By Daniel Siwek
Tramar Dillard’s mon-iker may immediately suggest he’s the amb-assador for the Sunshine State, but the confident and affable Flo Rida is busy traveling the world, either performing for stadium-size crowds or on millions of television screens.
His breakthrough song, “Low,” is still a staple at Bar Mitzvahs, sweet 16’s, and strip clubs everywhere, and the title track to his latest, Wild Ones (Atlantic Records), is the inescapable song of this long hot summer; it’s Top 10 on several different Billboard charts, from the Hot 100 to Rap Songs. Which points to another reason why his career is on fire—he doesn’t care on which charts his music shows up, so long as they’re hits.
Music Connection: You’re going from one international airport to another. How do you keep the pace?
Flo Rida: Yeah, I’ve been traveling nonstop. I’m off to London in a couple of hours, too. I’ll tell you, the fans and the support they give me is the helium that keeps my balloon going.
MC: What comes to mind when you think of your Groundhoggz days?
Flo Rida: I remember the anticipation of waiting to get out of school and go to the parking lot of my projects, where I would sit down to try to come up with lyrics and music. I remember getting ready for the shows we had to perform; you know, the whole hunger factor of getting out there and trying for a record deal. I also remember the first time I heard my voice in the studio, which made me nervous because it was new to me and it sounded weird. But I worked hard and their support helped me through the process of trying to become the Flo Rida that I am today.
MC: Can you tell us about your connection to 2 Live Crew?
Flo Rida: It’s an amazing story: I was out performing with the Groundhoggz and 2 Live Crew’s Fresh Kid Ice felt that I had what they were looking for in a hype-man, and so I took the gig and I got to go to Hawaii with them! What makes it even better is that I recently headlined a show with 2 Live Crew playing right before me; they’re still inspiring my music today.
MC: How did you get a manager?
Flo Rida: Fortunately, my manager Lee “Freezy” Prince is a guy who I worked with every morning unloading freight trucks. That was a great way for me to get money for studio time, but more than that, every time I would come back with a demo he’d be like, “Wow you really got something.” His brother Eric “E-Class” Prince started Poe Boy Entertainment and he would always tell him about me.
MC: Relationships is what it’s all about sometimes, right?
Flo Rida: Relationships can be like business or family or both. I can’t lie; it’s definitely a hard process to find a manager, because a lot of people may not have your best intentions. You have to read up, and I recommend having good relationships with other artists so they can help you through tough decisions.
MC: What do you have to say about handling rejection?
Flo Rida: You have to know that you will make it. You can’t have one doubt in your mind that you’re not the biggest superstar in the world. I was rejected by some labels too, but that didn’t detour my thoughts or anything like that because I always knew. A lot of people want to enjoy the icing on the cake, but can’t appreciate the whole process of making it; but you know what they say––no pain,no gain.
MC: Your music appeals to fans of hip-hop, pop and club music; do you see yourself melding genres?
Flo Rida: Correct. You know, growing up on music in the ‘80s, I loved watching the “Walk This Way” video with Run-DMC and Aerosmith. They showed how you can cross over into different genres and still come up with hot music to inspire people. Every time I create an album, such as Wild Ones, I’m always trying to fuse hip-hop with different genres, because I love to watch people’s reactions when I perform them in front of thousands of people.
MC: How do you stay true to hip-hop? Or does that even matter?
Flo Rida: I mean, it matters to the point that I couldn’t even be creative if it weren’t for that first element of hip-hop. But as far as hip-hop goes, I couldn’t create this magic without it; only I’m trying to take this music to a whole ‘nother height. And it feels good when people like Jim Jones, Jadakiss, and 50 Cent congratulate me for taking the music to another level and staying true to my creative side.
MC: You’ve appeared on American Idol and The Voice, which probably introduced you to millions of people, but do you worry at all about overexposure?
Flo Rida: Not at all. What’s amazing is that I went from being a fan of American Idol to performing on it. I was so nervous when I had to perform with J-Lo; I mean, it’s one thing to watch it on television but another thing to be there with all those people in the audience. And I do big shows with 50 and 70 thousand people, but knowing this is going out live, and you take a step back and think, “Wow I made it. I’m this big superstar people look up to.” I was really nervous, but everything worked out perfect.
MC: Do you notice a bounce in sales after one of these high profile appearances?
Flo Rida: Oh yes, a lot of times you look at the numbers on iTunes, you perform on American Idol and you see the change. I remember when I was on The Howard Stern Show and I was really nervous, but I wanted to connect with different people. I was very nervous because you know how wild it could get on Howard Stern. But again, everything worked out fine.
MC: Aren’t you also promoting and marketing yourself through giveaways?
Flo Rida: Oh yeah, I went to the Apple Store and told the fans that the first people to make it down will get iPhones and iPads. I mean it was just crazy. It was amazing to see their faces because it was like they couldn’t believe it was really me standing there and giving these things away. I like doing things on the spur of the moment. As much as I miss the days when we just watched tons of videos on MTV and everything, having a social network definitely opens up other avenues of promotion, getting the fans amped up and in touch, and supporting your career. I’m always on Facebook, Twitter, just letting the fans get to see things they wouldn’t get to see, like, the whole creative part of me in the studio.
