T-Pain Addresses Critical Backlash & How Auto-tune Impacts His Legacy
Exclusive: T-Pain details why people didn't want him to work with Chance The Rapper and why not caring about being cool has led to his success.
T-Pain is aware of how most of the general public and how some self-proclaimed Hip Hop purists perceive him. He’s the Auto-tune guy, the guy with the grill, the guy who literally bought a big ass chain, the guy who wore a huge top hat and a tuxedo. He’s also a writer, producer, label owner, and the person that appeared on 14 #1 Billboard singles in 2008 alone. Maybe what appears to be eccentric behavior, talent and business acumen aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
“They say people would respect me more if I looked as cool as other people,” T-Pain said, while hosting back-to-back interviews at RCA Records office in Beverly Hills, California. “I always tell them, ‘I’m not here to look cool for nobody; I’m here to do what I believe in. I’m here to do what I hear in my heart, what I see in my heart, what I feel in my heart.’ I don’t want to be on my deathbed like, ‘Damn I should’ve did that shit.’”
If trusting his heart is what’s gotten him this far, it’s difficult to knock it. But from the outside looking in, it’s atypical to say the least. Pain credits both his and his wife’s belief in the supernatural for giving him the impetus to return to touring; he’s currently headlining a series of shows to build anticipation for an album dropping later this year. One of the highlights of his 2013 Correspondents Dinner was President Barack Obama playing the T-Pain collaboration “All I Do Is Win” for his guests. After meeting with Michael Jackson, T-Pain says the late King of Pop told him “Bartender” was one of his favorite songs, and Epiphany was one of the only physical albums he recommended someone purchase. T-Pain’s methods are unorthodox to say the least. And in turn, he doesn’t get the typical results. Say what you will, but there’s a method to the Auto-tuned, tuxedoed madness.
T-Pain Credits Supernatural Forces For Returning To Touring
HipHopDX: You surprised some people with the range of what you can do with Freaknik: The Musical. Did anything from that translate over to this weekly video series you’re doing?
T-Pain: [Laughs] Not really, man. I’m pretty much doing what I want to do. It’s really just seeing a vision and making it come out. I ain’t trying to surprise nobody, and I’m really not doing it for nobody but me. There’s things that’s in my head I have the ability to let out to the fans and to the public. Young Cash—the voice of the main character in Freaknik—me and him get together and we always say, “If you want to do it, and you see it in your head, and God tellin’ you to do it, then fuckin’ do it.” I mean, it’s a lot. I got a lot to do. I still got a lot to put out and show people, but it’s just to get my vision out there man.
DX: Along with that, you mentioned how the last tour took a lot out of you as far as sacrifices with family time and whatnot. What made this the right time to come back headlining your own tour?
T-Pain: I think this is the right time because it’s just... It was sent. It was foretold. I’ve been getting so many signs and messages just by spirits and stuff like that, and I don’t think you can deny stuff like that. I think you gotta go with things like that. If it’s stuff that’s sent from God, you can’t really ignore that.
DX: What kind of signs have you been seeing?
T-Pain: My wife is not super religious, but she’s spiritual. It’s always like apparitions visiting her and just real creepy shit happening in our house. There’s doors slamming, people leaving things in places where nobody will see them and certain patterns. There’s always stuff like that, and I also believe in friendly spirits, friendly apparitions and stuff that’s coming forward to help me along on my path. She’s the only one that can really see them, but I can see things as they’re happening, and it’s really... You know, you just gotta believe in things like that, man. I’d be a fool to not at least go and see what they’re talking about. There’s no way to get around that. If you keep avoiding it, they’re just going to keep coming back, and it’s gonna get weirder and weirder, and you’re gonna have to pay attention to it at some point. You can prolong it, but you know, it’s not weird. It’s just different. How about that?
DX: It seems kind of hard to articulate.
T-Pain: Yeah, because it don’t happen to a lot of people. There’s no real stories of it happening to anybody around me. So that’s just kind of weird to me.
Why T-Pain Thinks Some Critics Don’t Take Him Seriously
DX: Apparitions aside, you obviously like to have a lot of fun. How much do you think that shades people’s perception of you as far as being about your business?
T-Pain: Oh, 90 percent...90 percent. I’ve heard different aspects of it. I’ve heard, “You have so much fun that people can’t even take you serious. People feel like you don’t take yourself serious, so they can’t take you serious.” They say people would respect me more if I looked as cool as other people. I always tell them, “I’m not here to look cool for nobody; I’m here to do what I believe in. I’m here to do what I hear in my heart, what I see in my heart, what I feel in my heart.” I don’t want to be on my deathbed like, “Damn I should’ve did that shit. I was thinking about doing that, but I never got a chance. I should’ve went to that place when I thought about it, but it was so uncool to go to that place.”
