I am sitting on a couch in the Atlantic Records office, trying and failing to have a conversation with Flo Rida. This is proving surprisingly difficult, because despite possessing flesh, blood, bones, a brain, the ability to look cool while wearing sunglasses indoors, and all of the other physical traits of a conventional human being, Flo Rida appears to be a robot who has been designed with the express purpose of answering interview questions in the most vague, benign manner possible. Beside us sits his bodyguard, who is snoring, because he has fallen asleep sitting up. No one finds this odd or distracting except for me, who cannot stop thinking about the fact that Flo Rida is so boring that people literally fall asleep in his presence.
Everything about Flo Rida’s physical appearance screams “Cool, Strong, Sex-Having Rap Man.” He is shockingly tall, with the frame of an NFL tight end, and has a shiny bald head. He wears black Versace sneakers, a necklace with a diamond-y Rolling Stones tongue logo pendant, a black motorcycle jacket from the high-end Los Angeles boutique Gregory’s, and a shirt from his own apparel line. He looks ageless, opulent, and vaguely tacky. In other words, he is his hometown of Miami in a nutshell.
That Flo Rida would one day be one of the biggest rappers his city has produced is perhaps predestined. At 15, he served as a hype man for 2 Live Crew, which means that Uncle Luke is basically his actual uncle. The lineage of booty-bass anthems stuck with him on his first hit, "Low," whose heroic T-Pain chorus detailing Apple Bottom jeans and the boots with the fur will ensure that Flo Rida's music will be played at weddings, bar mitzfahs, middle school dances, and wherever else benign hip-hop has a home, until the sun envelops the earth. His second hit, "Right Round," interpolated Dead or Alive's 1984 "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record Baby)" in the most ham-fisted, obvious way possible, and cemented Flo's status as a pop-rap force to be reckoned with. Though no one in their right mind would purchase a Flo Rida album, it's undeniable that Flo Rida makes hits. Twenty-seven singles in which Flo Rida is the lead artist have charted since 2007, and he has guested on 24 more charting singles. Statistics do not care that Flo Rida is never the most compelling part of any song he is on. Statistics only care that in his 35 years of existence, the man whose name is just “Florida” with a space in the middle has made 52 hit songs, which is (probably) 52 more than you have made. Clearly, he is doing something right.
I start our interview by asking Flo Rida about his new album, which is due out some time in early 2015. He says, “The name of the album is Perfect Ten, so we have to make sure every record is perfect in every way.” I ask if he’s going to continue rapping over EDM, which he did on the entirety of his fourth album Wild Ones. “I definitely want to implement that in my album,” he says, “because it’s been a success. You don’t want to stop something that’s successful.” I ask about the time he brought several scantily-clad women into a taping of Power 105’s The Breakfast Club. “You know, we were just promoting a record.” I ask about Beamz, a music-creation object that kind of works like a theremin, but with lasers. “We’ll probably have it in stores for Christmas,” he says, before going on to list the six other products he’s endorsing. (Which are, for the record: speakers, an energy drink, bottled water, a clothing line, a dietary supplement, a youth football league, and, because Flo Rida can bench press over 400 pounds, an upcoming workout program). Interviewing him is like trying to play a game of tennis with the Sarlaac from Return of the Jedi. You just lob shit at him, only to have it be subsumed by the jagged abyss.
Flo Rida’s magic secret is that he wears his insane, bordering-upon-total-ego-death anonymity like a suit of armor. He is actually an alarmingly adept technical rapper, capable of kicking double-time flows as well as Eminem or Machine Gun Kelly, but instead of rapping about killing women or erecting a meth lab in Ohio, Flo Rida raps about the type of things people who are really into, like, Carnival Cruises might find interesting. I.E., nonspecific partying in nonspecific iterations of “the club,” sex (non-explicit), being young/wild/free, and the value of working hard and accomplishing all you can.
Because he raps about essentially nothing, he works over everything, which is why Flo Rida’s list of collaborators throughout his career is comically diverse. He has no musical wheelhouse. He is a chameleon, a pawn in this Rap Game of Life, hip-hop’s answer to the nameless, faceless pop stars we know nothing about and don’t care to know anything about, a willing vessel for other people’s ideas. But oh, what a wonderful vessel he is. He’s tough-talked with Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne. He’s rapped over a Timbaland beat that sampled Bruce Springsteen, and he’s rapped on the remix of K-Pop megastar G-Dragon’s “Heartbreaker.” He was called in to provide a verse for Brooke Hogan’s“Rough Me Up,” which, for the record, is an electropop song by Hulk Hogan’s daughter about having aggressive sex. Birdman enlisted him to rap on a song where Fred Durst sang, “Every day is sunshine” over and over, and it was sweet. Most strangely, he made a weirdly decent reggae song with Nickelback (who are, if we’re being completely honest, totally underrated). Oh, I almost forgot “Running Back,” his Australia-only hit with Jessica Mauboy, which was the highest-selling Australian single of 2009. Flo Rida’s verses on all of these songs are totally interchangeable, and that’s what makes them all perfect.
