Flo Rida

When Flo Rida first took the bus from Florida to Los Angeles in hopes of launching a music career, he was so broke that he was forced to live on the streets.

When Flo Rida first took the bus from Florida to Los Angeles in hopes of launching a music career, he was so broke that he was forced to live on the streets.

Even worse, he once left his bag on a bench while milling around the Beverly Center mall, only to discover that the LAPD had confiscated it, fearing it contained a bomb.

Nowadays, the rapper's outlook is considerably brighter. His debut single, "Low" featuring T-Pain, spends an eleventh week atop the Billboard Hot 100 this week, and in the post-Christmas week, set a new record when it moved 470,000 digital downloads.

As a bridge to his Poe Boy/Atlantic debut, "Mail on Sunday" (March 18), "Low" is prominently featured as the lead track from the Disney film "Step Up 2 the Streets," which opened Feb. 14 in U.S. theaters. Atlantic released the soundtrack Feb. 5.

"It's hard to pick songs for a film like 'Step Up 2' because we don't use known stars," Disney Pictures music and soundtrack president Mitchell Lieb says. "So the dancing and the music really are the stars of the picture. I need my music to chart, and high, by the time the movie comes out."

There's no worries on that front, with "Low" having sold more than 1.78 million downloads through Jan. 6, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But Atlantic now faces the challenge of keeping audiences interested once Flo Rida's debut hits stores.

"Some people may say, 'Why did they give this song to the soundtrack?' " Atlantic VP of marketing James Lopez says. "This deal was done early in the development stages. We wanted to really utilize the marketing the film company was going to do to roll it out, because this is a major film with studio muscle."

Plus, the label has been building the Flo Rida story since late last summer, when he began playing club dates in Florida and the Southeast in conjunction with the release of "Low" to clubs in the area.

"This may seem like an overnight sensation to most of the country," Lopez says. "The song spread so much faster than we could travel."

The "Low" video debuted in early November on BET and MTV, inspiring nearly 100 YouTube videos of dancing fans. According to Atlantic director of digital marketing Brian Dackowski, the label quickly initiated partnerships with social networking sites like Imeem, where fans can upload their own photos and remixes of the "Low" clip.

Flo Rida also has his own YouTube channel, through which "Low" has garnered nearly 5 million plays, and interacts personally with fans on his MySpace site.

"This phenomenon was organic," Dackowski says. "We haven't had an artist take off like this before with a song picking up and kids across the country going for it on their own. It was like riding a wave."

Now, the rapper is putting the final touches on "Mail on Sunday," which features appearances by Ross, Sean Kingston, Lil Wayne, Trey Songz and Brisco, and production from J.R. Rotem, the Runners, Timbaland, Designated Hitters, Tracy Pierce and DJ Montay.

Atlantic is prepping for the imminent release of a viral video, "Gotta Eat" featuring Plies and Lupe Fiasco, and Lopez hopes a second official single will be at radio by the end of this month.

"We want to make sure the consumer buys into an artist and not just because of one song," he says. "We know his album is deep."

But despite all that's on the horizon, Flo Rida is simply thankful for his success and hoping for more. "They say if you grind hard enough, you'll shine," he says. "I didn't know 'Low' would get this big. It's the greatest feeling in the world."