Auto-Tune made him famous. Now T-Pain shows off his natural singing voice On his new covers album titled On Top of the Covers, T-Pain shows off the power of his natural singing voice.

Rapper T-Pain has a simple message for people who think he can't sing – shut up

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1167297060/1167297061" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Let's play a quick word association game. If I say T-Pain, you think - for most, the word would be autotune, the vocal effect the rapper pioneered in the mid-2000s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUY U A DRANK (SHAWTY SNAPPIN')")

T-PAIN: (Singing) Baby girl, what's your name? Let me talk to you. Let me buy you a drank. I'm T-Pain. You know me - Konvict Muzic, Nappy Boy, ooh wee.

FADEL: He was so successful with it that a lot of people assumed or accused him of not being able to sing. Those people were wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

T-PAIN: (Singing) Buy you a drink, then I'm going to take you home with me. Money in the bank, oh...

FADEL: That was T-Pain performing at NPR's very own Tiny Desk in 2014, and the internet went wild. T-Pain could sing. But he still has some haters who assume autotune is the only thing that made him successful. I asked where he first discovered the effect that changed his life.

T-PAIN: I actually heard it - it was a Jennifer Lopez song, a Darkchild remix, and she used it for, like, two seconds on the song. And from then on, I was like, I got to find that thing. And once I found it, I knew that was going to make me different because up until then I had just been singing and singing, and that was the solution right there. Autotune to the rescue.

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, the mid-2000s, I mean, you were all over Billboard Top 100. What did it feel like being in that moment where you had found this thing that made you stand out?

T-PAIN: I wasn't prepared for the responsibility.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP DOWN (DO THIS ALL DAY)")

T-PAIN: (Rapping) Yeah, she know it. Whole bank account, I blow it. I blow it. Go do a show then. Do a show then. Bring some more in. Bring some more in. Pockets bigger than a Samoan, than a Samoan. I'm at the stage every time shorty go in.

I was 19 when that happened. I wasn't ready for all that. And, you know, at the risk of sounding stupid, that was - you know, that was a ton of money.

FADEL: Yeah.

T-PAIN: At 19, I didn't know what to do. I was just, you know, sitting outside McDonald's, hoping somebody would give me a dollar for two cheeseburgers. Like, I wasn't ready for millions of dollars right then. So - but it was a lesson learned and a ton of responsibility and a ton of hate. People don't like change.

FADEL: Yeah.

T-PAIN: So having to deal with that as a 19-year-old, that - you know, that's...

FADEL: And it wasn't just hate from, like, random people. You had people like Usher even talk to you about it.

T-PAIN: It was a lot. Yeah. People that I look up to - it was tough. But, you know, I was young. I cried about it, got over it. Here I am now.

(LAUGHTER)

FADEL: Oh, well. Moving on. I mean, things have turned out pretty...

T-PAIN: Yeah.

FADEL: ...Good, it seems like.

T-PAIN: Pretty solid.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M SPRUNG (REMIX)")

T-PAIN: (Singing) Ooh, she got me doing the dishes, anything she want for some kisses. I'm cooking for her if she gets hungry. All she doing is acting like she want me.

FADEL: Do you have any regrets?

T-PAIN: Yeah. It was ever having management, ever.

FADEL: Oh, really?

T-PAIN: (Laughter). Once I learned to take care of things myself and be more hands-on, then I'm able to release things from my label and reap the benefits.

FADEL: When you say, I regret having management, ever, was it because they were shaping you?

T-PAIN: Yeah, yeah. Basically, you know, they're not working. They weren't working for me. They were just working me. Like, I'm not really a big sports guy. And one time, a management made me redo the Miami Dolphins fight song just so they can get season tickets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIAMI DOLPHINS")

T-PAIN: (Singing) Miami has the Dolphins, the greatest football team. We take the ball from goal to goal like no one's ever seen.

That's not something I wanted to do, you know?

