LONG BEACH, Cali. – T-Pain is yelling. Not at anyone, in particular, or at anything. Not in a mad, aggravated way, or even out of frustration. He’s yelling because T-Pain isn’t the type of person who can stay immobile, but playing a video game requires you to sit still to focus. Relaxing for him is staying busy, and staying busy gives his brain a break. For some, this would seem an oxymoron. For others, those wired in a way that makes sitting still impossible, it’s a common refrain.
After a particularly noteworthy kill while playing the beta of the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in the Mtn Dew Amp Game Fuel Pro-Am featuring the likes of Blake Anderson from Workaholics and Vince Staples, T-Pain gets up, exaggeratedly steps his foot out as if shifting gears in a car, and proclaims “that’s what you call clutch.”
He’s in his element, as comfortable as he’d be at home or on stage, and despite some hiccups with the new maps and his controller setup, he’s faring quite well against the pros and the other celebs in attendance. He and his partner make the finals against Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl Anthony-Towns. The two – who have been bantering all day – enjoy a friendly rivalry, and Towns showboats after he takes home the crown, or more appropriately the dog tags and bomber jacket awarded to the champs.
T-Pain has made a name for himself streaming on Twitch, especially while playing Overwatch. He’s boisterous, engaging, and playful, and he doesn’t reveal a shred of shame or embarrassment while he plays. There’s never a sense he’s trying too hard or that he’s uncomfortable. He’s playing games he enjoys playing, and he’s letting the world in on that experience. The artist known for his bouncy hooks and the autotune sound that dominated the end of the 2000s exudes joy on stage, and that bleeds into his streaming.
There is, to put it bluntly, something refreshing to knowing that T-Pain unabashedly loves gaming.
UPROXX Sports had the chance to speak with T-Pain following his championship loss at Thunder Studios, and discussed his favorite game growing up, what gaming has taught him, and why your favorite rapper is probably gaming, too, even if you don’t know it.
Martin Rickman: What was the game that got you hooked on video games?
T-Pain: Battletoads, no question.
Not Battletoads/Double Dragon?
The first Battletoads, and the Lion King.
The Lion King was hard.
That was the f*cking Dark Souls of my childhood. That’s what got me hooked.
You’ve said before that gaming is an opportunity to not be thinking, but while you’re not thinking, things come into your mind. Do you think that’s appropriate for guys like KAT, who have an entire life devoted to this one thing?
Even KAT told me himself that you can put on your headset and just disappear. You can pay attention to nothing. But when he’s playing basketball, he has to pay attention to every pass and everybody’s movement. He’s listening to shoes on the ground and trying to see where everybody is, keeping himself with his man, and it’s like when you put on that headset nobody else is around you, and you feel that synchronicity between you and the other team, the rest of the team. And you feel that blessing that you can just relax and just f*cking enjoy your game instead of being so much of a part of it that if you do anything wrong then your team’s got 11 other motherf*ckers. You know it’s weird.
You’re going to get shot in Call of Duty.
It’s a part of it. Yeah, it’s a part of it. So you know it’s not as much stress instead of losing a game in basketball and having a whole country be against you just because you missed a shot. You know that goes down in history, and it’s all the ESPN instant replays from f*cking 20 years ago and sh*t. Like we get it, it happens just let it go. You die in Call of Duty, and it’s like, “Cool, let’s respawn and get back in there.”
What do you think is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the amount of gaming you’ve done? Especially with now streaming and being able to do Twitch and being able to interact with all these people who may be fans of your music or maybe they’re exposed to you from gaming, but didn’t know you before.
I’ve learned that it’s important to explore your hobby. And you know, explore the things you actually want to do and put it out there, because there’s a lot of people, a lot of artists that I know that game, but they take themselves so seriously that they feel like they’ll lose their fan base if they put out there that they game. And that’s not the case. I had to take this talk to my daughter, I know some of your favorite artists don’t say they game, but they do. I’ve been around them, I’ve been around them. I know these people that you love. I know these people, I know them personally, and they game every second of every day if they’re not on camera. Now, when the camera comes on they put the sticks down. It’s like, why are you ashamed of that? You’re ashamed that you like to have fun?
Yeah, why be ashamed of a thing you like to do?
How does that work? That’s a weird thing. You’re not a geek, or nerd, or time waster, or slacker, or anything like that. You’re a person that enjoys something that a motherf*cker that made a career out of graphic designs did, a person that made a career out of coding. A lot of people put crazy time into these things that you enjoy for 15 minutes out of a day and they, in turn, enjoy that. They just want to see their game work. They want to be able to start a game and be able to say, “Man that code worked that I did, the f*cking six pages of codes that I did,” you know what I’m saying? He can just enjoy that, so it turns out to be something that people really need to let go of the stigma of the old days. I say old days as early, as close as the ’90s.
It’s crazy that we think those are the old days right now, but as close as the ’90s, people were saying that’s a slacker thing, or you’re going to rot your brain, or wasting your time playing those video games. It’s just a thing that people need to let go of, be free, and enjoy themselves, because you’re going to be on your death bed wishing you had the f*cking PlayStation 26, sitting there in your f*cking hospital bed and you’re not able to play it because nobody knew you liked it.
Because you never told anybody.
Because you never told anybody. That’s the thing I learned, to just let go, enjoy your life, stop taking yourself so f*cking serious, and let people know that you like fun.
You’re close to it, and you know it’s an art form.
Absolutely, and even my daughter, she did her whole school project on the art of video games. She talked about how Journey was art. People talk about “video games aren’t an art,” but when you look at these things that people are doing with character development, and character design, and things like that … something as simple as designing a character that’s in the military. We know what normal people look like and even normal people that join. So just the fact that you can create somebody with stubble, you can create somebody with a full beard, you can create somebody with no hair, you can create somebody, but you can make that person look like a real person that you’ve seen before.
That’s art, dude, that art. It’s the same way as if you pick up a canvas and you paint these people in this room. It’s art, it’s the same thing. Nobody should be stifled into saying just because at the end of your art, all these things happen. At the end of your art there’s just that one picture and it sits still. This is still art, it still had that extra time to make it real.
There’s backstory, there’s orchestral compositions.
Oh my God, the music. I ain’t want to get started on the music of these games. Holy sh*t! It’s so much, it’s so many facets that come into play when you’re creating a game. And people don’t pay attention to it. When you look at things like the subtle things in Breath of the Wild and stuff like that. You look at something like Breath of the Wild and I play for hours and hours on end.
You get lost in that.
Yeah, and the sound design, and things like that, and then I play something like Dark Souls or something like that and then I hear they use the same footsteps for each step and I’m like I can’t play this game anymore. I just can’t play it, it’s the same footsteps. I can’t do it. That affects people different ways, but when you put more attention and when you put more detail into your art and your craft, it comes out the same way as if you put more detail into a picture you’re painting or something you’re paying attention to a movie. When Disney and Pixar pay more attention and put more details in their movies, you get a final product that moves people.
So you know it’s a whole thing. I can go on with this sh*t for days.