, ‘I’m very excited for that.’ He said he was a big fan, and early on when we met at one of the Sony executive’s house he was like, ‘What’s up, Pit?’ I was like, ‘You know who I am? Wow.’ That was definitely a big moment.

Will Smith broke a lot of boundaries. Do you feel primed to do the same?
Will totally maximized his potential in what he does, and on our end I think we’re trying to do the same. We want to use music as the blueprint to create other opportunities, also on the acting side and the developing side. I had to get the music right to get this, and it’s all going to hit at one time, by the time I am 35. I am 31 now, so by 2016 it’s all coming together. I mean Will Smith is a blueprint, he went from music to a TV show and a TV show to movies and he did it in a very interesting way.

What are the secrets to writing a great song?
The secret to writing music is the same secret as with acting: just do it, feel it, feel what comes to you and don’t look for it. Acting is the same thing. You become that character. And the best thing is that I have got the best creative tool on my side, which is the world. When I travel the world — it’s like the movie, is it Johnny Five [it’s Short Circuit] with the robot in it that says, ‘Need input, need input?’ That’s the way I look at the world. And as the records grow people have gone from hearing the records to listening to the records. That’s been an important change. When I put stuff down it’s my life — I’m just looking for witty metaphors and double-meanings.

Who are your movie heroes?
Al Pacino and De Niro, they’re amazing actors and Will Smith is up there. But right now his time is coming; Ali took Will Smith to the next level as an actor. I have loved to watch Tom Cruise grow from the 1980s onwards. But Pacino and De Niro are the greatest, for me.

Do you have a favourite Pacino movie, Scarface maybe?
One of my favorites is Scarface. I lived it. I grew up around all of that, Tony Montanas by the dozen, you know? We would watch Scarface and be like, ‘Okay Tony’s cool but Sosa is the man.’ There’s going to be a lot of interesting stories coming down the pipeline from Miami, not necessarily all criminal, because Miami is a real international melting pot.

What would you like to develop, film-wise?
I’d like to tell stories that haven’t been told and to be a part of them whether I am in the movie, or producing the movie or funding the movie. The movies I’d like to make have a lot to do with my family background and the way I have been raised. It’s like the Italians have done with the Mob movies. That is like the blueprint, but I’d like to flip it from different perspectives, like Guy Ritchie does. For me it’s all about the journey.

Who would be your ultimate icon?
Celia Cruz. She was like the Queen of Cuba! She passed away but she was amazing. She was a global artist but money did not touch her, didn’t phase her. She just moved people and they respected her. She and her family went through a lot in Cuba when the regime took over. She is the epitome of what I would like to be as a person. And once you are a person then you can figure out what you are going to do professionally. She was the foundation.

MIB 3 is in cinemas now.