About six years ago I received a CD from Jonathan Wolfson Entertainment. Not surprising; I get lots of promotional recordings. The press release indicated that this disk, “Rappa Ternt Sanga,” was the work of a young rapper/singer named T-Pain. Track by track revealed an obvious truth: this was a talented kid. “I’m In Love Wit a Strippa” seemed like the logical single, but T-Pain’s vocal strength and production ability were the true stars on this disk.
Cher’s “Believe” introduced the world to the wonders of Auto-Tune (horrors, some would say) and the effect had been replicated by a mind numbing amount of singers and producers. T-Pain jumped on the band wagon, but there was something different about his use of the plug-in. As Eric Persing had done with sound design, and BT with a host of unusual effects in the trance universe, T-Pain managed to create a tonal pallet that used Auto-Tune but did not rely on it. For him, pitch correction was clearly a tool that could enhance his vocal phrasing; it wasn’t needed to correct technical flaws.
Since that time T-Pain has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity and success. He’s collaborated with many other prominent rap artists. Among these, “One More Drink,” tracked with Ludacris, is my favorite.
If you’re not familiar with T-Pain’s work and only have time to listen to one track, I’d suggest that you start out with “Bartender.” The writing is solidly in the R&B tradition, the production is terrific, and T-Pain’s vocal sounds great, during the verses where it’s naked, in the bridge where Auto-Tune is introduced, and the chorus were it’s used lightly. The flange applied to the electric piano and the “wiggle” synth line join the auto-tuned vocal to create an ensemble that sits nicely within the track.
I have to admit that I blanch somewhat when I see cuts with titles like “I Don’t Give a Fuk,” and listen to lyrics that explicitly lay out, well, how T-Pain is going to nail a female friend. Each generation has to define its own boundaries, though, and T-Pain’s message clearly resonates with his peers.
Like I said, a talented kid.