My first experience with T-Pain was during a brief phase of my life when my high school friends decided that sitting in a circle around the one girl who can play guitar was cool. Someone smirkingly learned the chords to the number one hit “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin).” We all got a bit carried away and memorized the entire Yung Joc verse, which was an intensely positive bonding experience for us at the time. I owe a lot to T-Pain in this respect.
However, I do not follow T-Pain on Twitter because I object on principle to the way he uses Instagram, which he seems to think is a meme-uploading service. When I saw that basically all of his tweets have links to the photo-sharing site, I was so ready to view gently washed out digital images of the rapper and his Nappy Boy crew sitting in front of string lights, the evening glow glinting off the corner of his weirdly boxy white sunglasses.
But instead, we poor viewers get an image of Scumbag Steve with the possibly-original overlaid text: “BUYS FASTEST STREET LEGAL CAR IN THE WORLD / SETS CRUISE CONTROL TO SPEED LIMIT.” In order to make sure everyone understands that he’s THAT guy who does THAT thing, the caption is “Scumbag T-Pain.”
Fact is, this is an impressively self-aware statement. If you have never seen MTV or the inside of a freshman suite on a Friday night, you will be surprised to hear that T-Pain is arguably one of the best-known pop stars of the past decade, which is inversely proportional to the level of experimentation he affords himself in his work. As the title of his first album suggests, T-Pain (who also goes by the punny nom de plume Teddy Penderass) is a “Rappa Ternt Sanga.” This is a clever turn of phrase that means that his creepy robot voice is occasionally featured on other people’s songs.
A super scientific survey of my suitemates found that nobody knows anything about what kind of music T-Pain makes by himself, but that’s okay. He’s just a gregarious guy, which means his stage banter will hopefully be less about Nazis and evil rich people than Lupe Fiasco’s was, which is a plus in my book. He probably will just say some pretty straightforward stuff about being drunk.
This is not a problem. Like any good artist, he writes what he knows: bars, boobs and the words “shawty” and “sprung.” T-Pain’s formula of cyborg simplicity can be tantalizing, like on Lil Wayne’s “Got Money,” where T-Pain’s portion of the song consists solidly of a single note and some periodic Auto-tuned “vocal flourishes” (read: moaning) but is absolutely excellent. Granted, the catalogue is not particularly deep here, but it does demonstrate remarkable diversity of purpose: for example, in “Bartender,” he is in love with a bartender, whereas in “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper),” he is not.
But there’s no denying that he knows his gimmick is absurd. In the un-subtle jam “Take Your Shirt Off,” he asks a dangerous question: “Answer me this / Is Auto-tune really dead?” Well, Yale, it’s up to you to buy a few dranks and decide.