T-Pain: The (Likely) Architect of Your Favorite Artist’s Style


There was a time – not long ago – when every song you heard on urban radio didn’t have Drake or Lil Wayne’s voice on it. Less than five years ago, the radio dial belonged to a strange-voiced, clown-like character named T-Pain. Long after Roger Troutman and Zapp used technology to manipulate their voices – and us – into a frenzy on songs like the classic “Computer Love,” T-Pain came along and tested out the new toy of the day – the Auto-Tune device.

At the time of his arrival on the music scene in the late 2000s, people weren’t sure what to think of T-Pain. Was it OK for him to warp his voice that way? Could he even sing? Why did he always look like a jokester? Despite the flack he took, one thing was certain. He was raking in the dough and pulling collabos with the best names in the industry. Then, except for a few select, top tier features, he nearly disappeared, as the newbies came along and capitalized off of his style.

AllHipHop.com interviewed T-Pain, just days before the release of his new album, rEVOLVEr, to find out where the heck he’s been, and if the critics have finally taken their toll on the Auto-Tune master:

AllHipHop.com: Hey, T-Pain! How are you?

T-Pain: Hey, I’m alright. Things are doing good. How you doing?

AllHipHop.com: I’m great. Gosh, it seems like you’ve been gone for a while until recently. What have you been up to?

T-Pain: I’ve just been paying attention to myself, finally, for one time in my life! [laughter] I’ve been working on my album, and doing my thing, just really making sure I’ve got all my ducks in a row, you know what I’m saying? Taking advantage of helping myself instead of helping everybody else. Hooking myself up…

AllHipHop.com: OK. At the same time, it seems like you’ve never left because so many artists are using your style now. Do you take that as the highest form of flattery, or is it like half the industry is biting you now?

T-Pain: Kinda both, you know what I’m saying? When people do it good, I take that as flattery. But, you know what I’m saying, when people just take it and slap it on their voice, and then they got a smash, that’s terrible. That’s just biting, and I’m saying, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re not trying to master your craft; you’re just going in.

But, you know, that only makes me wanna do it better than anybody, you know? I’ve studied it more. I actually went in and read the specifications of everything on the inside, you know what I’m saying? And I made sure I know how it works, and I have a…not only a musical understanding, but a technical understanding of it. I go in and make sure that it works how it’s supposed to work. Ain’t nobody gon’ do that, so even if they know that’s gonna make them better than everybody, they’re still not gonna take the time to do it. That’s what it is…

AllHipHop.com: You took a lot of heat and criticism for the Auto-Tune style. I remember people were saying Jay-Z’s “Death of Auto Tune (DOA)” was a shot at you and other things. When you started out with that style, did you feel like you were taking a risk? Were you like how are people gonna accept this? I know Roger Troutman and crew had done stuff years before where they manipulated their voices…but you were kinda the new guy with that…

T-Pain: This is what I learned. Everybody puts out the music that they like. They don’t do, people don’t do music they don’t like, like ‘I wonder what people are gonna say about this? I don’t know, this is crap…’ No, it’s like, this is my music, this is how I like it, this is how I want it to sound. If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. Holla. That’s what that is. [laughter]

AllHipHop.com: But do you think you were unfairly attacked? Like, ‘this is my style, and everyone should have the freedom to do what they want to do.’

T-Pain: I don’t think I was unfairly attacked. I mean, everybody’s gonna have an opinion. You know what I’m saying? Do your thing. Power to the people to say they don’t like it. Of course they’re gonna have influence on other people. But as far as when terrible people use it, and when you get songs that just sound like crap with it, and nobody says anything, then I feel like, ‘OK, nobody’s gon’ say nothing??? [laughter] When I did it, it actually sounded good! I was actually on key. I actually made sure that it came out right. And they didn’t…but y’all not gonna say nothing about that???’

That’s the only time I actually feel like that, you know. That doesn’t make me stop caring. That just makes me wanna do it more to annoy the sh*t out of people. Then I’ll just stop caring.

AllHipHop.com: OK, you have a new album out this week, and the first thing I noticed is the title. I see the word ‘revolver’ – like a gun – then I also see the word ‘EVOLVE’ standing out in all caps. Explain the metaphors of the gun and the growth in rEVOLVEr.

T-Pain: Basically, it’s just getting to know who T-Pain is. Even if they’ve been rocking since day one, they’re just getting to really know who T-Pain is. I feel like my music, I don’t know why, my music isn’t a part of me. You know what I’m saying? It feels like the T-Pain that we hear on the songs and then the T-Pain that we see on interviews and on TV, it’s not exactly the same person. But people fail to realize, these songs are real.

These songs really reflect what I’ve been going through. That’s the easiest way to make a song is just reflect what you’ve been going through. And the title reflects “don’t judge a book by its cover.” You hear the title rEVOLVEr, you think guns, you think violence, you know, you think all of these other things. But then when you see it, and you see it’s about evolution, it’s about evolving, then you either feel stupid, or you already knew that’s what T-Pain was doing.

