Love him or hate him, digital crooner T-Pain changed the game. A decade ago, his group Nappy Heads caught the attention of R&B superstar Akon who signed the man whose mother calls him Faheem Rasheed Najm to his Konvict Muzik label on the spot. His 2005 debut, the impeccably titled Rappa Ternt Sanga almost single-handedly turned controversial recording software Autotune from music’s dirty little blemish-concealer into a fascinating new instrument in and of itself. Not since the late, great talkbox legend Roger Troutman has a technological development had such an ironically soulful impact on music. With 3 more massive albums (Epiphany in 2007, 2008’s Thr33 Ringz and Revolver in 2011), dozens of #1 songwriting/production credits and a frustrating number of imitators in his wake, this month T-Pain drops Happy Hour: The Greatest Hits.
Again, T-Pain is a pretty divisive entity in music but regardless of which side of the argument you stand, he’s undeniably one of the most industry-savvy and financially successful artists in recent times. He’s stated in interviews that over the years he’s laid down a cool $2.5 million at strip clubs alone and once impulse-bought a $1.5 million Bugatti sports car. Obviously this extravagant legacy and song-titles like Booty Wurk (One Cheek at a Time) or I’m in Luv (Wit a Stripper) may sound a few alarm bells for some but if you can get past the tongue-in-cheek misogyny (not to say that you particularly should), T-Pain’s talent for crafting multi-platinum bangers with an incredible sense of melody is second-to-none.
Case-in-point is arguably his breakthrough 2007 single Bartender featuring label boss Akon. It’s easily one of the catchiest hooks of the last decade and while it isn’t re-inventing the wheel lyrically, the call to use Autotune’s glitchy pitch correction creatively went on to open up a whole new world for an equal number of “singers” who lack confidence and those who wouldn’t have even considered themselves vocalists. It paved the way for T-Pain’s signature blend of squeaky-clean R&B production for years and gave birth to the string of subsequent smash hits featured on Happy Hour.
The guest-stars come thick and fast on this collection and have always been a key component to Pain’s success. Things kick off with Lily Allen and Wiz Khalifa featuring on the ultra-smooth 5 O’Clock and 2008’s Can’t Believe It turns Lil Wayne’s signature smoked-out croak on its head, giving Weezy a melodic sensibility that has seemingly stuck ever since. Yung Joc’s turn on Buy U a Drank and Chris Brown’s contributions to Freeze both work well and the inclusion of two separate versions of the sweaty, B.O.B.-featuring club-track Up Down (Do This All Day) – the first single from the forthcoming Stoicville: The Phoenix – shows signs of more good things to come for T-Pain.
Those who dismiss Autotune as nothing more than a cheater’s tool for hacks who can’t sing (granted, in many cases there is good cause to say so) need look no further than a recent edition of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts wherein T-Pain sings completely live and unprocessed with nothing but piano backing. It’s unbelievably more soulful than the majority of music being released today and a testament to a man who’s never been afraid to rise to any challenge the fickle music industry has thrown him. Happy Hour proves this time and time again.