Flo Rida might be the most successful rapper who’s famous for not being famous. He’s not lacking multiplatinum hits: You couldn’t escape 2007’s ”Low,” the South Beach club favorite that introduced Apple Bottoms Jeans to shawties across America, or 2009’s ”Right Round,” which added an ”Ayyyy!” or two to Dead or Alive’s 1984 glam-pop classic ”You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” and called it a brand-new song. But his music feels totally anonymous. Quick: Do you know anything about him other than what state he’s from? (Hint: It’s not Alaska.)
Four years ago, when Flo released his debut, Mail on Sunday, he was Miami to his core, hanging with local boys like Rick Ross and T-Pain, releasing strobe-lit odes to strip clubs and sunshine, and getting a cred boost from his early days opening for 2 Live Crew. But somewhere along the way he traded homegrown party-rap for the same generic Europop hooks that get passed around from Swedish song doctors to the next Rihanna-of-the-week. On his fourth album, Wild Ones, there’s a distinct Flo Rida-shaped hole where his personality once was — and it’s been filled with other people’s songs. His summer smash ”Good Feeling” strips all the soul from Etta James’ 1962 rave-up ”Something’s Got a Hold on Me” to make room for a light-headed electro beat. ”Let It Roll” borrows heavily from New Orleans R&B hero Earl King’s ”Come On,” which has been covered by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and countless others, but Flo Rida’s so unashamed of repurposing it yet again, he brags that he’s got ”moves like Hendrix.” Most bizarre is ”I Cry,” which speeds up Brenda Russell’s 1988 smooth-jazz cheesefest ”Piano in the Dark” until it has all the emotional heft of an LMFAO track. You couldn’t program a robot to cry to it.
Created by a team of international producers and songwriters (France’s soFLY & Nius, Sweden’s Axwell, Australia’s Sia), Wild Ones was designed to maximize the waving of hands in the air on Flo Rida’s world tour. (It’s already scored multiple No. 1 hits everywhere from Brazil to Hungary.) So it makes sense that the lyrics need no cross-cultural translation. But the album is such a wasteland of vaguely pleasant sensations — good girls, good times, good feelings — that when Flo Rida name-checks Hendrix for the second time, you’ll at least be grateful for a legitimate proper noun. Beneath the onslaught of house beats, guests like Jennifer Lopez and indie-pop newcomer Georgi Kay sound like they’ve auditioned for the nameless, faceless role of Hook-Singing Female. Maybe that’s why ”Whistle,” a folk jam with hip-hop swagger, sounds so fresh. Someone actually whistles the chorus. It’s not clear who that someone is, but at least you can tell that it’s human. C-