I think 2008 must be the year that rappers began to take on incredibly unambitious concept records. Ludacris’s album is like the movies, where every featured guest rapper is a “co-star” and not a “feature” (Look, I seriously doubt that’ll be worth mentioning when I review Ludacris next week, so let’s just get it out of the way now). Lupe Fiasco released a concept album (ok ok late 2007 but stay with me) where the concept didn’t make sense. Kanye’s concept is sad songs that use auto-tune. And T-Pain’s is the circus, and he is the ringmaster. And so there are skits about clowns and lion taming. To quote the man himself, “[The name of the album] came from people telling me that I’m running the game, that I’m the ringleader of the game. That’s where the whole circus imagery came from. I started putting it together with the idea that the circus is just like the music industry. You’ve got your different acts, all of the different animals, etc.”
That’s a pretty general analogy. If T-Pain wants to make himself the center of a metaphor for hip hop, might I suggest an episode of SNL, where T-Pain is the host, and there are a bunch of different sketches of varying quality, and the only thing they really have in common is that T-Pain appears in every single one of them, no matter how big a stretch it is?
Serious, does anyone really tell T-Pain that he’s running the game? I’m not talking about his mother or his posse – does John Norris sit him down for an interview and say, “T-Pain, you’re the biggest name in hip hop right now!” and give him a hundred dollars? No, no he doesn’t. T-Pain might be the best networker in hip hop, he might be the master of the vocoder, he might craft catchier hooks than anyone else, but he’s almost definitely not the person who runs the game.
He compares his 11 #1 singles in the course of a year to the Beatles, who he says scored 13. First off, I count 21 Beatles #1 singles on the US charts, not to mention their 15 #1 albums, so I think T-Pain’s got a ways to go. Not to mention that the only #1 single I can find from T-Pain’s discography is “Buy U a Drank,” which was #1 for a week. But, OK, you say – maybe he was featured on 10 other #1 singles? Let’s go to the list – he was featured on Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss,” Flo Rida’s “Low,” and… that’s it. Remind me what your 11 #1s were, T-Pain? Which charts are we talking about? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t one that The Beatles were ever on.
You might wonder why I’ve written four paragraphs and all I’ve done so far is yell at T-Pain. That’s because T-Pain is a fucking robot. I’m not necessarily saying he sings like a robot – there are even moments where he turns off the autotune for a few minutes. I’m saying he’s quite possibly the most emotionally distant person in hip hop. I’m not saying some touchy feely bullshit like ever since Kanye came out everyone has to talk about how self-conscious they are. I mean, you can tell Soulja Boy is at least having fun, you can tell that Chuck D is pissed and R. Kelly is horny. But does T-Pain even feel emotions? He’s proved himself to be a decent producer on this record, but the record has less soul than Sun City post-Artists United Against Apartheid. Less Heart than the McCain Campaign after they couldn’t use the song “Barracuda” anymore.
Take the song “Therapy,” which features an alright verse from Kanye. T-Pain seemed to have the bright idea that he would do a song about hitting a rough spot with his album girlfriend. The first verse is reflective – “this ain’t the way I wanted it to end / but i got to go / gotta get missing / you ain’t gotta kick me out / I’ll get out my own house / but you still need to get your sh!t together girl.” Then, the second verse is reconciliatory: “what do I do, what do I say / gotta get us back to the way / that we used to be back in the day / who do i call to talk to / shawty, you aint gotta be scared of me / all we need is therapy.” Then the hook is, while kind of funny, downright mean: “Like 1 2 3 4 get the hell up out my door / 5 6 7 8 I don’t need your sex, I’ll masturbate / 9 10 11 12 you can go to hell all I care, yeah.”
What the fuck, T-Pain?
There are two possible explanations for why he would jump around like this. First, that he’s trying to illustrate how irrational people can be when a relationship hits the rocks. Second, that he’s just a bad lyricist. You can judge for yourself, but I’m leaning toward the latter. Even if he really is trying to illustrate that people can me irrational during a breakup, he loses all the goodwill he could have possibly built up in the hook. And who does the house that he is living in belong to, T-Pain or T-Pain’s album girlfriend?
I guess what’s unique about T-Pain, Prince of Autotune, is that he doesn’t try really hard with the lyrics at all. What he is saying is not important, it is the noises he is making in the process. On all the tracks that T-Pain claims are his #1s, on how many of them does he actually have a verse? With the big exception of his work on the remix of “I’m A Flirt” T-Pain is only supposed to summarize the track, not offer any details. And he does it pretty well. He’s good at making harmonies with himself. He’s actually a pretty good producer. But he’s also an insanely uninteresting person.
One of the higher points of the album is his Weezy collaboration, “Can’t Believe It,” which you’ve probably already heard. Through some weird force of Osmosis, Wayne’s verse is subpar, but T-Pain does a better job than usual, where he makes it blissfully obvious that he’s just looking for fun rhymes, and it’s at least entertaining: “Put you in a mansion / somewhere in Wis-can-sin / Like I said, ain’t nothin to the Pain, we can change the last name, what’s happenin’?” “Long Lap Dance,” is, unfortunately, what it sounds like – a four and a half minute song T-Pain admits he wrote because he wants longer lap dances when he is in the strip club.
But you know, the rest of it is a lot of what you’d expect. T.I. and Ludacris deliver good verses, though it’s not like they’ve got any challenging material to work with. The song he does with Chris Brown isn’t quite as good as “Kiss Kiss” was, but it’s still pretty good. There’s a lot of really good production. It’s a good album to turn your brain off to if you just want to hear pretty electronicky sounds. A lot of circus-themed skits you should delete immediately.
The question, then, is whether or not you should drop money on this album. If you turn your brain off, there are some pretty sounds. It’s like the hip hop equivalent of an Enya album or something. It’s nice, but vapid.
Posted by Joe Kaiser at Nov 19, 2008 11:10 PM