At the start of the new millennium, Flo Rida, the Carol City, Miami native born Tramar Dillard, started hustling mixtapes with his crew, The Groundhoggz. His grind caught the attention of 2 Live Crew's Fresh Kid Ice and soon he was touring the world with him. Through a close friend, he linked up with Devante Swing of Jodeci and spent a couple of years in California under his tutelage while searching for a deal. Then all of a sudden, his fellow Carol City native Rick Ross jumped off and Miami called. Flo Rida reluctantly returned home in 2007, joined Poe Boy records and was soon signed to Atlantic Records. In 2008, he took the world by storm with his debut album Mail on Sunday, fueled by the mega-hit single “Low.” Now in 2009, Flo Rida holds the first, second and third place records for most one-week digital single sales. HipHopWired caught up with Flo Rida to talk shop about his latest opus R.O.O.T.S. (Route of Overcoming the Struggle).
HipHopWired: When did you realize that you had hit the big time?
Flo Rida: For the most part, different ones had to come and tell me like, “You don't know how big you are.” It was crazy. Just going to Japan, the people there, I can't even conversate with them but they know the music. That was like real crazy. Then going to Germany and headlining like 50,000 in Denmark and Sweden, it was just like amazing. So I took my video camera on the road with me and captured a lot of that. And then being able to go to Africa, I went to Nigeria, did the MTV awards there. Opened and closed the show and to present an award, that was like real big.
HipHopWired: You've mentioned that your trip to Nigeria inspired your artistic direction. How did going to Africa impact your perspective?
Flo Rida: Just the fact of going on the plane and seeing nothing but Black people on the plane with you, landing there and seeing how far people walk just to get to their destination whether it's just to get food on their table, walking around with baskets on their heads and don't have automobiles and sometimes I think when I'm back here at home, people might complain just to catch the bus. They wish they had a bus over there, and things like that. So I took the initiative to not just be a part of the MTV situation but go out and visit the art culture area where they had the different art and they had these big vehicles like buses where they would make animals and birds and things out of so they was really into that. I took pictures with people, and to just touch the soil with my hands for the fact that this is the place I dreamed of coming to and to have my music take me there was a blessing.
HipHopWired: What do you enjoy the most about being a recording artist?
Flo Rida: I mean, I just enjoy putting a smile on my fans' face everywhere I go. Everyone loves me, they love my humble attitude and everything. So that's what really counts with me; that I touch people in a way where they feel like I'm down-to-earth and everything cause I don't want to be looked at as the person who thinks he's above all, because I come from nothing and I thank god for the situation. So if I could bless someone by shaking a hand and signing an autograph, it's all good. I feel like just being able to sell records is all good but at the same time, you need to be able to still have your people, your fans, loving you for you.
HipHopWired: This album has more social commentary on it as opposed to just party and club records.
Flo Rida: I definitely see it. This album's representing that because at the same time this album has cuts that have substance versus my last album along with the big party records, it's definitely going to show a whole different side of myself and have a new thing to the game… Me and my managers think about how we want to do this. It just worked out being a blessing because it's a challenge for me recording and singing internationally and trying to get in the studio and everything. I just did a bunch of records and we decided to have a gumbo of music. That's what we wanted.
HipHopWired: How do you account for selling millions of digital singles and then having first week album sales of about 55,000 for this album?
Flo Rida: Everything works hand in hand. So me selling 2 million singles, when it comes to records it all sums up. And then at the same time I'm international so versus me selling 50,000, I actually sold 100-200,000 with the worldwide sales because we dropped this album internationally. So it's really a blessing and a lot of times I give out my cell phone number and everything and I speak to the fans and sometimes they don't even know the album is out yet. So I look forward to it doing real big… Another thing is I didn't have one video on 106th and Park and no type of urban exposure. So you going from an artist where people might look at as straight Hip-Hop and then they feel like I'm doing pop music now. So you got to think about the branching over aspect. You got half & half. Half of the people that know me and listen to the music, some people probably won't even know it's me because I use a lot of versatility. You come from a “Low” record to a “Right ‘Round” record, some people probably won't even know that's the same artist.
HipHopWired: One wouldn't think from singles like “Right Round” and “Low” that you started off on some hardcore street rap mixtapes.
Flo Rida: You got to think, those records are so big. This album I got to put different things on there. All types of music that I love and enjoy and people know me for as well. If the Maybach is selling more than the Lexus then we got to go with the Maybach and that's what I did. I made sure that I had the music for the masses that'll really enjoy it and then at the same time still connect with my core audience. I still put out mixtapes and everything just to keep everything relevant in the streets. I always do that. So even the people that listen to the crossover music, they get that as well.
