Future, Young Thug, Lil Yachty… the list of “rappers” who spend at least part of their time crooning has extended by several orders of proportion since 2005, when a Tallahassee, Florida entertainer by the name of T-Pain first gave us a taste of a Rappa Ternt Sanga. And in a twist of irony, those names have become decidedly more popular than many of straight-up rappers who’ve come along in the same time frame, even as more serious-minded MCs, such as Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar, have begun to incorporate more melody into their own output. Pain himself will gladly claim credit for this phenomenon, saying, “If you feel bad about the music industry, it’s my fault.”
Yet, T-Pain has been conspicuously absent throughout the unprecedented explosion in popularity of the sound he arguably pioneered. While his style of blending Autotuned singing vocals with hip-hop narrative sensibilities and delivery was considered novel in upon his debut, by just five years later, it was being widely derided as a gimmick, culminating in Jay-Z’s “Death Of Autotune” record and a corresponding nosedive in T-Pain’s fortunes.
At his height, from 2006 to 2010, T-Pain was featured on more than 50 chart-topping singles, including Flo-Rida’s “Low,” which went six times platinum. However, as demand for a full album of T-Pain vocals plummeted, the affable musician’s substantial production talent and legitimate vocal abilities were sidelined, relegating him to appearances on other producers’ and rappers’ popular choruses and eventually, to just about disappearing after only two more short years.
Now, T-Pain is back with a new album, entitled Oblivion, and a new look — cleaner, stripped-down, without the self-parodying top hat and giant pendants that marred his last year of popularity — and the timing couldn’t be better for his return to the spotlight.
Now that the rapper-turned-singer blueprint is more-or-less par-for-the-course in hip-hop, T-Pain’s second chance to shine has become apparent. No longer would his Autotuned warbling be considered offensive to the sensibilities of mainstream rap; on the contrary, now that so many rappers are singing, his style fits right in, but his status as an originator of the style gives him an edge on the competition.
For one thing, he’s always been a stronger writer than he’s been given credit for, and in today’s landscape of ultra-relatable rap personalities, few are as relatable as Pain. He sings about being down and out on prior tracks like “Time Machine” and “I’m F*cked Up,” his ironic twist on Konvict Music label boss Akon’s “I’m Locked Up” single, with the sort of detail that proves he’s been there before.