He may be a hip-hop superstar, but Tamar Dillard, aka Flo Rida, will probably answer if you call him and he even writes his own Twitter updates, says Ed Power
Flo Rida has a message for all the ladies out there: pick up the phone and call him. He isn't joking. Recently the musclebound Miami rapper posted his mobile-phone number on his Twitter page. If you ring, there's a decent chance he'll answer.
"Oh yeah man... my phone is going crazy," he says, his patter low and a bit mysterious. "I can't even put it down... It's amazing."
Even if he doesn't pick up, he'll probably get back to you. Flo -- aka 31-year-old Miami native Tarmar Dillard -- has taken to buzzing fans in the middle of the night, figuring that if they see fit to call him at all hours, he should return the compliment.
To be honest, we're mildly astonished. Not simply at his willingness to be pestered by the unwashed masses, but that he actually writes his own Twitter updates. For most hip-hop super stars (which Dillard assuredly is after syrup-splashed hits such as Right Round and Club Can't Handle Me), Tweeting is something you pay a lackey to do. What's up with Flo Rida?
"I always do it myself, you know," he says. "I like to stay connected to my fans on my social sites. Doin' it myself and everything... that's always been my way."
Along with professional athletes and Hollywood actors, hip-hop A-listers make for cautious interviewees. Where a rock musician will happily dish insults or offer politically charged observations, rappers, traditionally more self-contained and career-minded, rarely put a foot wrong. In that respect, Flo Rida comes to us straight from central casting.
With a new album to promote -- Only One Flo (Part 1) hits stores today -- he's not so much on a charm offensive as in damage-limitation mode.
That's a pity because he certainly has stories to tell. Raised in one of Florida's most dangerous neighbourhoods, he's best friends with just-out-of-prison rhymer, and fellow Miami resident, Lil' Wayne (there are plans for a hook-up on Flo' s next album). At last year's VMAs, he had a ringside seat at Kanye West's bum-rushing of Taylor Swift. And in 2008, he got together with a (then utterly unknown) Lady Gaga for a largely forgotten collaboration, Starstruck.
We have to ask... what was it like sharing a recording booth with pre-Fame Monster Stefani Germanotta?
"To see her career shoot off as big as it is... I'm pleased to have had the chance to work with her," he muses. "She was already establishing herself as this different character. She was basically on the same vibe as me... but, you know, with a little more edge, which has gotten her a lot of international exposure. She has definitely taking advantage of that in a great way."
Ushering kooky starlets into the big time is something of a Flo Rida specialty. Eighteen months after Starstruck, he invited another provocative unknown for a cameo, this time on his Dead Or Alive-sampling number one, Right Round. "Being able to work with Ke$ha prior to the success she had... I always knew she had star qualities," he says.
The moment Ke$ha became famous, all the haters came down on her like a ton of masonry. The charge being that she was taking Lady Gaga's genuinely daring persona and diluting it with gallons of Valley Girl ditz.
"Being in the studio with her prior to her success, the one thing I always knew 'bout her is that she isn't a character," protests Flo. "That's her real persona."
Of course, no sooner had the Tik Tok singer vanished in his rear-view mirror than Flo Rida was lining up his next female collaboration, with Ireland/UK girl group The Saturdays. "Oh yeah... The Saturdays," he says, smiling. "We actually got a show coming up this Sunday. I'm looking forward to hitting the stage with them. They are ve-ry talented young ladies."
He first met The Sats at an awards night in London, where he was seen striking up a conversation with Tipperary-born Una Healy. "I got a chance to talk to all of them. I'm a fan of their work. They are very passionate about music, as well as myself."
Street-savvy and prepared to hustle, Flo Rida has plotted his rise with meticulous exactitude. He's naturally astute for sure, but, with one eye on a future in music, in his 20s he also took a course in business management in Las Vegas. One of the great motivating factors in his career, he adds, was the violent death, when he was 15, of his sister (the family of eight was raised in The Projects by a single mother).
"It definitely continues to drive me, you know. You got to take advantage of every day like it's your last. You got to live your life. Music is a great way to be inspired and to put a smile on people's faces."
Growing up, did he see a lot of poverty? "Oh yeah... I watched many people fall by the wayside. People were poor. A lot of single parent homes. You know... my outlet was making music. I didn't get in a lot of negative situations. My mom always told me to do the positive things. Music was something I took seriously."
For all his smarts, dare we suggest Flo Rida has lately committed the first true misstep of his career? Though tightly wound with club-i-licous hits in waiting, Only One Flo could surely have benefited from a smarter release date. After all, it's going up against Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to say nothing of the new Black Eyed Peas record.
Eyeballing competition like that, even someone as self-assured as Flo Rida would admit to a shiver of doubt?
"The way I see it... I sense a great thing happening," he says, waxing mysterious again. "The fact is... it's all keeping music alive. I'm happy the artists out there have accumulated enough music to put out an album. And I'm happy to be part of it."
The one subject about which he appears completely unguarded is the death of Michael Jackson, whom he worshiped since he was a teenager.
"I recall being on stage and getting off and hearing the news," he says. "I was happy I didn't hear it before I went on. A lot of people were very emotional after it happened. I'm definitely inspired by him, I've always been a big fan. Just looking at his albums... the way he did things. It educated me -- and made me want to record different sounds and be dramatic on certain records."
Smooth talking and super-chilled, Flo Rida epitomises a new generation of hip-hop star. In many ways, he's the anti-50 Cent. Though from no less of a gritty background, he doesn't go around shooting his mouth off he's never been in a 'beef' and, while his records contain their share of sexist rhyming, references to drug dealing and gun-toting are prominently absent.
"It's all about having a clever approach when it comes to talking about topics like that," he says. "It's about the cleverness. I definitely respect those who can talk about that [violence] in a way where it seems like a 'movie' in some way. The bottom line is, I'm a fan of hot music."