T-Pain: Lord of the Ringz

Over the years, we’ve seen Hip-Hop artists wear some unique attire, but it’s still a little surprising to see T-Pain show up to our interview in a foot-tall yellow top hat. Sure, there’s the new album, the cameos and the rise Auto-Tune to discuss, but first and foremost, we had to ask: is there some special store where he gets those outlandish hats or does he have to get them made?T-Pain chuckles as he explains that he’s got a special tailor overseas who makes his trademark headgear – he doesn’t want to see every dude on the street mimicking his signature look. It’s no wonder he goes through such lengths to protect his style because the jaunty hats have become more than just a piece of his image; they’ve truly become a symbol of T-Pain’s career. He got into the game by carving out his own custom-fit lane instead of following in someone else’s. Teddy may have seemed a little too far left for some at first, but now, T-Pain is on so many songs that he’s even on songs he’s not on. Every hot rapper in the game is using Auto-Tune to “put some T-Pain” on their verses. Suddenly, singers who once hid their use of Auto-Tune to clean up their vocals are openly using it as much as possible. It might be hard to picture kids trading in their New Eras for Technicolor top hats, but it wouldn’t be the first time that T-Pain has sparked an unexpected trend overnight. At the same time, he’s still the subject of his fair share of divisive conversation. He’s well aware of his doubters though, and if anything, he’s energized by them. “People want to see confidence. If Kanye wasn’t as cocky as he is people wouldn’t even mess with him. People wouldn’t believe in Jay-Z at all if Jay-Z wasn’t cocky. If Wayne and these n***as didn’t have that swagger like they’ve got, wouldn’t nobody mess with them,” he points out. In just four years, T-Pain has gone from sleeping in the back of an ’81 Cutlass to effectually changing the game. He’s come too far to worry about detractors and he’s confident that he’ll eventually bring them around anyway. “People ain’t gonna believe in you until they see that you believe in yourself, so if you quit because somebody sayin’ something, then that’s what you believe so why should I believe in you?”On the verge of the release of his third album Thr33 Ringz, we talk to T-Pain about haters, imitators and of course, those rumors of a T-Wayne album. He’s so anxious to discuss his vision that his handlers won’t let him have a swivel chair because he can’t sit still. They encourage him to be brief and stay on schedule; instead, he throws them out of the room so he can keep talking. We were there to listen:AllHipHop.com Alternatives: We’re all familiar with the work you’ve been doing for the past year for other artists. Now that it’s time for you to release your own record, is it harder to come up with new ideas since you’ve given so many away?T-Pain: Damn. [laughs] Nah, nah, nah. You know I come up with ideas all the time, not so much because I’m an innovative person but I look at it like, every 30 minutes in somebody’s life is a different situation happening. The way I do it is I just write about real life situations; that’s why people can relate to my songs so much. Every 30 minutes it’s a new situation so why not write about all those? You got infinite songs instead of trying to make up “I love you” songs or a gangsta song. If you a gangsta then you should really easily write a gangsta song, if you really in love you should be able to write a love song in five minutes… it’s real life. If you ain’t feeling good that day, talk about not feeling good. I’m pretty sure somebody else in the world is not feeling good. It’s very simple to come up with a topic.AHHA: Now by that same token we’ve seen a whole lot of other artists try to emulate the T-Pain sound over the last little while. Do you feel like it dilutes what you’re trying to do when you hear the Kanye West or Jay-Z imitating you?T-Pain: Not at all, not at all. For the most part, people just identify it as “The T-Pain style.” I have no problem with it, and now I’ma bout to see if I can strike this deal with these Auto-Tune people. On the next series of Auto-Tune, they actually have the T-Pain preset. I’m gonna have my own Auto-Tune.AHHA: So do we have an actual name for the T-Pain sound yet or are we just gonna stick to “The T-Pain Sound?”T-Pain: It’s the T-Pain preset, that’s what it’s gonna be, that’s what it is now. Every time you buy that you bring money to my pocket so go on, keep using it.AHHA: Is there some other kind of innovation or other style that you’re gonna be able to bring? Obviously, you did big things for Auto-Tune but…T-Pain: Right…I just think that after awhile, everybody else is gonna have to stop. It’s just gonna get weird, you know what I‘m saying? People are gonna forever say “oh, you did the T-Pain thing on that” and they’re never gonna