T-Pain's Circus : Thr33 Ringz
T-Pain - Karaoke featuring DJ Khaled [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
In just a few hours and over a month after it's original September 30th drop date (and his 23rd birthday) Faheem Rasheed Najm - known by the world at large as T-Pain - will unleash trained tigers of Siegfried and Roy proportions with Thr33 Ringz, his tertiary LP of colossal proportions.
Often wearing outfits as colorful as Ferris wheels (with blonde-tipped dreadlocks to boot) and publicly displaying a playful personality (in his current single Karaoke, he is able to mock Akon and Kanye West, even as the two enjoy video cameos), Pain is the 21st century product of bi-coastal swag and suave, Southern syrup and Miami bass. But moreover than a nation full of pop influences, T-Pain has managed to outdo even the most talented circus contortionists. He has introduced a new sound to hip hop's mass mediocrity. Tomorrow, Thr33 Ringz will prove that Najm is capable of accomplishing polished, progressive, chameleon change and re-invention. He is, for all encompassing purposes, our modern-day Andre 3000, a Cee-Lo, if you will. An artist that is able to rise above the status quo, gathering audience appreciation and magazine ad sales as he goes. Double-digit ticket prices, eye-popping promotional materials, sold-out tour stadiums, fingertips sticky with kettle corn and cotton candy, T-Pain has emerged out from under the striped tents as pop music's big top ringmaster. The crowd is more than ready for the three-ring main event.
Florida as a state has produced plenty of rap starlets over the last decade plus. 1989's 2 Live Crew inducted dirty rap booty bass that reverberated club floors up and down the palm-treed coast. Uncle Luke, Trick Daddy and Rick Ross followed the freak-friendly, high-BPM trend. Tallahassee however, Florida's overlooked capitol as far as hip hop has been concerned, only just recently cracked with the breakout of Pain on the rap circuit in the last handful of years.
Born to Muslim parents and the product of a private Christian education, the tale goes that at the tender age of 10 when most little boys are out scraping their kneecaps and developing video game calluses, Najm was collecting bedroom audio equipment. A keyboard, beat machine and four-track recorder kept Pain entertained and in the late 90's, the emcee performed with OD, Notty Black, Nook Dog G. and Doeboy in a crew called Nappy Headz. Pecan Season was the collaborative LP effort released by the group and while there were a few solid singles (Throw Dat and About U, a lyrical ode to Janet Jackson's Son of a Gun), overall the album was immature and did not enjoy mainstream success. The important aspect about Pecan Season though, was that even then, at the start of Pain's rap career, there were hints (some not so subtle) of Pain's foray into the pitch-perfect, auto tune sonic sound that would become his crooning, crowning glory.
When you hear a T-Pain song - if you can find your way out of the ridiculously catchy hooks, seductive phrases and 808 snaps – it’s obvious that vocal modification is taking place. He is using (abusing?) auto-tune, a music studio device that processes sound to automatically correct imperfect natural vocal pitch. Not by any means a novelty to the industry, the list of A-game celebrities guilty of falling victim to the magic of auto-tune reads like Tommy Mottola's A & R list. It isn't clear exactly when Pain began experimenting with the pitch box, pushing the device to it's falsetto limit but the end product is hypnotizing. Shortly after releasing I'm Fucked Up, a remix to top 40 heavy-hitter artist Akon's single Locked Up (2004), the New Jersey ex-convict signed Pain to his Konvict Music label and Pain released his first solo album titled Rappa Turnt Sanga (2005). The Mike Jones-assisted I'm N Luv (With a Stripper) and I'm Sprung, garnered MTV and Teen Choice award nominations.
Pain continued voice modulation mayhem and his ever-slickly improving image (wardrobe, graphic design, marketing) with Epiphany, his second album, in 2007. Singles Bartender and Buy U a Drank were gorged and distended with Pain's voice, high on auto-tune juice. The Southern singer had concocted a sound all his own and it was strangely robotic in tone, balancing precariously on a metallic-tinged tightrope. It was comforting, soothing, addictive. So addictive, that Epiphany debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200 and so sought after, that seemingly overnight, it was Pain's voice (his own songs or Pain’s collaboration on someone else's) coming through radio, car and club speakers. Artists like Kanye, Lil' Wayne and Akon himself began to record auto-tuned tracks on their own albums.
For Thr33 Ringz (and the special pre-album mixtape), DJ Khaled and his DJ Drama-like loud mouth sound bites - often used as a copyright infringement obstacle on mixtapes - accompanies Pain. He functions like Pain's biggest fan and protective sidekick, no place more apparent than in Pain's currently circulating single, Karaoke. Filmed in what appears to be a dusty off-the-strip dive bar, Khaled encourages Pain to take the stage and vocalize (part au natural rap and song, part auto-tune, naturally) his sentiments about the flattery versus the frustration of having (high profile) copycats. Khaled is a scene, jumping up and down on the bar's booths, flinging cocktail-filled plastic cups and screaming, "T-Pain! We going in! We going in!" while his over-sized (and over-diamonded) neck medallion bounces off his football-framed chest.
I Can't Believe It, the first single off Ringz, is already clogging the airwaves and Internet. I personally can't believe how enamored I am with a man who's able to rhyme the word "mansion" with "Wisconsin". That's the power of auto-tune. And shiny zipper-emblazoned top hats.
Xoxo - S.