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Rising rap star doesn't need RIAA

Flo Rida, whose song "Low" recently spent 13 weeks as the country's top-selling ringtone, offers other artists advice on engaging fans at a time of falling CD sales.

Rapper Flo Rida Chad Griffith

You won't hear up-and-coming rap star Flo Rida griping about fans pilfering his songs on P2P sites, or complain that technology is hurting the music industry. Don't talk to him about so-called digital divides either.

As one of rap music's fastest rising stars, Rida, 28, is new enough to music success that fans are still precious to him. This is a guy who used to shout out his cell number during performances.

This "personal touch" has helped, he says. His song "Low," recently spent 13 weeks as the top-selling ringtone in the country, a new record for consecutive weeks, according to Nielsen RingScan chart. According to his music label, Poe Boy/Atlantic Records, Rida (a name he chose to honor his home state and his rap style) is also the first ever debut artist to have two Top 10 digital singles prior to an album release. His debut album, Mail On Sunday goes on sale March 18.

Rida is one of a growing number of young performers who are trying to break into a music business dominated by technology.

In an interview Tuesday with CNET, Rida revealed himself to be a bit of a gadget geek (he's got two MacBook Pros and four flat screens) and said he sees more computers and high-tech gadgetry in inner cities than ever. He also sent a message to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He once accidentally dropped his iPod in the toilet and "if they can make them waterproof, that'd be great."

Q: Are you one of the people that despises file sharing?
Rida: If you're really in touch with your fans on a personal level then you don't have to worry about things like that. A lot of times I make sure I go onto MySpace and holler at my fans, looking at them on YouTube, showing love, making sure that I'm in tune more so on a personal level than just having a hot song...cause these are people who just might want to go to the store to get the album as well as download. These are people who might want to put your poster on the wall or see your (album) art.

Q: Tell me about ringtones. How do those royalty checks look?
Rida: Oh man, oh man. It's a blessing. I can do a whole lot of things that I couldn't do before right now you know? I just put down on another house, got a couple of cars from all my fans and the ringtones. I definitely bought like four flat screens. I got two MacPros...

Q: Have you had the chance to hear some stranger's phone go off and heard your music?
Rida: Oh yeah, sometimes I might go to Wal-Mart and hear it and say to myself: "That's my song right there and it's his ringtone playing." In October last year, I heard it for the first time. I just told the guy "Thank you." I never knew the song was going to be this big.

Q: The technology sector has heard much about the digital divide, and how urban areas lack enough computers and other technologies. Is that your experience?
Rida: In the schools around my (South Florida) neighborhood, they definitely got tons more computers. Before now, they didn't have anything. The students now, a lot of them have laptops at home...

Q: What kind of technology do you see a need for? What does someone need to come up with to make your life easier?
Rida: I remember one time, I accidentally dropped my first iPod into the toilet. If they can make them waterproof, that'd be great.