Rapper Flo Rida promises to bring the party to Macau and China

The American hip hop artist behind club hits such as Low and Good Feeling talks about his career and desire to expand and diversify his business – and Asia is as good a place as any to start

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 7:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 7:33am

Flo Rida is a musical chameleon, ubiquitous pop presence and the Mr Nice Guy of hip-hop.

The American rapper – best known for his 2007 debut smash Low – is set to play at the Pacha club in Macau on September 10. This, along with the China leg of his current tour, which also takes him to Guangzhou, Xiamen and Beijing, is something he says he relishes.

“I’m really looking forward to coming to Macau and China,” he says. “I love the people and culture.”

Flo Rida was born Tramar Lacel Dillard in 1979 in Miami, Florida, and says he feels he was “most definitely” destined to channel Miami’s spirit and create party music. The only boy and the youngest in a family of eight children, he was raised by a single mother in one of the city’s toughest housing projects, where he dodged trouble with a mixture of music, basketball – his first cultural love – and working out.

Flo Rida is a state of mind

Being raised in a household full of women, he has repeatedly said, gave him a natural respect for them, and his lyrics, although at times highly suggestive, are generally clean and uncontroversial – partly because his mother listens to them. The emphasis is on partying, with that tendency to refer to all nightlife as “the club”, as if there’s only one.

The party-starting extends to his music. A particularly melodic rapper, his music isn’t always strictly hip hop, drawing heavily from pop, R&B and a bit of EDM. It’s an approachable style that has helped him sell more than 80 million records worldwide; rack up more than 25 hits as lead artist, and more than 25 others as a featured artist; and amass four Grammy nominations and more than 20 million social-media followers.

Along the way he’s worked with the likes of Madonna, Taylor Swift, DJ Khaled, Ludacris, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Rick Ross. This diverse group of talent, most of whom with very little in common, show the rapper’s range.

From Flo Rida and Elvis Costello to Queen: 6 late-summer gigs you shouldn’t miss

His best-known tune remains his first, a dance-floor-ready Southern hip-hop anthem. Co-written by and featuring fellow rapper T-Pain, Low spent 10 weeks at No 1 in the US and broke records for digital downloads. His next hit was 2009’s Right Round, featuring vocals from Kesha and built around a sample of Dead or Alive’s high-camp 1984 classic You Spin Me Round. His imperial period for singles, however, came in 2011-12, when he had four consecutive monster hits: Good Feeling, Wild Ones, Whistle and I Cry.

During the same period he also found time to release four albums in just over four years – Mail on Sunday (2008), R.O.O.T.S. (2009), Only One Flo (2010) and Wild Ones (2012) – the kind of schedule artists faced in, say, the 1970s or ’80s, but is more or less unheard of these days. His latest album, The Perfect 10, has been about to drop for a while. Flo Rida says he’s “still working on its perfection; the world will know soon enough on the release”.

That rush to release material might have had something to do with the fact that he found success relatively late. After getting his start as a teenage hype man for the Miami outfit 2 Live Crew, he had to slowly work his way to the top. “At times it could be discouraging but I knew it would work out, just all at God’s timing,” he says. “I put my trust in him, having enough faith to know it would work out for me at the right time.”

In fact, in order to pursue music he chose to give up university, where he was studying international business. It wasn’t an obvious decision at the time.

“It was tough but I knew what I wanted,” he says. “Of course I’ve been tempted to go back to school but there’s a lot I still want to accomplish in music and, in the near future, film.”

He’s already had a foray into the movie world, as executive producer of 2014’s Secrets of the Magic City; an ultimately redemptive Miami-set tale of two sisters abandoned by their drug-addicted mother. Flo Rida suggests that a move into acting might be in the offing, commenting that his friendship with the film’s director, Malcolm Jones, “was the light of interest I needed to move into acting and film”.

Friends are something Flo Rida has plenty of. A rarity in the music world, he has never been involved in anything approaching a beef, and has taken communicating with his fans seriously since before the age of ubiquitous social media. He even used to publicise his own mobile phone number and encourage fans to call him – although he admits it’s possible he didn’t entirely think that one through.

“I’d get tonnes of calls, but a lot of them could not be answered with my hectic work schedule. I think social media has been a tremendous help, so when there’s downtime, no matter the time, I’m able to communicate with fans.”

Despite his down-to-earth approachability, he isn’t immune to stereotypical rock star excess. He is the proud owner, for example, of a Bugatti Veyron that he had customised – naturally, by getting it completely covered with gold.

Fortunately, he’s as good at earning as he is at spending, with a dizzying range of business interests and endorsements, including Beamz by Flo, a hi-tech musical instrument best characterised as a laser theremin; his own cardio workout programme Flo Fit and dietary supplement Flo Fusion; his own line of glassware; his own clothing brand; Speed Gods, a street racing app; and of course his own label, International Music Group, which has released music from artists including Natalie La Rose, Gorilla Zoe and Tyler Medeiros. He also has time to run his own children’s charity, Big Dreams for Kids. Brand Flo Rida is going places.

Flo Rida, Sep 10, 10pm, Pacha, Studio City, Cotai Strip, Macau, from HK$300. Details at http://bit.ly/2c1dGYb