‘It’s like, you want a song about givin’ a girl a better life or you want a song about how good her dick suckin’ is?’ It’s a conundrum that has T-Pain thinking today and a question that he feels the general public has to ask themselves.
Upstairs in Tripod’s main dressing room, one of his relatively small entourage (with the exception of the brick shithouse of a bodyguard) is synching their iPod, while another is putting some honey in a hot drink to help the star of the show’s vocal chords. Mr Pain, formerly Faheem Rasheed Najm, meanwhile, talks to State while wearing mirrored sun glasses, an over-sized white t-shirt, beanie hat and superhero pyjama bottoms. Green Lantern, the original king of (power ring) bling, is to the fore. Well played.
The social query he’s thinking over is as a result of hearing Flo Rida’s -Right Round’ on ‘every record station’ across Europe in the last few weeks of this tour to promote his recent album, Thr33 Ringz.
‘It’s getting’ weird,’ he says, ‘because, y’know, basically when I wrote a song called -Can’t Believe It’ [the first single from Thr33 Ringz], I was writing about not settlin’ for a type of life, the whole thing was me going to a girl in the strip club, gettin’ her to stop strippin’ and go just do better things with her life, ‘cos, y’know, what I’m sayin’ is, there’s better shit to do.
‘That song was less accepted than the new Flo Rida song and the lyrics to that is ‘you make my head spin round when you go down’. Everybody’s just missing it, man’¦ The lines of logic aren’t there, I just don’t get it. It (-Can Believe It’) wasn’t accepted as a pop song: they wouldn’t play it on pop stations. Then you got a song about how good a girl’s head skills is and it’s getting fuckin’ played until… y’know?’
Inching towards the end of a European (‘long ass’) tour, the venue isn’t totally sold out and indeed will have to, the promoter admits, rely on a few ‘walk-ins’ to get a decent number in. It’s a problem he hasn’t had to deal with in the States for a long time. Having burst into the US R’n’B mainstream with his version of Akon’s -Locked Up’ (entitled -Fucked Up’) in 2004, his method of meshing hip hop with his crooning tendencies, all the while using auto-tune to generally superb effect to beef up the songs, has led to collaborations with Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Chris Brown and Akon himself.
He’s won a Grammy for his pretty darn decent match-up with Kanye West on -Good Life’. He’s released three albums, the last two of which entered at numbers one and four respectively on the Billboard 200 in their first week of release. He’s even going to show up in the latest instalment of the Fast & Furious franchise. On this side of the Atlantic, though, he may have trouble getting arrested. Well, maybe not too much in those pyjama pants.
‘I like European fans,’ he says. ‘They’re more loyal because it’s somethin’ they don’t see every day.’
Alcohol has been one of the main recurring themes in the first three albums; songs like -Buy U A Drink’, -Bartender’ and -Shottas’ litter his records and he finds it funny that talking about booze can be more controversial than choruses about guns or blow jobs from other artists. ‘Yeah, it’s getting bad with that: that’s why I’m stopping,’ he says. Stopping drinking?
‘No, no, not me,’ he laughs, as does the guy synching his iPod, ‘I’m sayin’ stoppin’ making songs about drinkin’ that’s all. I’m doin’ more (songs) on the side of growin’ up man: it’s time to go to another side. I don’t want to just be considered anything – hip hop, R n’ B, whatever – I want to be considered an all round musician. It’s just how people look at it.’
He has, however, just collaborated on a Jamie Foxx track entitled -Blame It On The Alcohol’, one where Foxx has T-Pained up, as it were, and brought in the auto-tune effect before letting Tallahassee-native Pain take the final verses. The Hype Williams-directed video to the song is notable for one of the finest intro scenes State has ever witnessed. Beginning with the uniformly normal flash convertible rolling up to a nameless club, we slowly get to the see the gents on the prowl inside. Namely: Jake Gyllenhall, Forrest Whittaker, Foxx himself and eh’¦ Ron Howard. Waiting inside the club are T-Pain and Samuel L. Jackson.
‘Jamie Foxx did that, man,’ says T Pain with a chuckle. ‘It’s a weird bunch of people to be there alright. But that’s Jamie Foxx: he called a lot of people, a lot of people showed up and it was just movie stars everywhere, people who get ten million a movie. It was just like they was just popping up, comedians, other artists, it was a crazy night. I had to leave early ‘cos there were too many superstars there’¦ I just’¦ the more people that showed up for Jamie Foxx, the less of a star I was, y’know what I’m sayin’. I started becoming a fan.’
As mentioned, the song itself sees Foxx join the ranks of those dipping into auto-tune territory. ‘Well yeah it could be considered Jamie Foxx doin’ T-Pain style,’ he offers. ‘He did everything in the song except my verse on it, though. I guess he had me in mind: the auto tune brings that across, I suppose, but everybody’s doing that now though.’
The former Mr Najm continues, ‘There’s more mis-use than actual good use of auto-tune: a whole lot more. You deal with it. I mean, in the end no one can generally figure out how to use it anyway: it took me three years to figure out how to use it. So the people who are just discovering it and puttin’ it out there on their songs, it makes no sense to me. I didn’t put anything out previously before I learned to use it. The content of my music, the style of my beats is not one thing only. That’s why people can still tolerate me, can still tolerate the auto-tune because every time you hear T-Pain it’s a different side of T-Pain.’
The different musical sides of the man currently talking about himself in the third person began to take shape when he set up a studio in his family home as a 10-year-old, using a four-track recorder, beat machine and Casio keyboard. Did any of these recordings survive?
‘Actually, I don’t have any of it,’ he says before State finishes asking the question. ‘I lost all that music. When I signed’¦,’ he sits up and starts again. ‘Well, the way I got signed was when I ran away from home, so I had to leave all my music equipment there. My dad probably threw it away, I don’t know. I had to run away. There was so much going on in my hometown of Tallahassee that I just had to get away from it. I had (to) do everything myself.’
Does he ever go back? ‘Ahm’¦ I’m good,’ he laughs, ‘Nah, not much, it’s changed so much as well’¦ y’know, sometimes people see all change as bad change and I keep tellin’ everybody that all change isn’t bad change. I had to change in order to be where I am, ‘cos if I had kept the mindset of stayin’ in my home town, if I’d have kept my mind there: I’d be one of these guys talking about the same things again and again in their songs – gangbanging, cars, bitches, y’know what I’m sayin.
‘That would’ve been my life, would’ve been my style and I would have been no different to any of the artists in the game because I kept the mind state of my own town. A lot of people don’t know where I’m from until I tell them ‘cos people tend to sound like they’re from where they’re from, y’know what I’m sayin’. And they talk about the things that they talk about and what they see where they’re from. I don’t sound like I’m from somewhere. I like that.’
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