City Paper is not for tourists
“I’m too Latin for hip-hop, and too hip-hop for Latin/Until y’all figure it out, I’m gonna keep rapping,” Pitbull rhymes on “The Truth,” an interlude on his latest album, The Boatlift. The formula works, even if it confuses a few listeners and music-industry types: His 2004 debut was the best-selling bilingual hip-hop album since Cypress Hill’s debut in 1991, making the Cuban-American rapper a rare success among his Latino peers who’ve strived (and often failed) to crack the American market. So for the new album he sticks to his strategy of blending English and Spanish lyrics on a slew of club bangers, rhyming a blue streak over Miami bass and crunk tracks. That makes the album’s title a bit misleading: There’s not a single political message on The Boatlift about Cubans struggling to reach the M.I.A., just Pitbull polishing his lover-boy, go-get-her image with plenty of raps about models in bikinis, with assists from a plethora of guests including Trina, Jim Jones, and Twista. Revisiting the theme of his 2004 debut hit “Culo,” he joins fellow Southerners Trick Daddy and Fabo on “Dukey Love,” rapping, “I love the way you make the thing clap/Boy I gotta get me some of that,” over a track built on sirens and bass-heavy synths. Pitbull has made a few tweaks to his style: The Boatlift has more hardcore lyrics and a gruffer sound than his previous two albums, and the disc features far fewer collaborations with reggaeton stars in favor of what people are dancing to now. “Fuego,” for instance, wastes an opportunity to showcase the vocal chops of gospel-trained reggaeton star Don Omar, who gets only a brief verse on the track. But Pitbull hasn’t entirely abandoned his roots, and the tropical sound of his previous albums is there on the techno-flavored “The Anthem,” which features early booster Lil Jon (who produced a handful of the album’s tracks). Getting straight to the point, he raps, “I’m impatient/So do me a favor and let’s skip conversation.” There are also a few R&B ballads, like the slow-jam collaboration with Lloyd, “Secret Admirer,” and a piano-driven remix of his 2006 track “Tell Me,” featuring Toby Love. Between those songs and tracks like “Go Girl” and the weed-friendly “Sticky Icky,” the new album is proof of just how determined Pitbull is to play to the mainstream. He’s breaking little new ground, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if the tracks still sound just fine blasting out of a car stereo.