Pitbull Reps His Roots and Starts the Party at His New Tour's Opening Night

Mr. Worldwide joins Enrique Iglesias and J. Balvin for a night of booty-shaking excitement so unstoppable that even the sexagenarians turned up

Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull perform in New Jersey. Credit: Joe Papeo

Pitbull has declared himself Mr. Worldwide, but how about those ambassadorial skills? Though the 33-year-old rapper has become globally famous and wildly successful in the past five years of his 13-year career, he is not unaware of the disdain he can invoke in those who consider his gregarious, glossy club style too aggressive, rootless or – gulp – corny. But he also knows the charisma that draws the ire is his most valuable asset, and Friday night in Newark, New Jersey, at the U.S. kick-off of his tour with Enrique Iglesias, he sought to three-dimensionalize himself by filling in the blanks.

He began his show with his biography, literally: Giant screens projected a text of his life that could have been a Wikipedia entry were it not for personal flourishes: "His videos have over six billion views making Mr. Worldwide a walking television network" and "his generation-transcending music crosses all ages, races and cultures." It's not like he had to campaign for himself at his own concert, but the bio provided great context, especially when he emerged in a perfectly tailored black suit and sunglasses, to his band playing what sounded like the theme song to "Miami Vice." The screen flipped to a glimmering backdrop of his hometown's skyline, and hair-flipping dancers flanked him as he virtually cannonballed into his Toots and the Maytals-sampling pop hit "Don't Stop the Party," racing across the stage proscenium and thrusting his energy unto the crowd.

From there, he was non-stop. His band — which included two drummers on house-sized kits, a dude behind a rack of synths, a dude behind a laptop and a Rick Rossian bassist — played the familiar riff of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" before blending it into "International Love," which Pit executed with aplomb. Actually, the aplomb was a pretty consistent: Pitbull put in work, keeping up with his dancers and often incorporating himself into the choreography, whether performing his signature grind-from-a-respectful-distance or actually getting in on the moves. What other male rapper of Pitbull's renown incorporates himself into the choreography? 2 Chainz, perhaps, but not like this. Pit's dedication to his performance was unwavering, because what's the point of throwing a party if you're not going to participate in it?

Miami was a represented – and staunchly defended – throughout: "In Miami in the late Eighties, they used to make fun of us for booty shaking," he said, alluding to the recent scourge of bandwagon twerkers. "But they ain't doing what we were doing." An image of Luther Campbell flashed behind him, and Pitbull interpolated Luke's Miami bass classic "Doo Doo Brown" into his own "Move, Shake, Drop," his cadre of dancers executing the Dade County moves he taught the world on the 2013 AMAs. Trippy hexagonal visuals flashed behind him before flipping into a clip of another classic dancefloor jam: Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It."

Pitbull approached his show like the live version of a smart club DJ set, showing a deep understanding of the culture to which he's been integral. Gaps between his own songs were filled up, and blended into, a host of familiar hits — "Show Me Love," "Erotic City," even "Crazy Train" — so the beat never wavered and the stadium was never seated. I'd made the assumption that a row of sexagenarians were there for Pitbull's slightly sleepier, though no less dedicated, opener Enrique Iglesias, but during Pit's performance they lit up like a neon beer light in a college bro's dorm. Turn down for what, partying sexagenarians!

Pit's patchwork of influences flew in the face of self-proclaimed "poptimists" who scoff at him yet revel in any number of today's rootless appropriators and established him as an important keeper of the culture from whence he comes. He shouted out New Jersey, New York and Latinos, but he also repped Trini, Jamaica, Haiti and Barbados, always showing his pedigree as a Cuban immigrant in a hub of so many island cultures. He showed that he is the perfect manifestation of an American mainstream that is increasingly polyglot, promoting borderless-ness while celebrating all of our roots. In that sense, he acted as a more authentic representative of the United States than, say, half of Congress

During the set's peak, Pitbull did his remix of "Danza Kuduro," one of the most important Latino club jams of the past few years, and then played "Turn Down for What," his backup dancers blasting actual fire extinguishers into the air. It was so emotional — the audience collectively lost its mind, setting the stage for a one-two of his most enduring jams: The band took the flow from George Kranz's classic "Din Daa Daa" to "Shake," the forever-excellent Ying Yang Twins collab that sampled it, then into "Culo," both career-defining jams. A series of booties were projected across the screen, and Pit's backup dancers twerked – properly. It was pure rapture, and it forced a question: If Mr. Worldwide is so successful as a global ambassador, why not Pitbull for president? Dale!