T-Pain’s latest comeback and why he’s succeeding

By NIKITA SHTARKMAN | March 14, 2019

We’ve seen a lot of comebacks in the past few months. Lil Wayne was the first, and perhaps biggest, with the unlikely release (and even more unlikely success) of The Carter V album. Recently, we also saw Big Drako, AKA Big Soulja, AKA Soulja Boy push himself back into relevancy through sound-bite laden radio interviews, outrageous Instagram stories and the sale of illegal overpriced game consoles. 

I predict the next major comeback will be the glorious return of Kanye, who now exclusively travels with the accompaniment of a full gospel band.

While these are all significant comeback stories, they are not what I want to cover in this article. Instead, I want to talk about the comeback that has been in the works for the longest time — the triumphant return of T-Pain.

The spark that eventually fired up T-Pain’s return to relevancy actually happened in 2014 when he appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. 

The rapper-ternt-sanga, with an earnest smile, a bouncy personality and a beautiful voice, shocked the public by performing his greatest hits from the early 2000s without the assistance of his trademark autotune. 

Directly after that, T-Pain promised a massive album titled Stoicville. This didn’t happen. Instead he continued to feature here and there on various tracks. 

Failing to release any significant project, he lost the hype he had built with the Tiny Desk performance, and his next album, Oblivion, released in 2017, wasn’t met with much interest. In those intermittent years, T-Pain was most active on Twitch, streaming video games and keeping a small, tight fanbase.

This past year, T-Pain found another way to leap into the spotlight. He hopped on The Masked Singer, a competition show where D-list celebrities squeeze into ornate costumes and sing covers of popular songs. A random panel of minor-celebrity judges try to guess who the actual singer is, and then they vote on the best performer. 

From the first song he performed, T-Pain, in a monster costume, was easily distinguishable. Somehow the “expert” musician panel (including such maestros as Ken Jeong, Señor Chang from the hilarious TV show Community), could not guess one of the most distinct voices in pop music. T-Pain went on to win the whole show. 

This time T-Pain didn’t make the same mistake. Soon after his victory, he released 1UP, his newest album, and booked a tour across America. Finally, T-Pain found a way to re-energize his music career. “It’s crazy that losing my identity has brought me the comeback I’ve wanted for a decade,” he said while on The Masked Singer.

1UP is a decent T-Pain release. It isn’t necessarily a fantastic album, but for some reason, listening to it was hugely refreshing. Almost all popular music these days is deeply sad. The most popular artists are dark and damaged. T-Pain, on the other hand, has not lost the joyous spark that helped him rule the early 2000s. The bounce, joy and enthusiasm of his music is still as contagious as ever. He is the king of finding a catchy, upbeat melody and turning it into a delightful hit track.

The biggest song on the project is “Getcha Roll On,” which is undeniably catchy. T-Pain combines modern hip-hop/R&B elements (the fat 808s, the rattling trap drums) with some of the melodic accentuation that makes his style so unique. His fun delivery makes the track jump. The Tory Lanez feature is exactly what you expect from Tory on a melodic song, but it blends beautifully with the rest of the track.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “A Million Times.” It has the bounciest, grooviest beat — this sounds like it easily could have been released back in T-Pain’s heyday. The falsetto melodic lines are just fun to nod your head to.

All in all, it is great to see some new T-Pain on the charts. The man seems to be one of the most genuine, unique personalities in the game right now and one of the most talented hit-makers. 

After he was publicly shamed for his prolific use of autotune, he seemed genuinely hurt. It is especially painful to see that after he was shooed out of the spotlight, autotune became the norm. Perhaps as he continues to drop music, he will prove once and for all that he is more than a mainstay on early 2000s mixes — he is a fantastic singer and a legendary songwriter. 

On March 20, T-Pain will be performing at Rams Head Live. As this long, tumultuous winter gets replaced by what will hopefully be a warm, bright spring, I think there will be no greater place to greet the new season than in the mosh pit at a T-Pain show. I know I’ll be going wild near the stage, screaming the words to every hit. I hope to see the rest of you there. 

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