T-Pain Deserves Better

Stevenson Altidor

Written with Autumn Simon

“You really f*cked up music for real singers,” Usher said to the then 20-something-year-old artist internationally known as T-Pain.

In the new Netflix docuseries, This is Pop, the rapper-turned-singer revealed that he fell into a four-year depression after this conversation with his idol and friend, Usher. The revelation of this shocking statement sent the media into a frenzy and called for many to defend the Florida singer. While Usher’s past remarks seem random and ridiculous, he wasn’t the only figure in the music industry to feel this way towards T-Pain.

One of the most common misconceptions about the Tallahassee singer is that T-Pain’s talent relies on auto-tune. To be clear, T-Pain is a multi-talented and Grammy-award-winning artist that shifted the record industry during a time that felt repetitive. Regardless of what the nay-sayers think, his background in music goes beyond his usage of audio processors.

Born Faheem Najm, T-Pain’s musical interest kicked off at 10 years old when he hooked up his keyboard to a radio and began learning to play. His talents grew even more when his father bought him professional equipment including, a beat machine.

In 1999, he joined the local rap group, Nappy Headz. He then kicked off his solo career and shifted to R&B. At the time, he was looking for ways to stand out among the singing crowd and he came across auto-tune in 2001 in a radio commercial which featured, “If You Have My Love,” by Jennifer Lopez. The year-long hunt began, and the producer searched through several presets to find his new sound. After releasing his version of Akon’s hit “Locked Up,” called  “I’m F*cked Up,” he was offered a deal at Konvict Muzik. His debut album, Rappa Ternt Sanga which featured his two top hits, “I’m Sprung” and “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper).”

What came afterwards were heights creatives could only dream of. T-Pain was a prolific hitmaker in the mid-2000s. “I’m Sprung,” and “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper),” set the tone for a four-year run that inspired a generation. According to Billboard, from 2005 – 2009, T-Pain has 31 top 100 hits as solo or featured act. Pain was on everything and worked with everyone. Back then, your career was nothing if you didn’t have Pain in it.

But in June 2009, Jay-Z was the man who many considered the one to pin the nail on T-Pain’s momentum. Back then, “DOA” received the full-fledged rollout of black excellence in the late 2000’s BET era. Between performing live during the BET Awards, releasing the video at the after-party, and the 106 & Park push to cement his tirade, Jay Z went out of his way to stop this “new” style of music. Pain wasn’t the direct target, but he was the face of this new creative palace Jay wanted to lay to waste.

But the record played a considerable part in hampering his momentum. Artists out in public or during studio sessions have taken shots. Christina Aguilera had the gall to wear a shirt that said “Autotune Is For P*ssies” on it. According to Pain, Kanye West made a diss song during one of the 808’s & Heartbreaks sessions that was so good it could have been on the album.

The aftermath was hurtful, both for the artist and the public, who seemingly agreed with every point Jay made. As a result, once a creative act of uniqueness became an annoying novelty. Fans were told that they wanted less T-Pain and they nodded in agreement. Sales decreased, and singles didn’t pop on the radio like they used to. Art leaked into reality but only damaged one victim.

Kanye West, Jamie Foxx, Usher, the Black Eyed Peas, and many more reap the benefits of his sacrifice. Kayne dropped 808’s & Heartbreaks to mixed reviews before getting the credit for inspiring emo rap. “Blame It” By Jamie Foxx peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top 100. Usher woke Pain from his sleep and told him he ruined music for real singers after the autotune drenched “OMG” become Usher’s fourth ever #1 record. Each was praised and awarded for the use of the vocal effect, but only T-Pain received blame.

According to Pain, his first album Rappa Ternt Sanga had very little autotune on there. In contrast, his second album, Epiphany, was filled to the brim with it. Guess which album the fans prefer? Fans ached to hear Pain’s natural voice, but silver-colored plaques told him something else.

When it comes to T-Pain’s vocal talents, many recall his viral Tiny Desk episode on NPR. The intimate concert experience allowed him to strip away his auto-tune reputation and shock the world with his actual singing voice. The resulting show helped spearhead the NPR digital experience, and it even pushed T-Pain to curate more stripped-down performances. Seven years later, this video still proves that T-Pain is a phenomenal artist, no production needed! He was also the winner of the first season of Fox’s concert series, “The Masked Singer.” Disguised as a one-eyed furry monster, T-Pain beat out Donny Osmond, La Toya Jackson and even Gladys Knight to win the championship trophy. Face it, all he does is win, win, win, no matter what!

Trailblazers rarely ever get their flowers in this industry unless it’s placed on top of a casket. Instead of being heaped with praise, Pain became the face for trends all the big players in the industry disliked.

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