The Quadrangle’s Guide to T-Pain

When The Quadrangle broke the news that T-Pain will be performing at this year’s spring concert, most students had one of the following reactions:

1. “Oh my God, T-Pain? That’s awesome!”

2. “T-Pain for SpringFest? That’s hilarious.”

3. “T-Pain! Wait, what does he sing again?”

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These are all understandable reactions for an artist whose name you have seen around, but may not know much about. Fear not, The Quadrangle is here to provide you everything you need to be adequately prepared for when Mr. Pain AKA Faheem Rashad Najm (thank you Wikipedia) comes to campus on April 23.

First things first, you do know a T-Pain song, even if you cant remember it. At the very least you will recognize the circa-2007 opening synths and finger snaps of “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” featuring rapper Yung Joc. If you don’t, you just didn’t listen to music in middle school and probably weren’t going to the spring concert no matter who was selected to perform.

More than likely, you know a few other T-Pain songs as well. But here is where it gets tricky—T-Pain is a man who seemingly doesn’t like to perform alone. His biggest hits either have one or two featured artists or are songs where he is making a guest appearance.   

These include “Blame It” (Jamie Foxx), “Low” (Flo Rida), “Good Life” (Kanye West), “Bartender” (Akon), “Up Down” (B.o.B), “Kiss Kiss” (Chris Brown), “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)” (Mike Jones)—the list goes on. Unless Student Activities has the funding for more than quite a few guest artists (unlikely), it will be interesting to see how T-Pain performs these chart-toppers without his usual supporting cast of characters.

When most rappers perform a song without the help of a featured artist, they utilize an abridged version, stick to medleys, or may even have the audience help fill in the gaps. But this is when the featured artist is only supplying a guest verse that can easily be cut out. T-Pain, on the other hand, frequently serves as the chorus or even just the hook on his songs.

It might be more likely that T-Pain utilizes pre-recorded raps from the other artists in his songs or sticks to records where he is prominently featured. A savvy performer would also recognize that a college show crowd might not be full of die-hard fans able to recognize your deep tracks and therefore will throw in some covers of other popular songs to have a broader appeal. Regardless, according to Student Activities, he will be performing backed by a live band rather than canned instrumentals.

In addition to his numerous features, the other musical phenomenon commonly associated with T-Pain is his use of Auto-Tune, music software that corrects pitch and adjusts the sound of vocals. He used it extensively in songs to add an almost robotic tone to his voice. Remember the “I Am T-Pain” app?

More important than a faddish app, T-Pain’s seeming dependence on Auto-Tune in popular music helped spur a more widespread use within recording and live performances.

Kanye West used the software extensively on his brooding album “808s & Heartbreaks” and even cited T-Pain as an inspiration. Many critics argue that this is the album that led to the rise of Drake, the Weeknd and other introspective hip-hop/R&B artists populating today’s music scene, but that’s a longer story.

With T-Pain’s use of the software also came debate and discussion within the industry about the appropriateness of such a program. Some argued that the technology was used as a gimmick, helping to advance incompetent artists and produced overly polished songs.

Others claimed the device was used to obviously distort vocals for artistic effect, not to delude listeners. T-Pain himself has said in several interviews that he falls in the latter camp in regards to Auto-Tune, arguing that he used the technology to sound different, not to improve the quality of his singing.

Whether it was because of Auto-Tune or in spite of it, T-Pain frequently made it to the top of the charts in the late 2000s and can boast two Grammys to go with his commercial success.

For the sake of the upcoming Manhattan College concert, however, there is no denying the man can also actually sing. His bare bones NPR Tiny Desk Concert, a noteworthy performance that demonstrates his real vocal ability, is certainly worth the listen—even if just to smile at stripper anthems sounding so lovely and melodious.