The ubiquitous pop rapper makes a pretty good album, despite having less personality than his synths.
In the newest edition of Pop-Rap Monopoly, Jay-Z is Boardwalk and Kanye is Park Place -- royal blue, printing money, crushing all opposition while flaunting their luxury tax. Lil’ Wayne, Luda, and Nicki Minaj are right behind them in the green zone. Drake is Marvin Gardens. Wiz Khalifa is something purple, obviously. Asher Roth and Travie McCoy are the worthless brown properties, while Chris Brown is that sad little dude peering through the jail bars. (This game is largely about wish fulfillment.) In this schematic Flo Rida is a railroad, just like his tourmate B.o.B. (B&O.B.?) These guys will never win the game, but they’re reliable cash cows, they blow a lot of smoke, and they are everywhere.
Flo’s new nine-song album Wild Ones is a study in how little personality a rapper needs to succeed. The guy raps a lot of words, but good luck remembering any of them once the music stops. His raps aggressively avoid meaning, which can be exhausting if you pay too much attention to what he’s saying. From the title track, which I heard four times on the radio yesterday: “Get loose, loose, after bottle / We all get bit and again tomorrow / Gotta break loose ‘cause that’s the motto / Club shuts down, I heard you super models.” What is that? Those are barely sentences, let alone sentient thoughts. Four “ah-oh” rhymes, some rote club signifiers, and then you’re sucked into a swirling vortex of nothingness: no jokes, puns, or references to anything outside Flo’s Club Nihilismo. Great rappers, even hashtag rappers, often pack as much information as possible into a few words. Flo does the opposite. He sounds like he was handed an assignment two hours before the recording session. “Write two verses expounding the theme of ‘wild ones’, with moderate syncopation, and FYI, at one point your hook girl Sia’s gonna compare herself to a horse. Giddyup!”
Throughout Wild Ones, Flo is routinely upstaged by his guest stars, be they living or dead. You listen to “Good Feeling”, his other ubiquitous hit, for its well-deployed Etta James sample and Dr. Luke’s cheeky production, including stuttering Fatboy Slim-isms and a dubstep breakdown. Flo’s forthcoming ubiquitous hit “Let It Roll” features Freddie King singing the chorus along with euphoric synth handclaps, funk guitar, organ, and horn stabs, courtesy two French producers and a Swedish House Mafioso. When RedFoo from LMFAO saunters onto the album’s final minute, he provides a jolt of personality that feels like the dawn of man, especially given his rudimentary rapping skills: “I got your tickets, they’re on FanDANgo / Back row, no fro, I’ll be eating a MANgo!” Say what you will about the doofus, but RedFoo’s verse is funnier and more recitable than anything Flo manages. The personality nadir comes (heh heh) during “Sweet Spot”, where a blank-voiced Jennifer Lopez shows up to coo about her g-spot. It’s like Clash of the Ciphers: two enter, but only one will... wait, what is it they’re trying to do again?
Fortunately, none of this matters too much, because Wild Ones boasts some really good production. Song for song it's lovelier than Pitbull's 2011 dance-rap album Planet Pit, even if Pitbull seemed more like an actual human being. To the extent that Flo Rida is present on his own songs, he’s best appreciated if you imagine he’s rapping in a foreign language. Try it! If you dig K-pop, you’re already used to hearing inexplicable raps set to the universal language of Euro-cheese. So the idiotic “Sweet Spot” is saved by the heartbreaking majesty of soFLY & Nius, the French guys. Likewise, “In My Mind (Part 2)” clarifies nothing about Flo’s mind, but it’s redeemed by its gigantic synth apparatus, noisy and fine with gorgeous dissonances.
Amid this dance factory, Flo’s rapping works as another sound effect. Flo composes fun syncopated rhythms for himself and he recites them with ease. (In “Let It Roll”, check out the line, “Stop- stop- theSHOW andstop- stop- theFLOW / The world ain’t ready‘cause I- rock- theGLOBE”.) He works clean and he knows how to fill out a tank top. This stuff might not add up to a great album, but Wild Ones could at least win second prize in a beauty contest.