Pop & Hiss

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Pop music's utility man: Flo Rida's singles, going steady

December 15, 2010 |  6:00 am

Flo Now that Billboard has officially released the EKG meter for pop music in 2010 (pretty much, if you’re not Doin’ It Real Big Up in the Club or a Mr. Lukasz Gottwald, you’re not selling records), one man’s career in that field is like a rare hothouse orchid of massive late-aughts single sales: Flo Rida.

Since his world-beating T-Pain collaboration “Low,” the Miami-based rapper has had one of pop’s best ears for absolutely inescapable club jams, a streak compounded by his download-record smashing “Right Round” (which introduced Ke$ha to the world) and recently with the David Guetta-produced “Club Can’t Handle Me.”

But he’s also a unique creature of singles success --  a multiple-hit wonder and radio-festival staple who everyone knows of but who few seem to know as a personality. He’s a finely oiled machine of rapid, melodic rhymes that own your stereo every summer, but who’s still something of a mystery as  a person.

“I want people to get to know me but not get overexposed," he said in a panoramic suite atop the W in Hollywood. He’s trying to finally capitalize with the two-part “Only One Flo” double album. One half, released last month, is straight for the club, the other is a nod to more orthodox hip-hop. “I never want to let too many secrets out.”

Here’s one thing that’s a lost cause for keeping secret -- “Club Can’t Handle Me” is one of the most era-encapsulating tracks of 2010. Guetta is behind scads of the year’s archetypal and successful singles, and “Club” is another hit of Europhile rave sugar. But instead of being about boozing, strippers or other perennial modern rap topics, it’s an oddly empowering and surprisingly little tune that “People are really taking as their own,” he said. “I’d seen (Guetta’s) following and really wanted to work in his universe, in the European club scene. Tight, melodic raps really fit with that style.” It’s one that “Turn Around (5,4,3,2,1)” and “Who Dat Girl” reprise ably.

That’s the secret that makes Mr. Rida so easy to love on radio and yet so hard to figure out as an artist. His ear for double-time, sing-songy hooks is unerring and can sit atop all sorts of productions, from four-on-the-floors to trunk-rattlers. But it also rarely leaves room for the kind of lyricism that fans have always responded to in a rapper, the kind of thing that makes you hang on the next line.

The relatively ominous and lonely “Respirator” and “Why You Up in Here,” the record’s closer with Ludacris and Gucci Mane, come closest to amending that, but the second installment (due in spring) should lean even heavier on the rap end of his pop-rap equation, as he explored in more depths on his second album, “R.O.O.T.S.” It might be validating; it passed his singles fans by. But the feeling one takes from the first edition of “Flo” is that of something interesting and particular to the last few years of pop -- a well-known voice that’s outlapped its bearer in public personality.

Fortunately for Flo, he doesn’t object to being a "song" guy rather than a Kanye-esque bloodletter of a pop star.

“People want ear candy, and I appreciate that,” he said about the writing process. “I’m just blowing up a balloon and it’s always amazing to see it go off.”

-- August Brown

Photo by Los Angeles Times