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Feel his T-Pain 

Hip-hop's best-known Auto-Tunesmith makes his pitch for respect

Want to hear T-Pain perform his Lonely Island collaboration "I'm on a Boat" when he comes to Denver Sunday?

Just ask enough and you'll get it.

"I'm pretty sure that's going to happen," says the purveyor of hip-hop hits like "Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin')," "Chopped 'n' Skrewed" and, of course, "I'm 'n Luv (Wit a Stripper)." "It'll get requested enough to go ahead and let the people hear what they want."

In fact, giving people what they want is how T-Pain's show works every night.

"I see what people are responding to and put the show together the way I want," he explains. "You've just got to see yourself on the floor, not on the stage. Every place has a perspective on the things they want to hear. You want to picture yourself being there and come at it from a fan's standpoint, not a performer's standpoint."

Of course, T-Pain has plenty of hits, so he can make up a set on the fly. He's best known for using Auto-Tune, the pitch-correction audio processor, on the vocals of his songs, from his first hit, 2005's "I'm Sprung," on up through "Blame It," his 2009 Grammy winner with Jamie Foxx. He's even said in the press that he deserves credit and/or payment from all artists who've subsequently used the technology.

T-Pain insists he started using it for a simple reason, and it's not the one that you may be thinking.

"I wanted to sound different than everybody else; it's not something I needed. Now I'm singing again and you can hear that. Auto-Tune or not, you've still got to write a hit song."

So how do you write a hit song?

"Just write about me," says T-Pain, by which he means you. "Everybody goes through the same thing. Whether you're rich or poor, black or white, young or old, everybody has the same problems. That's why I sing about me. People know what I'm talking about."

T-Pain at 10

Although T-Pain has collaborated with dozens of artists — and also produces many of the songs on which he appears, including that Grammy-winning Foxx collaboration — he isn't generally seen as a multi-faceted artist.

"I think I don't get praised as much for it," he says. "People don't pay attention to it. The only people who know it are in the music industry. A lot of those others, they have time to work on their star appearance. They're not putting in the work as an artist. They're singing and dancing and that's all they've got to do."

Whereas T-Pain has always had plenty to do, ever since he was just a kid. Faheem Rasheed Najm was born in 1985 in Tallahassee, Fla. — the city from which the T in T-Pain is derived. As a little kid, he met family friend and producer Ben Tankard, an encounter that inspired the 10-year-old to turn his bedroom into a makeshift studio complete with a keyboard, a beat machine and a four-track recorder.

He went on to join the rap group Nappy Headz in 2004, got signed by R&B artist Akon to his Konvict Muzik label, and started singing instead of rapping. He released his debut album, Rappa Ternt Sanga, in 2005 and started his quick rise to the front ranks of the urban music scene.

But it was T-Pain's second album, 2007's Epiphany, that brought him to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. A year later, Thr33 Ringz reached No. 4, with first-week sales falling just short of its predecessor's.

Revolve or die

T-Pain's latest album was released back in December of 2011. rEVOLVEr — the capitalization is intended to highlight his artistic evolution — was actually finished a year earlier, but its release was repeatedly pushed back. Meanwhile his label, Jive Records, was folded into RCA, which ultimately released the album.

During the period between Thr33 Ringz and rEVOLVEr, T-Pain also made guest appearances on several singles, including the 2010 Grammy-nominated tracks "Got Money" (with Lil Wayne), "Low" (with Flo Rida) and "I'm on a Boat" (with The Lonely Island).

While he continues to enjoy playing shows, the married father of three says his favorite thing to do is write songs. He runs his own label, Nappy Boy Entertainment, works at developing other artists, and is involved in all sorts of new media ventures, like the "I Am T-Pain" app that can turn the most off-key iPhone user into a pitch-perfect hip-hop machine.

At 36, T-Pain has no intention of letting a quarter century of effort fall away.

"I'd rather be long-lasting in the industry," he says. "Look at Quincy Jones. He can walk into any studio and cut a song right now. He never wanted to be a star. He is an artist who has worked for years with lots of people. He's got the respect. That's what I want."

scene@csindy.com

  • Hip-hop's best-known Auto-Tunesmith makes his pitch for respect

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