HipHopWired: How did you go from doing those mixtape songs to the massive hit singles you do today?
Flo Rida: For the fact that I've been doing it for 12 years. I mean I had my stumbles, bumps and bruises. Like I said, just being around my group, the GROUNDHOGGZ, and being around Devante and all those situations at times. I probably thought I need to be on, but you know when you trying to do something real big, everything takes time and patience and I was very patient with trying to find my style and everything and that's what I blame it on.
HipHopWired: They say that once you take on a name, you have to live it out. How has it been to carry a name like Flo Rida coming from where you're from?
Flo Rida: I mean it's all good. I was born and raised here, Man. That's the most important thing, the fact that I was born here. You have to rep where you're from and I know I do it to the fullest. Having #1 records and just being international I think it speaks for itself.
HipHopWired: How has it been to attain the achievements that you have in the rap game?
Flo Rida: I just thank God. It's a blessing. Thanks to all the fans who support me. That's just called dedication and sacrifice. Sacrifice, being in the studio just trying to find those records that are so big and just reaching out and trying different things.
HipHopWired: You recently gave your telephone number out on CNN, what inspired you to make that move?
Flo Rida: I recall Mike Jones doing it and at the same time in order to be a great leader you got to be a great follower so I took the initiative to just get a step closer to the fans and really let them know you have MySpace. You have Facebook and all that but, I thought I'll give out my number. I ain't got to answer the phone all the time but for the most part I've answered it at least 100 times. If they can go out and find my album and support me, I feel like I can give the fans some of my time, you know, something special like that.
HipHopWired: What have the calls been like?
Flo Rida: Sometimes they hang up like, “Oh my god, it's Flo Rida!” And they'll hang up the phone or they'll stay there like “It's not you, how I know it's you? Can you say a rhyme?” Or some people know the voice. They saw me do my last interview and they really know and they try to put their whole family on the phone, but I enjoy it because most of them get a kick out of it.
HipHopWired: What do you think of artists jumping genres, like Lil' Wayne doing a rock album?
Flo Rida: I feel that all of it is music to me. I know you have different genres but I just love music, you know. If it touches my soul, I care about it. When I do my records, that's the way I approach it. Jimi Hendrix, he was a dude that seemed very laid back, cool, calm, and collected, until he hit the stage. Then he's amazing. And that's basically how I am. I'm like the shy guy but when I hit the stage I give it 200%. That's what stood out about Jimi. As far as everybody trying to crossover, and if they trying to do rock or whatever, it's all good. It's all music to me.
HipHopWired: You recently appeared on the cover of Urban Ink tattoo magazine. Do your tats have a greater meaning or are they just cosmetic?
Flo Rida: It definitely has a greater meaning. Just like having the Roots tattoo. It visualizes and it shows the struggles to having success and financial stability, but as long as I put God first, that really stands out to me. And then I have a tattoo of my sister name, and I got Florida on my back, having used the name, definitely I'm gonna have Florida on my back. Just having Jimi Hendrix, that's an African-American superstar icon, he kind of reminds me of myself, so if I was going to do something it had to be different, something that I enjoyed.
HipHopWired: There's a lot of beef going around in Hip Hop, have you had any servings?
Flo Rida: I'm cool with everybody. No beef.
HipHopWired: What's your take on the whole thing with 50 Cent and Rick Ross?
Flo Rida: To each his own. For the most part, both of those guys always been an inspiration to me when it comes to music. Ross grew up in the same hood as me and supported me. 50's been very cool with me. He definitely brings a lot to the game. Just pray so they could put their differences aside and continue to make hot music because they're both hot artists.
HipHopWired: What else are you doing aside from the music?
Flo Rida: Oh yeah, a clothing line. Parlay Adore. Different ones hitting me up about doing movies and things like that, so I'm looking forward to being on the big screen one of these days.
HipHopWired: What's next for you musically?
Flo Rida: Basically I could try anything because the people just love me. Just seeing me have a record sold to the magnitude of “Low” and then coming back with a record to the magnitude of “Right Round” which almost has like a rock sound, people will accept all type of music from me. You can't put out every record but I knew that once I put out this “Right Round” that it had enough to touch people and it'll definitely get a great response, but I know I didn't know it'll be to this magnitude. But you could look forward to me trying different things because I've always been a fan of OutKast and every time they put out an album, they do something different. So that's me.
HipHopWired: Is there anything else you want to add?
Flo Rida: I always give out my cell phone number so you could take that down (305) 528-2786. All the fans can hit me up at Officialflo.com which would take them to all my pages: MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. All of that and as far as me touring, the fans can actually stream online live and watch me perform everywhere around the world at www.Mycontent.com.