Auto-Tune has been in popular music since Cher’s 1998 hit Believe, but like drum machines in ’80s pop and compressed guitars in ’90s pop rock, there was an excruciating long period in the ’00s when nothing in popular hip-hop music could avoid its grasp. Now, after the rise, mock, and fall of Auto-Tune, T-Pain is back with his fourth album, rEVOLVEr, which prominently displays the pitch-correcting effect on 14 of 17 songs.
T-Pain could simply be a one-trick pony – he could be out for the bottom dollar – or maybe he’s just found his niche. The self-proclaimed Rappa Ternt Sanga (that’s “rapper turned singer” for the English-speaking audience out there) has built his entire empire on Auto-Tune and he’s not about to give up his place in pop culture because of the haters.
His is the voice that launched a thousand parody ships, from Lonely Island‘s I’m On A Boat to The Gregory Brothers’ Auto-Tune The News series. And like other superstar hip-hoppers, he’s capitalized on his style by launching commercial products – smartphone apps (I Am T-Pain) and music software for singing and beatmaking (The T-Pain Effect). T-Pain could probably stay safely in his Auto-Tune bubble for the unforeseeable future.
rEVOLVEr is the most solid evidence that T-Pain is content with remaining in his comfort zone. A few cuts are pretty much carbon copies of older songs: Default Picture and Sho-Time (Pleasure Thang) have the same feel as Can’t Believe It; and Rock Bottom and Mix’d Girl are indistinguishable from older generic Pain tunes. Elsewhere, Teep adapts his sound to fit common pop music moulds: It’s Not You (It’s Me) is a direct rip of Lady Gaga’s Just Dance; and Bottlez and Turn All The Lights On directly cop The Black Eyed Peas’ sound (which is saying something since The Peas’ sound is an uninspired amalgam of popular music to begin with).
The variety of styles make rEVOLEr wildly inconsistent. T-Pain is trying to cover too much ground. He’s got “hard” rap tracks, ballads, dance numbers, an indie-tinged number (5 O’clock, with the indie-ness courtesy of Lily Allen), and an oddly placed song, Drowning Again, that sounds like something that approaches art. The track is a breakup ballad with a piano, some faint strings, and T-Pain singing and harmonizing with himself with (comparatively) minimal vocal effects. He uses the hackneyed conceit of “drowning without you” spread out over five-plus minutes while Van Morrison-esquely repeating the phrase “drowning again in your love” and exasperatingly sighing all over the place. It might be noted here that this song appears immediately after a track called I Don’t Give A Fuck.
Lyrically, T-Pain continues in his rich tradition of exploring the superstar’s human condition – money, hoes, and rims (again). He spends roughly 65% of the album talking about how much money he has, so it’s not very convincing when on Default Picture, his ode to a girl’s Twitter profile pic, he sings “cuz I’m way on the other side of the earf, ‘n’ girl, plane tickets too high for me.” But 5 O’clock does experiment, strangely enough, with a postmodern narrative – Lily Allen’s character is the one waiting for T-Pain’s character to come home from the clubs while, simultaneously, they’re both sitting and talking in their living room, one being bored by the other’s conversation, the other sneaking into the other’s bedroom. Either that or maybe Mr Pain is not a very clear narrator.
It turns out that T-Pain is not sticking to his guns with Auto-Tune out of some sense of principles. With half of rEVOLVEr emulating his older tracks and the other half making strained attempts to branch out into rap and dance, it appears that the rappa ternt sanga simply hasn’t found anywhere else to turn.