Entrepreneurs

A lesson Pitbull learned from Tony Robbins was vital to the artist's massive success

Pitbull at the eMerge Americas conference in Miami on June 12, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Pitbull at the eMerge Americas conference in Miami on June 12, 2017.

When Pitbull was a kid, life looked a lot different than it does now that he's a Grammy-award-winning artist. In the 1980s, he was just Armando Christian Peréz, growing up in a rough, crime-ridden part of Miami called Carol City.

"Carol City was a very interesting neighborhood and still is; they even tried to change the name (to) Miami Gardens," he tells Tony Robbins on a recent episode of "The Tony Robbins Podcast."

"I grew up around drugs, I grew up around abuse, I grew up around alcoholism," he says.

"I thought it was just everybody's normal," Pitbull tells Robbins. "As you start to grow, you look back and you go wow, wait a second. I was going through things at 5, 6 years old that I shouldn't have been going through."

But women in his family, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, helped him to focus on the right things. "Those are the women that built me — my grandmother, my aunt and my mother," he says, explaining that they would pepper him with questions about getting motivated.

"Do you see where you're going to be?" he says they would ask. "Do you see the opportunity you have in this country? Do you see how you can take advantage of this freedom that you have?"

While taking Pitbull to school in the morning, his mother would reinforce the message — by playing Tony Robbins' motivational tapes in the car.

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins and rapper Pitbull attend Pitbull's Star Ceremony on The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on July 15, 2016 in Hollywood, California.
Albert L. Ortega | Getty Images
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins and rapper Pitbull attend Pitbull's Star Ceremony on The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on July 15, 2016 in Hollywood, California.

"Believe me, I'm going to tell you Carol City style, the last motherf----- I was trying to listen to was Tony Robbins," he laughs on the podcast. "When his tape is in there, I'm trying to listen to 2 Live Crew, Poison Clan, you know NWA," rap groups popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"So I go to touch the radio — and anyone who knows my mother knows she is a tough cookie — she hit me 'bah!'" he says. Then, she asked, "Did you pay for this car? Don't touch my radio then."

"So I would listen to Tony on the way to school, and it would subliminally get to me," he says. One anecdote in particular, about Colonel Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken, really resonated.

When first trying to sell his recipe for fried chicken to restaurant owners, Colonel Sanders was rejected 1,009 times before someone said yes, Robbins writes in his book "Unlimited Power."

The sentiment of pushing past failure stuck with the rapper. "I'm thinking, 'Damn, it's hard for me to hear one no,'" he says. "If he can take on one thousand no's, create Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I like his chicken, I think this guy is on to something!

"So throughout the years, I started to apply the philosophy."

After getting started in the music business in 1999, Pitbull splashed to success with hits like "Timber" featuring Kesha in 2013, which has over 400 million streams on Spotify, according to Billboard. He has also worked to build an entrepreneurial empire, with deals that have included a fragrance line, a Latin hip-hop record label (co-founded with Sean Combs) and majority stakes in Voli Vodka and the Miami Grill.

For him, hearing the word "no" is just another motivator for success.

"People say, 'you can't, you won't, you never will,'" he tells CNN. "Those kind of things turn me on. 'No' is great. I love 'no,' because I know I'm going to get to a 'yes,' one way or another."

Criticisms only bolster his resolve. "I need people to tell me all the time, 'I don't think that's going to be as good as your last project,'" he tells CNBC Make It. "It gives fuel to the fire."

And he's learned a few other lessons along the way.

"I created slogans such as, 'There is no losing, only learning;' 'there is no failure only opportunities;' and 'there are no problems, only solutions,'" he says on Robbins' podcast.

Later in life, Robbins and Pitbull were introduced through mutual friends and formed a friendship. When Pitbull got a star on the Hollywood walk of fame in 2016, Tony Robbins was there.

"It goes to show you, it comes full circle," Pitbull says.

Don't miss: Tony Robbins: Only you can create the life you deserve—here's how

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