MC: But you’re going beyond the occasional contest, tweet or blog. We saw that you’re giving out your cell number, and randomly calling up your fans?
Flo Rida: Some may see that as just another form of promotion, but I call that just being grounded. I recalled how I was a fan of other people, and thought about how amazing it would have been if I had the chance to have a moment with my favorite artists. So most of the time it’s just me trying to put myself in my fans’ shoes. I know that I wouldn’t get to do these things without them, so when people text me I’ll call them back if I have time. If I’m really getting into it we’ll Facetime, or I’ll call them up in the middle of the night, anything to show them my love and support.
MC: Back in the day it was all about selling tapes out of the trunk. What’s the new car trunk? YouTube?
Flo Rida: Selling CDs out of the trunk was very important, because you were literally handing people your music. I miss those days, and that’s why I take it to the next level by giving out my cell phone number. I think it’s very important to let the fans know that you’re in tune with them, and it’s not as easy as just coming up with music; you must be inspired and working every day and every moment. I agree that today YouTube is the new car trunk. I’m always excited to go on YouTube and watch new artists, nowadays; that’s the best way to find new artists to sign.
MC: Speaking of finding artists to sign, you’re the CEO of your own imprint now, right?
Flo Rida: Yeah, IMG, International Music Group. So far I’ve signed a couple of acts: I have a young R&B artist, Tyler Medeiros from Canada, who just came off the Pitbull tour with me. There’s also a hip-hop artist named Whyl Chyl. You know, I’m trying to offer an outlet for these guys, because I remember the days when I needed it. More than that, the label really started out of necessity, as an extension of my charity Big Dreams for Kids. You see, a lot of my friends wanted to donate their music for me to use for a compilation album for the charity, so that created a need for me to start IMG.
MC: How could an up-and-coming producer get a beat to you?
Flo Rida: A lot of people like to reach out to me on social sites and then shoot me an email, or when I’m just walking around or partying, people will just walk up and hand me a CD. And some people even text me. But I’ve got a lot of friends who’ve been sending me beats since early on.
MC: How do you know when you found the perfect beat?
Flo Rida: It’s always great when you have a great A&R staff. It makes it easier when you have people who are perfectionists in those areas of picking great productions.
MC: Can you walk us through your approach to writing lyrics?
Flo Rida: First and foremost, I have to be inspired by the track. I like to follow melodies before I start writing lyrics. On the new record, with 50 Cent people can hear me singing, so you can get that side of me as well. But it’s important when you’re rhyming that people can follow melodies. It goes back to the nursery rhymes; when you have a great melody people can’t help but fall victim to it. It also helps when you have great lyrics on different subjects. That’s also what a lot of labels are looking for in new artists, people who feel like a breath of fresh air with their subject matter. I feel that I’ve been creative when it comes to choosing the right choruses and the right subject matter.
MC: What should we know about your new album, Wild Ones?
Flo Rida: It’s really a good-feeling record. I wanted to give a message about having a positive attitude and believing in yourself, even when nobody else believes in you. You can accomplish a lot of things in life, you know; no one would expect me to do a record with Ms. Etta James, Sia from Australia; or working with 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, LMFAO. I mean, it also shows that I’m a versatile artist and I’m not stuck in one way of making music. I want music that stands forever and crosses barriers.
MC: What makes some collaborations work while others seem forced?
Flo Rida: A lot of times people are on a record just to be on a record, but I know it’ll work when I listen to someone’s record and I get goose bumps. When that happens, then I want them on my record as well, and I took that approach on every collaboration. The fact that I’m so versatile means that it’s always going to be a great match-up, especially if it’s with Latin artists like Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, or anything with rhythm; coming from Miami really helps with that being comfortable with different styles.
MC: You’re working with artists from around the world, what can you tell other bands and artists about approaching foreign markets?
Flo Rida: I wasn’t familiar with the whole inter-national music business, but my first record took me across the world. Then I had to sit back and say hey oh wow, it’s bigger than me just putting a record out nationally––you can take your music around the world now. I mean, I’m performing in places that most people never heard of, and for me it’s a two-for-one: I get to perform in front of fans that I love and I get to see the most beautiful places. It’s all about loving your craft and doing everything to be the best that you can be.
MC: Are you trying to give kids some music history by wearing those t-shirts with icons like Jimi Hendrix, etc.?
Flo Rida: Yeah, yeah! And even with my tats! My first tattoo was Jimi Hendrix. I got James Brown, Ray Charles, Tina Turner; I even got miss Billie Holiday, and Sammy Davis Jr. You now, we have to shoot the video for a song called “Let the Good Times Roll” where we’ll do a Rat Pack thing. I’m just thinking about it now, but I love my Sammy tattoo and, you’re right, these are the legends so I love to pay homage to them when I’m out. It gets me all amped up.