T-PAIN with FLO RIDA, KEVIN RUDOLF, JAZMINE SULLIVAN and KERI HILSON as part of SUMMER HEAT 2K9 at Ricoh Coliseum (100 Princes), tonight (Thursday, July 23), 8 pm. $26.75-$148.50. ticketmaster.ca, 416-870-8000.
I'm alone in a hotel room with T-Pain's top hat.
The seven-time Grammy-nominated rapper, singer/songwriter and producer, who in the last two years has appeared on more rap albums than the parental advisory sticker - the man almost single-handedly responsible for Auto-Tune being the reigning sound of contemporary urban music (more on this later) - has stepped out of his suite for a minute, leaving his trademark headgear on the couch.
Naturally, I take this opportunity to do what any self-respecting music journalist would do. I put on the hat. Now I'm T-Pain. For this fleeting moment, I'm the one who's worked with Mariah, Kanye, Britney and Jamie Foxx. It was me who fell "N Luv (Wit A Stripper)."
When T-Pain re-enters the room, the hat is back on the couch like nothing ever happened.
But I still kick off our interview by asking about it. Apparently, he gets them custom-made in London and prides himself on their scarcity: "No one can find any real top hats," T-Pain brags.
Unfortunately for him, the same can't be said for Auto-Tune, the production software that pitch-corrects vocals to a robotic extreme.
The technology was first exploited by Cher on her 1999 hit Believe and was popularized by Akon years later. But it was T-Pain who really pushed the effect to the limit and made it his own.
While the trend seemed to be past its saturation point long ago, there's no end in sight. Nowadays, every rapper and his aunt uses Auto-Tune. When Jay-Z heard the effect in a Wendy's commercial, it inspired his new single, D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune).
T-Pain has long been frustrated to hear so many people ripping off his signature effect.
"It feels real eerie to know these people can't think of something else," he says. "You know, you're an artist. If I'm a painter, and I see someone else painting something, I'm not gonna copy that. I'm gonna paint my own vision, and it's gonna be more diverse than what I just saw."
There are a couple of exceptions to the rule, however. Namely, Kanye West and Lil Wayne.
T-Pain produced the vocals on Kanye's latest album, the entirely Auto-Tuned 808s & Heartbreak.
And Wayne, whose upcoming awful-sounding Rebirth album is a hybrid of Auto-Tune and rock sounds, credited T-Pain as the inspiration for his new style.
"He told me, ‘The reason I'm using this Auto-Tune is because of you,'" T-Pain says. "Like, for the best rapper to tell me that he's doing something different because I was doing something different? That was it. After that, we been best friends till the end."
T-Pain speaks about the durability of his top hats.
Will Ferrell contacted T-Pain's manager asking the rapper to appear in this skit on Funnyordie.com.
The first time T-Pain met Lil' Wayne, he wasn't famous enough to make an impression. Now the two are working on a collaboration album under the name T-Wayne.
In T-Pain's experience, Kanye West has a very strong work ethic.