But Flo Rida’s wheelhouse, if one were inclined to call it that, is EDM. He was one of the first to see the potential in rap/dance crossovers. “Low” clocks in 129 beats per minute, making it pure hip-house passed off as conventional pop-rap. He was the best part of Three 6 Mafia and Tiësto’s Sean Kingston-featuring 2009 single “Feel It,” which if it had come out in, say, 2013, would be an inescapable smash. Only One Flo (Part One), Flo Rida’s 2010 eight-song album that, with a running time of 27 minutes, feels a bit long, features “Club Can’t Handle Me,” a collaboration with the fantastically cheesy French house DJ David Guetta that proved to be a massive hit and provide Flo Rida with the governing principle that would come to define the entirety of his 2012 album Wild Ones: Rap. Over. Fucking. EDM. Wild Ones yielded four hit singles: “Good Feeling,” which is basically Flo Rida rapping over Avicii’s “Levels”; “I Cry,” which is about social responsibility (sort of); “Whistle,” which is about blowjobs, and “Wild Ones,” which is about nothing.
It seems that being inoffensive suits Flo just fine. Discussing his nice-guy public persona, he says, “I don’t give off negative energy. Besides, with the social media and everything like that, you don’t need no bad mouthing. You don’t want no lawsuits or nothing. I mean, even if you win, you still gotta pay some money.” So Flo Rida flies under the radar, conservative, offending no one while watching his money pile up.
Ten minutes in, I'm running out of things to ask Flo Rida. I ask him when he will stop rapping, to which he responds that he has a label called International Music Group that has signed Gorilla Zoe, who is perhaps most famous for being the dude who replaced Young Jeezy in the Diddy-created Atlanta rap crew Boyz N Da Hood, as well as making the song “Hood N—ga,” which remains one of the defining southern hip-hop singles of the 2000s. This is wonderful, because Gorilla Zoe is wonderful, but extremely puzzling for Flo Rida, who makes songs for the clubs and has zero concerns about maintaining any sort of street credibility. This is also awkward, because it turns out Gorilla Zoe has been sitting behind us the entire time.
After ten minutes more, I give up. Gorilla Zoe will tell me he thought I did a good job interviewing Flo Rida, which will make me feel good because (again) Gorilla Zoe is wonderful, but it does not change the fact that talking to Flo Rida for 20 minutes feels like a lifetime. This could be my fault, or his fault, or no one's fault at all. The short-form celebrity interview is a unique, extremely odd social contract—as soon as you switch your recorder on, you essentially get the right to ask a total and complete stranger whatever you want, and they are required to think of semi-detailed answers on the spot. This leads to a lot of bullshitting on both sides, because sometimes the interviewer knows nothing about their subject, and sometimes the celebrity knows nothing about the things they're being asked. If the reporter prods the celebrity in the wrong direction by asking questions that don't make sense, or questions that are too personal, and the subject may close up. Maybe they're having a bad day, or are distracted, and have no interest in talking to you about themselves. Maybe the reporter is awkward, or they make the celebrity feel uncomfortable, or maybe the celebrity just thinks the reporter a dick. Maybe the celebrity has been through rigorous media training, and has been taught to give bite-sized answers that leave no room for follow-up questions but technically provide a comprehensive, if not particularly controversial or interesting, answer to whatever the reporter wanted to know about. Besides, it's not an artist's job to be good at being interviewed, it's their job to be good at making music. Giving smart, insightful interviews may very well make someone care about an artist's music enough to give it a chance, but at the end of the day, an interview with someone like Flo Rida is an entirely fabricated experience. He's supposed to use my questions as an opportunity to promote the stuff he's going to promote, and my job is to get enough color out of him in between his plugs to have an interesting enough article so that someone might click on it and then share it, which will mean in the eyes of my bosses that I did a good job. Both Flo Rida and I understand this subtext innately. It frames the entirety of our interaction.
As I’m putting my recorder into my backpack and getting ready to leave, Ty Dolla $ign, Flo’s fellow Atlantic artist, comes into the room and says hi to him. They are, evidently, friends. What’s interesting is you couldn’t find more diametrically opposed forces in hip-hop than Ty and Flo. Where Flo is a relatively anonymous presence on anything he touches, Ty is a multitalented producer, musician, and singer who oozes personality and whose talents, coupled with his lurid sex tales, inspire rabid fandom. Still, their friendship weirdly makes sense; I can imagine them drinking Mai Thais in a Miami cabana, Flo Rida listening intently as Ty tells of his latest conquest, not saying too much in return. Sometimes people like to be the secondary guy, the one who goes with the flow. That’s fine. Flo Rida’s just made a career off it.
Drew Millard is Noisey's Features Editor. Follow him on Twitter.