FADEL: I think for so many people - I mean, not to toot NPR's horn here, but when they heard you sing without autotune for that first time, it was shared everywhere and, at the time, the most viewed Tiny Desk NPR had ever had - people being like, wow, he's talented. He can sing.

T-PAIN: (Laughter).

FADEL: What was it like to be like, yeah, I can?

T-PAIN: At first it was kind of like, guys, like, what the hell? Like, yeah, why would this be any different? But, you know, looking back and knowing that people don't really know technology...

FADEL: Yeah.

T-PAIN: ...And people kind of don't know what the hell they're talking about most of the time, it's just like, ah, OK, I see why you thought that. Well, here's this. There you go. Proved you wrong. And still, people were like, nope, that's autotune. I believe that's (laughter)...

FADEL: Yeah.

T-PAIN: No, that's just him using autotune much less. You can still hear it. And I'm like, that doesn't make any sense.

FADEL: Well, not to dwell on this, but, I mean...

T-PAIN: Yeah.

FADEL: ...You were very open about using this. You thought it was cool and something interesting rather than, like, to fix your voice. But...

T-PAIN: Yeah, yeah.

FADEL: ...For a moment there, you became the poster boy of everything wrong with music. I'm not saying that's true. I'm just saying what people were saying at the time.

T-PAIN: Of course.

FADEL: And Jay-Z's even released a song called "The Death Of Auto-Tune," and I just would love to hear a little bit more - especially because then all of these people started using autotune - what that was like.

T-PAIN: No, it was just, you know - it was - the contradiction was right there in everybody's face. And I was like, if you guys can't see how contradictory this is, then I don't have the time to explain it. It wasn't bad for long. It was just a heavy onslaught of people thinking that they knew what I was doing. And you're ruining things, and you're doing this, and you're not - I'm like, OK, well, how about this? How about nobody else use it then?

FADEL: Yeah.

T-PAIN: So, you know, if it was so bad, then why was it everywhere? People thought that was what was making my songs. And I'm like, no, you still got to make good songs. You can't just throw on Michael Jordan's shoes and think that you're going to be the greatest basketball player of all time. It's just not going to happen.

FADEL: And T-Pain has released a new covers album called "On Top Of The Covers." In it, he covers classic songs from a variety of genres like metal...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAR PIGS")

T-PAIN: (Singing) Generals gathered in their masses...

FADEL: ...Country...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TENNESSEE WHISKEY")

T-PAIN: (Singing) You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey.

FADEL: ...Pop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY WITH ME")

T-PAIN: (Singing) Oh, won't you stay with me?

FADEL: You know what's not on this album? Autotune. Do you feel like you have anything left to prove?

T-PAIN: Yeah, no. It's not to prove anything.

FADEL: Yeah.

T-PAIN: People can come to my shows and hear no autotune. I don't use autotune live, ever. You know, there's plenty of instances. Go check the Tiny Desk. Go check all that stuff that I've done in the past. Like, I'm not proving anything anymore. And at this point, it's just getting people to shut the hell up.

(LAUGHTER)

T-PAIN: Like, here's the song. Shut up. That's it.

FADEL: There's so much that you do now beyond music. You have your own label. You have a podcast, streaming on Twitch. You're involved with the drifting scene. So is music still your main thing, or do you consider something else your main thing?

T-PAIN: I mean, everything now is just hobbies. My family is my main thing now.

FADEL: Oh, nice.

T-PAIN: That's just what it is. Everything kind of facilitates what I do with my family. And I've done what I'm going to do. You know what I mean? It's not a demanding thing anymore for me. It's not, I'm not going to be able to survive if I don't keep making hits. Like, it's - I don't have that pressure anymore. Like, I'm actually in a good place, and I can still enjoy all the things I do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'")

T-PAIN: (Vocalizing).

FADEL: T-Pain - his new album is "On Top Of The Covers." Thank you so much for your time.

T-PAIN: Thank you. I appreciate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'")

T-PAIN: (Singing) Just a small-town girl living in a lonely world.

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.