AllHipHop.com: You’ve embodied the clown or Hip-Hop jester persona, especially in your live appearances. But lately, I’ve been seeing somewhat normal performance photos of you, scaled down…just a t-shirt, jeans, no huge hat – is that part of the evolution?

T-Pain: That’s part of a natural maturity. You’ve gotta mature at some time. Plus, that sh*t was getting real f*cking expensive! [laughter] But, you know, it’s all about maturity. I’ve had fun. It’s time to stop, well, not so much to stop…but I’m known for drinking and strippers right now, you know what I’m saying? [laughter] I wanna be known for my music, you know?

There’s a music side. I want people to sit down and see that I’m really a musical dude. Every time I get a band to play for me, or just anybody that knows music, anytime they come around me, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know you were so musical ‘cause all you do is hooks and sing songs about drinking and strippers.’ [laughter] And that’s not! It’s just people, you know, they…

AllHipHop.com: You are sort of like the king of “falling in love with a stripper” songs. You did start that whole “movement”…

T-Pain: Yeah, but the crazy thing is, I did one song about it. And now, everybody is like, ‘Yo, I got a song for you, and this is totally your style.’ And…it’s a stripper song. [laughter]

AllHipHop.com: Yeah, but T-Pain, that might be a sign that your stripper song was totally convincing! I mean, it’s a crazy topic to sing about, but you really made people feel like, you know, you were in love with a stripper. So, I mean…

T-Pain: Well, that’s because every dude goes through that. I mean, that’s what , that’s what R Kelly does. R Kelly don’t be trying to come up with clever ways to say anything, You know, he don’t try to come up with nothing or try to make up words to say that this is gonna be the new word for this. No. We say it like everybody would say it in an everyday conversation, and that way you can relate to it more. You can learn it quicker, you can memorize it, you know what I’m saying?

We don’t try to come up with clever ways. I’m not gon’ say, ‘I kinda like this girl, but I don’t really know, she’s a stripper so I don’t really mess with her like that.’ No, n*gga! You LOVE that b*tch in there, and you don’t want her to strip no more or nothing. [laughter] You was the n*gga in the corner like, ‘Why are you in here? What are you doing with your life?’ You that n*gga. [laughter] And people fail to realize, we’ve all been that dude, and people fail to realize that we’ve all seen that dude at least once.

So it’s just regular stuff, you know what I’m saying? But when people try to come up with clever ways, they try to make a radio song and think they’re gonna play this song because it says the word ‘stripper.’ But when you don’t make your own music, then you don’t make regular songs like that, and people don’t relate to your sh*t. They don’t know what the hell you talkin’ about, ‘cause you don’t even know what the hell you’re talking about. Why? ‘Cause you tried to come up with some new sh*t. [laughter] But that’s just regular stuff. That’s why my sh*t is successful, ‘cause it’s just regular n*gga sh*t.

AllHipHop.com: So, you have a hot single out right now. “5 O’Clock” is a really interesting collabo with you, Wiz Khalifa, and Lily Allen. How did that come about, that mixture?

T-Pain: Well, the Lily Allen thing, that came about as just being a sample. I heard that song one time. But, she definitely approved the sample, and she said that she loved the song. She said, ‘Don’t put anybody else on it, don’t have anybody else sing it over, don’t do nothing, just keep it like that.’ So boom, that was like whatever. But then I went through a couple of years of having it; it was two years before I really wanted to do something with it.

Then I was just going through rappers, going through rappers, and I was like, ‘Man, we should just go on and get Wiz Khalifa. He’s the dude to do it, and he’ll do it right now and sound great on the song. I thank him so much. I’ve been following him for a while before he really came out-came out. He’s just been respected so much in such a little time for his style. I thought, ‘Why not go and get this man?’ And so he did the song, and he did his thing. Kapow!

AllHipHop.com: It’s sort of a more pop sound for you. Are you going crossover with this album? Who’s your core audience these days?

T-Pain: I mean, it’s definitely a bunch of different sounds on this, because I’ve done so much in between the last time I bought out an album. So now, I’ve gotten so many different audiences, you know what I’m saying? It’s like the Taylor Swift stuff to being on the CMAs [Country Music Awards] to the Budweiser commercial, the Toshiba commercials. You know, people that didn’t even know that T-Pain existed, they’re Googling now, they’re looking now to try and figure out who he is.

So now, I’ve got to make music for those people, too. It’s not just the ‘hood that knows me anymore. You know what I’m saying, I can’t just go strippers and swervin’ on every song. It’s really a plethora on genres on there. So, I can’t really say if it’s a certain genre or not. I know I put every kind of flavor I can think of on there.

AllHipHop.com: That’s right…you get more money that way, too!

T-Pain: Hello? Hello!! [laughter]

AllHipHop.com: So, I was thinking about two songs – “Best Love Song” and I just heard “Look At Her Go” on AllHipHop featuring Chris Brown. Chris had possibly the biggest single of the year with “Look At Me Now.” I want to ask you since you’ve worked with him recently, what is it about collaborating with Chris that pretty much is going to guarantee a winning track?

