Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Simple Mystery That Is Flo Rida

This post is essentially a response to this video. Hopefully it can also be a larger, more open discussion on the artist known as Flo Rida, and even some hip-hop principles in general.  But you probably won't fully appreciate it if you don't go and watch that video first.  And I have to begin by saying that the chorus to "I Cry" doesn't match the rest of the song because it's just another line from another big 80's song (like "you spin me right 'round" etc) - specifically "Piano In the Dark" by Nina. Flo's just sticking with his pattern of taking the most memorable pieces of older dance hits and turning them into contemporary club jams.
"Let It Roll"'s hook comes from "Let the Good Times Roll." "Turn Around" is using "Din Da Da" by George Kranz, which is a song I only know because so many hip-hop artists before have sampled it over the years. "Good Feeling" samples an old Etta James line for its hook - and not just any Etta James song, but predictably, her biggest hit. "Run" uses Bryan Adams' "Run To You." I'm not gonna break down every single Flo Rida song ever - because that would require listening to every single Flo Rida song ever, which is simply asking too much - but you can tell that this is a recurring theme.
Now, I'm not trying to play "music trivia one-up-manship" here.  You guys know I'm terrible at naming samples, for one thing, because hip-hop is pretty much the only genre I know.  So I can't exactly throw stones. Heck, I don't mind admitting that I had to google who did "Piano In the Dark" just now.  But it's kind of essential to know the origins if we're going to discuss "I Cry," because it's the missing piece of the puzzle presented in the video.  We're not just talking about some sampled riff buried deep in a layered track; this is a song built as a direct play on another song, essentially an uncredited remix. You can't just breeze over it. I mean, the question that's asked is why this song is a hit despite Flo Rida's lack of fanbase, lyrical credibility, crew association, etc. And the simple answer is that people just like hearing that "Piano In the Dark" line freaked in a club.
And don't get me wrong, I'm not even mad at that practice. One of the core elements of hip-hop is how it re-purposes music from other genres, taking the elements that a hip-hop fan would enjoy and removing all the crap we, frankly, don't want to listen to. Is there an awesome break in an otherwise cheesy dance song? Hey, that's how the whole genre started!  Did you find an awesome riff in an otherwise rambling, unappealing funk song, or an apropos vocal snippet in a feature film?  Sample 'em!  Who among us didn't love "Jackin' for Beats?"
One of the cool things about hip-hop is that I know if I hear a cool sound in an otherwise wack song, all I have to do is wait, and that sound will come around again in a new, hopefully better, song. People like when hip-hoppers sample "Din Da Da" because everybody enjoys that line of the song, but nobody misses the stuff where he shouts incoherent nonsense for three minutes. Take that piece, and streamline it, and give it some verses which have some flow. Mr. Rida may not be an amazing lyricist, be he's adept at different styles and matching them to the instrumental... and thankfully he doesn't have that affected nasal drawl that seems to be in vogue these days. I'll take him over a lot of current successes.
All he's doing is following a long tradition. I love 'em, but I doubt many people knew who The Future MCs were. They just got amped when they heard rap lyrics to Prince's "Erotic City" in the club.  When the Fugee men all started releasing rap versions of "Stayin' Alive," "Electric Avenue" and "99 LuftBallons," I certainly wouldn't have given them props as bold artistic visionaries; or even considered myself a fan of theirs; but I was happy to have rap versions of all these songs.  So I bought the singles, just not their crappy albums surrounding it.  Flo Rida is making his entire catalog with these songs, and forgoing most of that filler, which I definitely appreciate.
The only thing that really separates Flo Rida from, say, the King MCs of back in the day, is that Flo Rida actually works with/ for the labels that own these songs.  Back in the days, the labels might've released them as dance remix singles of the original songs (what percentage of the songs he revamps do you think are under the umbrella of the label he's signed to?). Now they're packaged as Flo Rida original works. And why not? He does write (I assume) all his own verses, etc. I mean, it would be nicer if those verses were more deft, substantive or interesting... I'm always on the market for another Rakim. But he really doesn't need to be. Not for millions of music fans, clearly, or for sales or airplay. What he's doing is working for him. Not every successful MC has to be a brilliant urban poet. In fact, there's not even that much overlap. And the secret to his success? Not so mysterious.


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  2. Good post. One small nit to pick: Etta James' biggest hit is probably "At Last." If you've been to a wedding in the past 20 years, you've definitely heard it.