STATE OF MIND; razz rocks US rapper Flo Rida uses memory of dead sister to drive him on Exclusive.
THE death of Miami rapper Flo Rida's sister helped the American star go on and become a success.
The big-hearted performer scored a debut number one in the US with single Low that also went to number two in the UK charts.
On Monday, the 29-year-old releases new single Elevator, which features Timbaland. But he owes it all to sister Julia, who died at only 25 of bronchitis.
The only boy in a family of eight said: "Julia died in 2002, and it was one of the hardest times of my life. It made me want to succeed more, and to make her proud.
"It was a hard time for both my family and myself but we pulled through.
"I still think that she's talking to me even though she isn't physically here.
"I use her death as motivation for my music. I needed to have faith and to be strong, not only for myself but for my family, too."
Born Tramar Dillard in the Florida city Opa-locka, the rapper chose his name as a pun on Florida state and even has his whole back tattooed in homage to his home state.
While still enjoying the flashy lifestyle, Flo Rida seems very different to the beefed-up, ego-driven stars of rap.
While it all seems to be about cars, girls and bling, Flo Rida is taking a different tack with his album Mail On Sunday.
He said: "My music is about life and what to do when you're in a difficult position.
"There's a wide range of topics on the album, from death to going to a club and enjoying yourself."
One of the songs, All My Life, talks about the death of his sister.
Flo Rida said: "I wanted to express my love for her through song, not because of the attention, but to her memory, which will stay alive forever. I always say that you're never promised tomorrow, so you have to take advantage of every day, and every second that comes along."
New single Elevator sounds like a mix between Madonna's 4 Minutes and Rihanna's chart smash Umbrella Polished rap, it seems, is a long way from when Flo Rida was 18 and got a touring job with Fresh Kid Ice of 2 Live Crew, the controversial Eighties rap group who had a huge hit with Me So Horny.
Hoping to get signed, he spent three years in LA without success. He then went back to Miami in 2006 and signed first with Poe Boy Entertainment and then to Atlantic Records.
"I've been in the music game for about 12 years. I started at a young age," said Flo Rida.
"My father was a musician and my sisters formed their own gospel group, so it was natural for me to pursue a career in music."
His parents split when he was young and as the only boy in a house of seven girls, the youngster had to grow up fast.
He said: "It was harder growing up without a father figure. I love my sisters, they're cool.
"We all stuck together, ate together and we used to do a lot of family things together.
"Of course we had our fights, but what family doesn't?"
And while he claims his bling such as a EUR150,000 platinum chain are presents from his record company, Flo Rida has only spent his money on family and friends.
Repaying his mum was his first concern.
He said: "I bought her a house - a very nice house.
"I have also given my friends some money so they can treat themselves. I'm a giving person."
It is such a breath of fresh air compared with most rappers.
Maybe it's time just to go with the Flo.
Flo Rida's new single, Elevator, is released on Monday, while his debut album, Mail On Sunday, is available now.
'I bought my mother a house. I have also given my friends some money so they can treat themselves. I'm a giving person'
NUMBER ONE: Flo Rida hopes to reach the top spot with his new single Elevator