Changing his tune just a bit
If the words "featuring T-Pain" were appended to your song in the last few years, you're probably a rap or R&B artist who has become familiar with the Billboard top 10. The Grammy-winning hip-hop/soul singer-songwriter-producer has been firebombing the scene with his Auto-Tune tweaked vocals since 2005 on tracks like "Buy U a Drank" and "Bartender." As more and more artists dabble in warping their warble, the tremulous sound has become as hard to shake as double-sided tape. (We'd like to give props to Cher, who kick-started the use of the pitch-correction software as a special effect with "Believe" in 1998). We caught up with T-Pain (real name: Faheem Najm) by phone on his tour bus in his native Florida last week to chat about his new album, which features famous collaborators like Lil Wayne and Kanye West, and about imitation not necessarily being a form of flattery.
Q. On the song "Karaoke," you call out the people who have started using Auto-Tune since you've had success with it. Is it flattering in its own way?
A. No, it's not really flattering when people was laughing at you for using it and then they started using it. When you hear people on interviews and you thinking they about to say, "T-Pain's doing his thing right now so I figured I'll just jump on it," these [expletives] is saying, "I just want to create a new sound." What are you talking about? [Laughs.] It's flattering when they ask Lil Wayne the same question and he says, "T-Pain is the reason I even started trying to sing and use Auto-Tune." It's flattering when you got Kanye [West] saying, "I stole all this from T-Pain."
Q. The music world can be pretty brutal when it comes to sustaining a career, and hip-hop even more so. Do you have a five-year plan?
A. I do not.
Q. Are you saving money at least?
A. Oh yeah. That's why you don't see me with as much jewelry as everybody else. I'll treat myself every now and then. Like if I get $100,000, I'll spend $20,000 and put the rest away.
Q. While a good part of "Thr33 Ringz" has familiar concepts on it, from partying to strip clubs, "Keep Going" is a real change for you, a pretty, heartfelt acoustic ballad about your family. What kind of feedback have you received for that song?
A. Pretty much the same one you just gave me. Just people not expecting it at all. I'm not all strip clubs and drinking. I've got to be sensible sometimes. SARAH RODMAN