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T-Pain rules the world of Auto-Tune

His vocoder-assisted vocals, which helped him churn out 11 chart-topping hits, has inspired so many copycats that listening to the radio these days can seem like hearing one-long T-Pain song.
/ Source: The Associated Press

When T-Pain and his synthesized vocals made their debut with the songs “I’m Sprung” and “I’m N Luv (Wit A Stripper)” three years ago, most people dismissed the hits as novelties and expected the self-proclaimed “rappa ternt sanga” to be just a memory in a matter of time.

So did T-Pain.

“I didn’t even see myself making it past the first album,” says the singer, songwriter and producer, sitting in the recording studio of his suburban Atlanta home. “The amount of hate I was getting for it; just seeing how people didn’t really accept me at first. It was weird. I thought I was going to sell a quick 200,000 and be out the game.”

Not only is T-Pain still in the game, he’s responsible for completely reshaping it. His vocoder-assisted vocals, which helped him churn out 11 chart-topping hits, has inspired so many copycats that listening to the radio these days can seem like hearing one-long T-Pain song. Many rap and R&B acts are using Auto-Tune, the device that gives electronic amplification to the voice. It’s especially popular among rappers trying to sing: Snoop Dogg used the effect on his hit “Sensual Seduction,” as well as Lil Wayne, and Kanye West is using it for most of his upcoming CD: T-Pain flew to Hawaii for five days to help West produce it.

Even Diddy paid homage to T-Pain’s trendsetting ways by consulting him for his upcoming CD, where he too is using a vocoder.

“I got permission from the Auto-Tune king, T-Pain,” he says. “You have to go to him to get permission. I actually gave him a half a point on my album for showing me certain tricks.”

‘Most hated-on artist’But T-Pain, who released his third CD, “Thr33 Ringz,” this week, still feels like he hasn’t gotten enough credit for his dominant style. He knows Roger Troutman made the digitally processed sound well known in the 1980s, but he also realizes that no one would be synthesizing their vocals and speech as often if it wasn’t for him reviving the electronic device.

“I don’t understand why the most hated-on artist is being the most copied artist,” says the 24-year-old. “Why can’t they just own up to what I’ve done for them and this industry?”

He as he continues, he vents: “I’ve heard people come out with the sound and take credit. Then I’m like, ‘Dang, have you been away from society and not listening to the radio for a year?’ But those are the same people who want to make music with me.”

Initially, T-Pain wondered if his sound would become over-saturated with so many others using it. But once he realized his so-called “imitators” weren’t generating equal buzz as him, he didn’t have any more worries.

“Overtime, it showed me how much everyone else sucks at it,” T-Pain says. “You still got to have the rhymes I have, the melodies I have, you got to have the songs I write — the reality songs and still got to have people relate to what you’re doing.”

‘A hot track that is memorable’T-Pain, who has gold and platinum CDs to his credit with 2005’s “Rappa Ternt Sanga” and last year’s “Epiphany,” sticks to routine of delivering catchy melodies on his latest CD. The first hit is the female-friendly “Can’t Believe It” featuring Lil Wayne. On “Karaoke,” he raps mostly without Auto-Tune, and calls out other users of the vocoder, calling them “swagger jackers.”

But Grammy-winning songwriter Bryan-Michael Cox says T-Pain didn’t need to worry about his imitators: He says T-Pain mastered the concept, separating himself from others who are trying to do it now.

“T-Pain found a unique way to connect with the audience, listeners by creating music that is innovative. ... with simple rhythmic patterns,” he said. “The result is a hot track that is memorable.”

T-Pain started making songs with a vocoder sound in 2003, wanting to try something different from rapping. With a raspy voice like Cee-Lo, he wasn’t much of a singer and didn’t want to sound like other R&B artists, so he went through all the effects on the auto tuner until he felt comfortable with the right sound.

In the same year, T-Pain remade Akon’s “Locked Up.” The Senegalese singer became so impressed that he signed him to his label, Konvict Muzik. His debut album went on to surpass expectations.

Everyone's favorite guest artist“Epiphany,” his 2007 follow-up, showed he wasn’t a two-hit wonder after selling over a million copies, thanks to infectious tracks such as “Buy U A Drink,” featuring Yung Joc and “Bartender,” including Akon.

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At the same time, T-Pain’s star rose after appearing on numerous hit cameos, including 19-year-old Chris Brown (“Kiss Kiss”), Flo Rida (“Low”). He was featured on West’s “Good Life,” which earned them both a Grammy for best rap song.

While recording “Kiss Kiss” with Brown, the teenage star made use of the Auto-Tune, which left T-Pain shaking his head.

“I’m saying to myself, ‘Chris, you don’t need to use it at all,”’ he recalls. “You’re one of the best singers out. It’s barely working. If you can sing that good, right on key, there’s no reason.”

But T-Pain understands that he’s made the technique so popular, everyone wants to get in on the sound.