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

The rapper T-Pain poses with his 2023 album, <em>On Top of the Covers</em>.
Giles Williams
/
Courtesy of the artist
The rapper T-Pain poses with his 2023 album, On Top of the Covers.

Updated April 1, 2023 at 10:54 AM ET

When you think of the rapper T-Pain, the first word that comes to mind might be auto-tune.

At the beginning of the 38-year-old rapper's career, he took over the Billboard Hot 100 with his use of the vocal effect. The modulation added to his voice created a texture that was foreign to the industry, and T-Pain's career took off. Multiple platinum rated records, two Grammy wins and a laundry list of other awards, the success and accolades came pouring in.

But T-Pain tells Morning Edition's Leila Fadel that he wasn't ready for the massive amount of responsibility – and money – that came with it.

"I was 19 years old at the time," T-Pain says. "I was just sitting outside McDonald's hoping someone would give me a dollar for two cheeseburgers. I wasn't ready for millions of dollars right then."

He also believed that management would routinely ask him to do things to further their own interests, rather than his.

"They weren't working for me, they were just working me," T-Pain says. "I'm not a really big sports guy, but one time management made me redo the Miami Dolphins fight song just so they can get season tickets. I didn't want to do that."

T-Pain views those early points of his career as a lesson, both how to deal with success, but also how to deal with the hate – which he received tons of.

He was attacked by critics and peers alike for what they perceived as his lack of singing ability. The industry also became saturated with others covering for their singing deficiencies with auto-tune, and T-Pain was singled out as the source of the problem.

On Netflix's This is Pop series, T-Pain revealed an encounter he had with fellow R&B star Usher in 2013, where Usher told T-Pain that he had "f****d up music for real singers." T-Pain marked that moment as the beginning of a 4 year depression.

For many, it wasn't until his performance on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series that they realized that he had a powerful natural singing voice. His stripped-down renditions of some of his biggest hits such as 'Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin')' and 'Up Down' went viral, and is still one of the most viewed concerts in the series.

He also won the inaugural season of the show The Masked Singer, which pits celebrities against each other in an anonymous singing contest.

And in March, he released On Top of the Covers, an album chock full of his rendition of classic songs from a variety of genres, all done in his natural voice.

T-Pain insists he doesn't have anything left to prove. Still, he says his Tiny Desk sent a message to people who don't trust his singing abilities.

"Here you go," T-Pain says. "Everybody wants to hear this song in my style with no auto-tune, here you are. Shut up."

Music isn't T-Pain's sole focus these days. He has his own music label and his own podcast. But they are just hobbies.

"My family is my main thing now. [Music] is not a demanding thing anymore. It's not like 'I'm not going to be able to survive if I don't keep making hits.' I don't have that pressure anymore. I'm actually in a good place."

Barry Gordemer edited the audio version of this interview. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Ziad Buchh
Ziad Buchh is a producer for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First. In addition to producing and directing the broadcast, he has also contributed to the show's sports, tech and video game coverage. He's produced and reported from all over the country, including a Trump rally, and from the temporary home of Ukrainian refugees.