Whilst having experienced betrayal from an ungrateful class of his peers, Faheem Rasheed Najm has undoubtedly impacted hip-hop more than most of the current upcoming mainstream artists could ever strive to.
Better known as T-Pain, he is part of a select part of individuals who put the genre on its back from 2005 to 2010. As many biased entities would now use the sour taste in their mouth to serve as a cue to start slandering his name, I use that feeling to further solidify my opening statement. T-Pain has experienced the full spectrum of the mainstream music machine from overwhelming success to bitter feelings of betrayal and it is my belief that he can use his experience to create music that owes apologies to no one.
T-Pain burst on the scene after putting his spin on Akon’s hit “Locked Up“. Modestly titled “I’m Fucked Up“, it caught the attention of Akon and resulted in a record deal for Mr. Najm. Shortly afterwards, he crafted his mainstream debut album “Rappa Ternt Sanga”. Spawning radio hits “I’m Sprung” and “I’m In Love (With A Stripper)“, it was apparent T-Pain had arrived.
At a time in my life, where I was romantically involved with a woman who did indeed pursue the career of a “lady of the night”, I really related to T-Pains music. So did a majority of mainstream hip hop listeners due to album sales in excess of 500,000 copies (Gold certification by the RIAA), which is important to know. Anyone who was an avid mainstream listener at this time and denies ever having T-Pain on their radar would be held in contempt of the law in a courtroom setting.
While T-Pain did ascend to heights of success that are seen by a very select few, he had an uncanny ability to draw attention to otherwise unknown artists. Case and point – Flo Rida with his hit single “Low” featuring T-Pain became an overnight sensation. The single released on October 9, 2007 would go on to become T-Pains most successful feature to date achievement an RIAA rating of 6 times platinum.
Now consistently dominating airways with his seemingly never ending list of features, it wasn’t hard to believe his sophomore album “Epiphany” not only defeated the idea of the sophomore album curse, but was his most successful project to date. Scoring a Number 1 position on the Billboard 200 and surpassing 819,000 records sold in the U.S. alone.
Released on June 5, 2007, it boasted hit singles “Bartender” featuring Akon and “Buy U A Drank” featuring Yung Joc, which would remain in consistent rotation for over a year. His third single, “Church” was not successful in the U.S. However, it did find its audience overseas. This is an important benchmark to mention as it begins the foreshadowing pertaining to the artistic conflict T-Pain would experience in the near future.
However, 2008 also goes down in the history books as yet another successful year for the artist. He released his third album “Thr33 Ringz” and won a Grammy for best rap song alongside Kanye West for his contributions to “Good Life“. His album reached Number 4 on the Billboard 200 and went on to sell over 700,000 copies, once again achieving gold certification status. Singles “Chopped N Skrewed“, “Freeze“, “Can’t Believe It” and “Therapy” maintained radio presence and kept T-Pain in good favor with the mainstream powers that be.
Hidden from the public eye, the foreshadowing continued with an incident that occurred between September and October of 2008 with frequent collaborator Kanye West. Kanye brought in T-Pain to assist with his fourth album “808’s and Heartbreaks”, reportedly due to Kanye’s admiration for T-Pains previous work. Despite this, T-Pain states that he was repeatedly taunted during the process and was actually the subject of a song Kanye wrote in the studio speaking on how dumb T-Pains ideas were. He further elaborated on the matter informing viewers that Kanye had everyone in the studio singing along with him as he performed it.
The aforementioned incident continued to foreshadow trouble to come for T-Pain, however he still managed to make 2009 a successful year. With yet another Grammy for his contribution to Jamie Foxx’s hit single “Blame It“, the future seemed bright. That sunshine was eclipsed on June 5, 2009 with Jay-Z’s release of his hit single “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)“. While Jay-Z explained that he appreciated its use by T-Pain who had an ear for melody, the unavoidable domino affect had already initiated with many assuming it was directed at T-Pain specifically. This included T-Pain himself due to Jay-Z’s initial silence on the subject.
If it wasn’t blatantly apparent, T-Pain can make hits based off subjects pertaining to alcohol consumption, the club scene and affairs with women. Those attributes became the sole interest of his peers and that became frustrating for the hit-maker. As with all great artists, the need to expand and evolve soon would become a necessity.
Not to insinuate that soon he would gravitate towards politically motivated songs, but the desire to expand is what he credits the conceptual structure of his fourth album, “Revolver” stylized to emphasize the word evolve. Ironically this became his poorest mainstream effort based on sales and general reception. While his lead single, “5 O’ Clock featuring Lilly Allen and Wiz Khalifa did receive radio play, it was sub-par to what was now the norm for a T-Pain hit. T-Pain admits that he was frustrated at this point in his career and was tired of the constant disrespect originating from all sides.
After “Revolver” failed to continue his commercial success, T-Pain took a break from music. He admits to falling into a deep depression and letting his love for alcohol take hold of his life. He watched on as new artists utilized his trademark sound and did it in a way that completely fell flat when compared to the bar he had set. Despite this factor, many Auto-Tune songs that were sonically best described as ear rape continued to build other artists careers.
The Hip-Hop landscape unfortunately suffers from short term memory and within a year of T-Pains absence many imitators rose to fame with no complaints from listeners pertaining to the similarities. Perhaps this is due to T-Pains enormous initial success. T-Pain was so omnipresent between 2005-2010 people actually started resenting him. T-Pain only made one type of record: a hit, or at least that was the perception.
People who had once enjoyed his music would express feelings of ill will to me and I foolishly sat silent. In hindsight, he provided a level of quality so pristine that the public became spoiled. As people, we were unaware of how poorly Auto-Tune could be utilized, because every song T-Pain crafted was sonically still a good sounding song regardless of the effect. He proved that he was a good singer on multiple occasions, but those songs that often differentiated from the pattern weren’t his radio singles. Resulting in minimal attention given to these examples, many people still believe he needs Auto-Tune to sing well.
T-Pain would return to Hip-Hop with “Up Down (Do This All Day)” featuring B.O.B. on August 13,2013. He confirmed that it was his first single from his upcoming fifth album, “Stoicville: The Phoenix”. Since then he has released the single “Drankin Patna“, which describes his ideal alcohol consumption companion.
Upon just hearing the two newest singles, I wasn’t convinced that T-Pain was departing from the formula he had been following for years now. This was before I had heard the intro “Stoicville”, which was presented in video format. In this song, he delivers on the concept of evolution by providing an introspective approach while being brutally honest about what’s been transpiring around him. Combine that with him giving his feelings on the matter and it feels as if we are witnessing a true metamorphosis. And throughout the entirety of all of these revelations, did I mention that he’s rapping?
While T-Pain has not fully ascended back into the position he once held in hip-hop, it is nevertheless important to recognize the strides he has made in the genre that has all but forgotten him. There is no harm in allowing the individual who popularized Auto-Tune to regain his throne, as the individuals who currently crowd it could use some lessons on the subject. Beyond that, there truly is a certain element of excitement in the air as T-Pain demonstrates willingness to go into uncharted territory and explore a new side of a genre he has yet to fully incorporate into his repertoire.