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T-Pain wants Drankin Patna audiences to chill

By Anna Gronewold

This article was published August 21, 2014 at 1:58 a.m.




Opening acts: Snootie Wild, Bando Jones

10 p.m. today, 614 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock

Admission: $35 general admission, $150 VIP “meet and greet,” $250 stage access “meet and greet”

(501) 372-1228

If a multimillionaire hip-hop mogul criticizes your music, it's OK to re-evaluate.

But after Jay-Z released the 2009 single "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," an obvious jab at T-Pain's musical identity, T-Pain almost disintegrated.

Now, half a decade later, Grammy Award-winning singer and rapper T-Pain will perform at Juanita's tonight on the tail end of his 16-stop Drankin Patna tour, what he calls a traveling house party celebrating his fall and revival.

"It's me, rising from the ashes of all that hate," T-Pain says.

Because T-Pain (real name Faheem Rasheed Najm) did fall after "D.O.A."

Auto-Tune, the audio processor that allows artists to correct vocal recordings to perfect pitch, propelled T-Pain to success with his debut album Rapper Ternt Singer in 2005. He was the first to revive the technology since Cher introduced it in 1998's "Believe" and branded his career on it. His second album, 2007's Epiphany, penetrated high school dances and college weekends with slinky jams like "Bartender" and "Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin')."

In the late 2000s, heavyweights like Lil Wayne, R. Kelly, Chris Brown and Akon found T-Pain's vocals nudged good tracks to chart-toppers. In 2008, Flo Rida's "Low," featuring T-Pain, spent 100 consecutive weeks as No. 1 on Billboard's Top 100 and has earned a 6x Platinum Digital Single title in 2011.

But at some point, the novelty that made T-Pain wore off. "D.O.A." opened the floodgates for media and artists eager to blame the technology for corrupting the craft. When Jay-Z performed "D.O.A." live, the crowds chanted their displeasure with T-Pain.

Critics called Auto-Tune a crutch, a place for superstars to mask their inadequacies.

But what's misunderstood about Auto-Tune, T-Pain says, is its purpose. Auto-Tune is an instrument, not a Band-Aid.

"Can't nobody use it like me," he says. "Nobody studies it like I do. [They think] you just blab a bunch a words, slap Auto-Tune on it and make a song. But you gotta use grace notes, put it in certain keys to make sure everything you're trying to sing will fit."

Still, burdened by the negativity, T-Pain tried to mold his style to prove his merit to his label and fans. The result, T-Pain's 2011 album Revolver, "did the worst of any album I put out," he says.

He was trapped by his contracts, he was blackout drunk every night, he was clinically depressed and he was searching, he says. He knew the kind of music he wanted to make and he knew the kind of music he was good at making. Why didn't anyone want him to make it?

At some point he stumbled on FKA twigs, an innovative electronic and R&B artist out of London. He asked her how she was able to be so creative.

"She said, 'Why aren't you? I thought you were an artist. You're supposed to be able to do these things,'" T-Pain recalls. "I thought, 'How stupid have I been for that last few years? I'm going to go make a song.'"

That was the moment T-Pain stopped caring. Last summer, he chopped his dreadlocks and released a new single, Auto-Tuned strip club anthem "Up Down (Do This All Day)." It inched up the charts and T-Pain announced a forthcoming album, Stoicville: The Phoenix.

The title is loaded, at least more so than T-Pain's previous albums.

About a year and a half ago, T-Pain's 3-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. Therapists told T-Pain and his wife of 12 years that when their son covered his ears and eyes, he went to a happy place, a way of surviving the negative influences around him. T-Pain says that made a lot of sense.

"Stoicville is a city I came up with," he says. "You don't have to talk to anybody or see anybody; that sounds great. That's where I get when I stop caring, and I can make the music I want to make."

That includes Auto-Tune, he says, despite a powerfully clear singing voice he has demonstrated in interviews and live performances.

"Now I'm just doing it to annoy ... people," he says. "I'm like a big brother messing with his little brother. Just going to use it to death now."

As much as the perfect pitch falsetto, T-Pain songs are distinguished by his lyrics, which focus more on sweet-talking in strip clubs and descriptions of dancers' body shapes than gang violence and marijuana. He writes what he knows, he says.

"I'm not cool," T-Pain says. "People get weirded out when I tell them I don't smoke weed. I don't talk about drinking lean. I don't do those things, I don't know anything about those things, so it would be weird to write about those things. That's what makes me different. Relaxing is my version of turnt up."

So the Drankin Patna tour is a place for audiences to relax, he says. During previous tours, especially the I Am T-Pain tour earlier this spring, he felt people were worried about how much they paid and whether the performance would go off without a hitch. For Drankin Patna, T-Pain just wants them to enjoy the experience, he says, and specifically coordinated the openers, dancers and stage design to facilitate "chill."

It's a bit more strenuous for him, he says, because he wants it to be 100 percent T-Pain. He's also working on his weak spots as an entertainer, he says, primarily dancing.

"It's going to be great," he predicts for his performance tonight. "My pelvic thrusts have gotten really strong."

Weekend on 08/21/2014

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