give you your own credit even though people should. Like, it’s still your song, I didn’t create the effect, I just used it a lot. That’s just something that people are gonna have to deal with, man. It ain’t my problem. I have no problem if people wanna keep using it but just out of respect for yourself just stop. [laughs]AHHA: So when it gets to that point that everybody else has played out the T-Pain sound where does that leave you?T-Pain: I’ma keep going ‘cause can’t nobody do it [like me]. It’s like, Teddy Riley can’t do it better than Roger Troutman, I can’t do it better than Teddy Riley and I’ma make sure can’t nobody do it better than me.AHHA: You coming from Tallahassee with a Florida State, a notorious party school, and Florida A&M with it’s famously show-stealing marching band. Did that influence the over-the-top style and this big showmanship you have?T-Pain: No, I’ve never gotten into any of that. I think it was just the seeing the response to songs that were like that before I got signed. I’d see the difference between the regular love songs and the regular party songs to the over the top songs. Just like the difference in the response of (excuse my language) instead of saying “sex,” saying “f**k,” [instead of] “vagina,” it’s “p***y.” The response was a little different; when you go over the top you get more attention.AHHA: That’s definitely a big risk though. I mean, we’ve got you here with the big yellow top-hat, the glasses and the whole persona. A lot of people in Hip-Hop wouldn’t be able to get away with it. What made T-Pain wake up and say “you know what, I’m gonna go in this direction?”T-Pain: The reason that people can’t pull it off is because maybe they’re afraid of what somebody would say or what their fans would say. If [The] Game wore this, his fans would be like “damn.” It could red one and all [laughs]. Just red and have blood on the side, you know what I’’m sayin? Hard. Tear drop on this side, a butterfly right on the other and a super hard top-hat but his fans would be like “you [supposed to be] a G.” The only thing that would allow him to be accepted as doing that would be to keep doing it through all that. The only thing that got me accepted as doing Auto- Tune and making the songs I’m making is I just kept doing it through all the hating and not caring about what the people were saying. I didn’t get in this game to contour to everybody else. I didn’t get signed because I can make songs that people wouldn’t say anything about. I got signed because I made different kind of music and they saw that none of that other talk affected me. [Jive president] Barry Weiss can’t tell me how to make a song right now and he respects that. He knows that I’m the only person on the label besides R. Kelly that’s gonna come at him like that anf that’s why he signed me. I’ve been different from the jump. AHHA: For that same reason, you’ve certainly helped a lot of people make hits over the last little while. Now that it’s come time to make your album, a lot of people kind of owe you a favor. How do you sort that all out when you’re in the studio?T-Pain: All that is a phone call like “yo, I’m about to send you this song, there’s an open third verse, do your thang.” A lot of them records I did, I did them for free. I don’t necessarily need you for my project, I’ma put you on one of my artist’s songs and my artist is gonna get a push from you. I’ma need some kind of favor. It may be something as small as next time we’re in the same city, come to my show and hit the stage with me. You gotta look at things for the future man. That’s about all I do is look to the future.AHHA: Right, so who else speaking of which is going to be on the album?T-Pain: You know we got Wayne. We got Ludacris on the second single (“Chopped and Screwed”). We got [Rick] Ross of course…we just couldn’t help it. We got Young Cash, Kanye is on there, Chris Brown, Tay Dizm…AHHA: Are you handling all the production on your own?T-Pain: Yeah, I did 100% of the production again as with the first two albums. I just keep doing it until people recognize I’m a producer instead of just the guy that’s just doing everybody’s hooks, a lot of people don’t know yet.AHHA: So we already talked about the potential deal that’s going on with the Auto-Tune and we know you’ve got the Oakley glasses coming out. What else is next? As someone who’s kind of a character, it gives you a lot of potential to create a T-Pain brand.T-Pain: I’m trying to get into shoes now. I’m trying to make shoes called Teddy Bears – it’s a weird concept. I’m coming out with a casual line of shoes that’re gonna be called Teddy Grahams; it’s so stupid and so fly. That’s just how risky you gotta be man… they ain’t even gonna cost that much. Like, [Pharrell’s] Ice Cream thing was real risky. What dude’s gonna wear pink and purple shoes with black in the back with an insane ice cream cone on the front of it