I don’t want to live by anybody else’s standards, because all you’re gonna do is regret it. You’re gonna regret it when you can’t do it anymore—when you get too old to walk somewhere you want to go, or you get too sick to really get back on stage to do a move that you wanted to do that seemed like it was going to be weird to people so you didn’t do it. You just want to live your life, man. And I can safely say that I’d be on my deathbed tomorrow like, “I did everything that I wanted to do, and I’m fine, and I can go.”
DX: The industry is full of followers. Where does that come from?
T-Pain: I couldn’t tell you. It’s full of followers, because people want what other people have. I want what I need. I want what God says I need and what he got for me. I want what my path has been set to give to me. The universe is always giving us stuff, man. And we always reject it because it don’t seem cool or it’s [this mentality of], “That’s not what he would do. That’s not what Diddy would do. Luda wouldn’t do that, or this person wouldn’t do that.” That’s because that’s not their path. You got a totally different path. Do what you wanna do. Do what your path consists of, and you’re fine. There’s nothing you’ve got to worry about. Don’t worry about if you look cool or not, because you’re going to regret it.
DX: The part about being taken seriously is interesting, because the essence of Hip Hop—if you take it all the way back to block parties and DJ Kool Herc—was having fun.
T-Pain: Yeah, that’s what it’s supposed to be. But now it’s just... God Dammit, what the hell is wrong with people right now [laughs]?
DX: When you’re appearing on 14 #1 records on the Billboard charts, why do you think people didn’t chalk it up to you just having fun? There was a lot of animosity about your use of Auto-tune and the way you projected yourself?
T-Pain: Because people don’t want these things to happen. People don’t want it to be easy. Once people find out that Auto-tune was a pitch correction software they felt like, “Oh, so you just can’t sing? So I can do that too then? It’s correcting your pitch, and it’s not that you’re actually good at anything. It’s just that there’s this thing making you perfect. So yeah you suck. You don’t even deserve that, because you can’t sing.” And you know, it’s totally not true, because all these other people are doing it. They’re not getting the Beatles records and shit. There’s a lot of other people using it, and they’re not getting any awards or any attention at all. It’s not that easy. You can use Auto-tune as much as you want to, but you still have to write a dope song. You still have to perform it well, you still have to deliver it, and you still have to have a dope beat—which I made pretty much all of them. So it’s not fair to say that I didn’t put in work, and Auto-tune is the only reason I’ve got a career. I mean, say that shit about people that’s on reality shows. They’re not contributing anything to society, and they’re famous as hell. They’re getting more to show up to the club to just be there and drink than I am getting for a show. Say that shit to them, because there’s no talent there…people that’s just here for nothing. I mean, they’re not here on this Earth for nothing, but like you hosting a club because you’ve been on TV a lot, living life?
T-Pain On Public Perception, Justin Bieber & Pop Music’s Reputation
DX: When do you think people recognized that you were using Auto-tune as an instrument?
T-Pain: I don’t think they do still. I don’t think people realize that at all. I mean, people that know music, people that realize what it is and you gotta realize the amount of the population that can never get to and can never go to a studio and find out how Auto-tune really works. So right now, the only thing they’ve got to go off on is the opinion of a blogger, or the opinion of one of the people they follow on Twitter, or just somebody that says that they know a bass player that’s played for T-Pain one time. So they don’t really have their own opinion of anything. That’s just like when people say Justin Bieber sucks. I like Justin Bieber, man. He’s turning into a dick. He’s turning into a dick of a person, but his music is really fuckin’ dope.
DX: What draws you to Justin Bieber’s music?
T-Pain: It’s actually creative. I don’t know who he’s got writing for him or producing, but it’s coming out good. But at the same time, most people in this country or around the world right now would say, “Justin Bieber is fuckin’ terrible,” and they have never heard Justin Bieber’s music. But, so many people say that Justin Bieber is terrible, and they automatically say Justin Bieber is terrible without giving him a chance in fuckin’ hell. Even people trying to get him kicked out of countries—just because it’s so many people saying that Justin Bieber sucks—and they’ll never give him a chance. They’ll never listen to it, but all they know in their minds is, “If anything comes up about Justin Bieber, I already know he sucks, so I don’t have to [listen].” And that’s the same thing that’s happening to me. Auto-tune has been portrayed as a sucky thing, and it’s being used by talentless people. So when you say T-Pain’s name, he’s automatically associated with Auto-tune, [therefore] T-Pain sucks. It’s like a no-brainer for a lot of people. Chance the Rapper just tweeted me a little while ago, and some people are saying, “Oh my God that would be amazing Pain. I listen to all of your music, I fuck with you, and you collaborating with Chance the Rapper is dope.” Everybody else is like, “Please Chance, don’t ever fuck with T-Pain. He has no talent. Oh my God, I’m gonna die if you work with him. I’ll never follow you again, Chance. Don’t ever.” But they’ve never heard T-Pain’s music. They just going off the popular opinion, and that’s all they’ve got, so I would never get the appreciation I feel like I deserve. I don’t even want the praise; that’s stupid.
