Growing up in the 1980s in Carol City, a rough Miami neighborhood, Pitbull, then still known as Armando Perez, didn't think he'd make it out.
"Miami was the cocaine capital and what was going on around me I was 5, 6 years old, that's when your mind is a sponge," he tells CNBC Make It. "I seen what it did — you either in prison, dead or snitchin', so you might as well be a dead man walking."
And yet, the Grammy-winning rapper says he never lamented his situation. In a way, Perez admits Pitbull may have never been born if it weren't for his struggles.
"I always say that an oppressed mind is a creative mind, because when you have nothing you figure out how to make something, right?"
As a multi-millionaire recording artist who boasts brand partnerships with Bud Light, Dr. Pepper and Walmart to name a few, it would be safe to say he's made something. But even before all that, when he first tasted success in music and got his first $1,500 advance, he humbly spent it. He purchased a $1,200 1988 Mazda hatchback for his mom and saved the rest.
As the checks grew, his principles and mindset about money stayed the same: Never do anything just for the cash.
The revelation stemmed from a common greeting used among his friends when they called to see what he was up to.
"You'd say, 'Oh, I'm on this paper chase.' Then I broke down those words: 'a paper chase.' That means I'm chasing paper. If I'm chasing paper, the paper's gonna run," he realized.
The lesson helps him keep growing even now that the desperation to make it out of Carol City has melted away.
"It all depends on what you want to do and how you want to grow, but if you think money is going to make you happy you are completely, completely confused," he says, shifting to Spanish. "If you do it for the money, you are already screwed."
Pitbull stresses it's not just a lesson unique to musicians or artists, but anyone in any career.
"And I'm telling you this straight, if you do it because you want to, if it's something you believe in — in that company, in that culture, in that movement — then it's really a revolution," he says.
"You're never going to work again in your life because you have won your freedom."
— Additional reporting from Telemundo's El Poder En Ti
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