and they’re $200? Only rich dudes is gonna wear these things, that’s who’s gonna wear them.AHHA: You already have a huge fan base, but what would you tell those people who might say, “I don’t know if I can listen to a whole T-Pain album?” T-Pain: I mean it’s a very different album. It ain’t just straight liquor and strippers. I got a song, “Keep Going,” which is about my kids and the struggle of the family with no Auto-Tune on it. I’ve got “Thr33 Ringz” which is sort of of an aggressive rap song. I’ve got a couple of stacks and I’m doing a little money bragging but that’s cool. Some people may not be into that and I understand. I just gotta show it off before I go broke. It’s different concepts on there, man. I don’t want nobody to think it’s just ‘gon be all strippers and alcohol – that’s just what I like the most. AHHA: So how does your family life go with your hobby of strippers and alcohol?T-Pain: [grinning] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean my wife goes to strip clubs with me. She drinks with me all the time – she’s also a halfway alcoholic so she knows what shes doing. She ain’t gay or nothing but she just happens to think a girl looks nice in see through heels. That’s just what we do. A lot of people ask me that because it’s so expected that the female wouldn’t be okay with me and strippers, but I done seen enough Cinnamons and Destinys to not even worry about it. Me and my wife just watch’em, flying sausagin’ these hoes.AHHA: Flying sausaging? T-Pain: [chuckles] That’s right, y’all are from New York.AHHA: Um, can you explain what that means?T-Pain: It’s a down south thing. You know how dudes make it rain? It’s making it rain, but all that money, you ball it up with a rubber band and throw it at one person.AHHA: Ohhhhh, okay.T-Pain: You don’t hit her in the face or nothing. When she’s bent over, you just try to aim it right. It hurts so bad too.AHHA: It’s a bale of money though…T-Pain: It’s just a rubber band and some paper, so it’s regular stuff. My wife is real good at it too.AHHA: So in a swag contest between you and Andre 3000 who do you think would win?T-Pain: Andre. Definitely. I don’t give a damn who you are, you ain’t touching Andre. That man got more swag than the guy who invented the word swag. He’s just too different man, he’s so far ahead no one’s gonna catch up.AHHA: Are we gonna see a collabo?T-Pain: I don’t even think he’d wanna do one with me. I think he’s just that far ahead to where but there’s no need for him to.AHHA: Yeah but you never thought that you would’ve got on something like the “Walk it Out” remix and he killed that.T-Pain: Actually, that was a favor for one of his cousins. I was trying to figure it out ‘cause the dude was like “I’m the one that got Andre on the ‘Throw Some D’s’ remix and ‘Walk it Out’ track” and I was like “how’d that happen?” He was like “well I ’m his cousin so…”AHHA: Now at this point in time if you weren’t here doing this where do you think you’d be?T-Pain: Uhh, still sleeping in my car, yeah.AHHA: That’s how you were before you got on?T-Pain: Sleeping in the back of an ’81 Cutlass with a 350 Chevy motor.AHHA: Wow. How long ago was that?T-Pain: This was….it’s ’08 so four years ago. That was a huge part of [my drive] – it’s all about just keeping the grind going. You gotta take it, ain’t nobody gonna give it to you. There’s too many other people that’ve been working for their piece so what makes you anymore special?AHHA: So we have to ask… T- Wayne; what’s up?T-Pain: That’s going down. Heavily. We’ve already got like, 25 songs. It’s going down.AHHA: Because a lot of people say “I’ve got a group coming out with so-and-so” and then…T-Pain: Nah, this is happening. I just got off the phone with him.AHHA: When?T-Pain: After my album drops. Could be the beginning of next year, like January/February. Unless… Timbaland gets involved. Then it’s gonna be six record labels getting involved trying to work it out. AHHA: So your telling us that there’s a possibility that Timbaland might get involved?T-Pain: [grinning] Yeah… yeah.AHHA: Anybody else gonna be involved?T-Pain: I asked Pharrell… he said he might see what’s up.AHHA: Who else do you want to see get involved in the project.T-Pain: Kanye.AHHA: That’s gonna be an expensive album.T-Pain: Big time! I mean, we ain’t really tryin’ to make it into an album. If it just falls into a bunch of leaks or if it falls into a mixtape [that’s fine]… if anything, we ain’t making no goals [for the date] because if we really gotta do it as an album and all those labels gotta work together, it’ll come out like, two years from now, nahm’sayin? There’s really no goals… we might just take the songs we’ve got like “here you go, world.” T-Wayne project, right up. For free. Check out how T-Pain freaks: https://allhiphop.com/stories/multimedia__video/archive/2008/11/05/20665238.aspx

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