DX: How much of that do you attribute to pop music? Some people automatically think pop music is dumb, but it’s not easy to make good pop music.
T-Pain: Not at all, and there’s a lot of fuckin’ dumb pop music out there. Have you ever heard of Blazetrak?
T-Pain: So Blazetrak is this site—basically I’m signed up as an administrator—and if you’re an artist, you can pay to have a membership. You can send your music to people on the site. So let’s say you have a song and you want T-Pain to hear it, you gotta pay $200 for T-Pain to hear your song. But in turn, I have to give you at least 75 seconds of feedback. I gotta rate it, and I gotta put a comment in to tell you how you can make it better. I’ve heard some terrible shit in my days, boy, and it’s constant. I gotta do it every week, and it’s constantly people trying to do pop music. It’s bad. People don’t get the concept, and they just feel like if you just put Auto-tune on your voice and [makes a trap beat noise] do that, you’re fine. And it’s so terrible. But, the people that get it, got it. Dr. Luke, David Guetta and Traxamillion—these are people that sold over 200 milion albums already, and these are people that went a gazillion times platinum. David Guetta would walk in the club in Vegas and get a million dollars in a night for deejaying for an hour. These are people that have really studied their craft, and they’ve somehow mastered it… Copy them, I guess.
When people saw that Auto-tune was working with T-Pain, and I had so many hits they said, “There’s something working about this Auto-tune. I’m going to start using this too.” People started copying it, but you still have to write a good song. If the song sucks, it’s not going to win. But it’s a lot of reasons why people think this shit is easy, because they get the image that these people making this music are stupid. And they think that these people just go in the studio and fart out a fuckin’ song. They don’t know a song as simple as “Good Life” took me and Kanye five weeks to finish. It was seven different hooks. So people don’t know that it took us that long to do just that simple of a song. So these people, they see that Kanye’s a quote-un-quote asshole, and think, “If Kanye can do it, then I can do it too.” And they do it, and they hear their shit and say, “Oh this sounds just like “Good Life!”” And it’s so fuckin’ terrible. But you know, people like a trash hit, so to each his own if you think it’s good.
T-Pain Recalls President Obama Playing “All I Do Is Win”
DX: Where were you when you heard that President Obama came out to “All I Do Is Win” at the correspondents’ dinner?
T-Pain: Oh boy. I was at a club actually, and I saw people tweeting about it. Oh boy, I drank so much that night [laughs]. It was crazy, man. For the President of the United States to come out to one of your songs, to come out to one of your #1s? I mean, I can’t say that’s the highest honor, because I don’t know what the situation in heaven is like. I don’t know if heaven is like a club or something you get into. I don’t know if you walk in, and when the gates open I might hear one of my songs. I don’t know [laughs]. So I don’t want to say that’s the highest honor, but at this point in my knowledge, that’s the highest honor I’ve ever had. I mean, the Grammys and everything… But that’s the President of the United States, and you can’t really say that the President of the Board on the Grammys that nominates people... I mean, thank you Mr. President, but we also have “Mr. President for real” coming out to T-Pain songs. It’s weird that that song is the one he picked, and that song is the one I got the least awards for. Hey, but at the same time, I don’t need no awards. The fuckin’ President came out to the song, so I’m fine. They don’t have to give me no damn, plastic ass awards [laughs].
DX: People who have heard enough of your music know you used to rap, and you can sing without Auto-tune. But how much of your musical legacy will be tied to Auto-tune?
T-Pain: Probably all of it.
DX: How do you feel about that?
T-Pain: It’s not gonna bother me at all, as long as my name is known. People will make up anything they want about you. They feel like they can evaluate you, break you down and really divide you into what you can do. But when people really do the research for real, that’s when they find out. So if I do leave a legacy with my music here, it will be enough of it and enough different kinds of it—with so many different people—where it wouldn’t even matter how much you break it down. You’re going to find out like, “Oh shit, that dude actually was good. I didn’t know that. I didn’t actually give him a chance. He got Justin Biebered.”