T-Pain: I think ‘cause people have to understand that he doesn’t care. He doesn’t. [laughter] I think it’s just his whole new swag, that “I don’t give a f*ck about what you think.” People love that! People don’t like it, they don’t think that they love that, but people love that. They’re like, ‘But we’re your fans, we love you. We supported you through the whole thing.’ Then he’s like, ‘OK, here’s an autograph…now get out my face.’ [laughter] People love that sh*t! It’s so weird to me. People love it.

His whole persona has changed, and it’s really reflecting onto his music. You can just hear it, you know what I’m saying? His whole sound has changed. If you go back and listen to his first album, you’d think that was a little boy, like a 10-year-old boy trying to sing on that thing! [laughter] But now, you know, the man is doing his thing. He just does what he wants to do, ‘cause he knows if he keeps trying to do what everyone else wants him to do, he’ll never be able to live his life. That’s what’s weird about starting out as a young kid. You’ll never get to live your life because you’ll always being living behind people telling you what to do.

AllHipHop.com: Right, well, he has certainly lived a lot in these past few years…but he just has that combination with just about everybody he works with, and I heard that again with you. So, as far as your album goes, who else can we expect to hear from? What’s the flavor of the next few songs you’re going to release?

T-Pain: Awww, man, I mean, I got Pitbull, Ne-Yo, of course, Chris is on it. The song with Wiz and Lily…who else is on the album? E-40…which is weird.

AllHipHop.com: Yeah. Hmmm, can’t wait for that… [laughter]

T-Pain: [laughter] It’s a gang of people…R Kelly, the list goes on. Bei Major…it’s a big list.

AllHipHop.com: Do you think that’s essential these days, to collaborate with big names? Or can people put out an entire album of just themselves now?

T-Pain: Ummm, I think it’s essential now since I started doing it in 2008. [laughter] I think I was the only person that was really doing [mass collaborations] at the time. So, you know what I’m saying, the only person who got close to what I was doing was Akon, and he was probably doing it ‘cause I was doing it. I was on 48 songs at one time! That kinda started a whole epidemic of other people collabing like crazy, because before that, n*ggas just wanted the money to theyself. Now they see records get bigger when you actually want to work with somebody, and not be stingy and stuff with everything.

AllHipHop.com: I do remember a time when I flipped through radio stations and you were on like every station, every time. So I would agree that people have forgotten some of the pioneering things that you bought to the game. I think it’s important to help people remember that you were getting attacked, now everybody’s doing your thing. But really, T-Pain, seriously, can you sing? What becomes the T-Pain brand after the real death of Auto-Tune? What’s your next move?

T-Pain: I can definitely sing! You actually have to sing to use all of that, which is weird. I would say it only helps you get to a pitch that you’re trying to get to. But when like Chris Brown uses it, it sounds just like Chris Brown. You can’t tell the difference. If Chris Brown has heavy Auto-Tune on his voice, it sounds just like Chris Brown. I mean, like, look at “Drowning Again” on this album, and the video that I put out, that was zero Auto-Tune. “Keep Going” on Three Rings, that was zero Auto-Tune.

Like every album I put a song on there without Auto-Tune, but that’s also the song that never gets listened to. [laughter] You know? Look at my biggest records that I’ve ever had, “Flow” with Flo Rida…zero Auto-Tune on that song. People, they just can’t tell, I mean, you really can’t. I understand that ‘cause my voice just sounds weird as hell as it is. So every time people hear my voice, they feel like, ‘It has to be Auto-Tune, because that’s what we know him for, that’s what he does, and he’s never not going to have it on his voice. But definitely every album I put out, I make sure there’s a song with no Auto-Tune on it.

AllHipHop.com: Alright, fair enough. So, is there anything else you want people to know about what you’re working on right now?

T-Pain: I’m actually doing Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen, The X Factor, and couple other shows. So yeah, you can see it then. I’m actually gonna do “Drowning Again” live, just at the piano, singing live. And plus, I think I’m the only person right now that is known for Auto-Tune that don’t do it live – which is weird. Yeah, Kanye does it live, and Drake, and Chris, like all the people who really don’t need it [laughter], they use it live. Anyone who’s seen me perform live knows I have zero Auto-Tune when I’m performing.

AllHipHop.com: That’s interesting, T-Pain. So, my last question for you is your “Top 5 Dead or Alive,” in any order, or you can rank them if you want…

T-Pain: Hmmm! Uhhh, okay…

  1. Cee-Lo Green
  2. Eminem
  3. Wayne
  4. Jay, and uhhhh…
  5. Chris Brown! I’ll throw him in there. How ‘bout that?!

AllHipHop.com: Chris Brown, yeah, I’ve heard him rap!

T-Pain: He’s definitely dope.

AllHipHop.com: …and truthfully, at the BET Hip Hop Awards, I thought he was better than half the guys in the damn Cypher! Do you think he’d ever go seriously in that direction?

T-Pain: He and I have done a lot of rap songs. He’s really dope. But no, I don’t think he’ll rap – not if he’s on this label [he’s on]. I don’t think they’d ever let him…they’ve got enough rappers! [laughter]