Man, T-Pain used to crank out hits like Ichiro. But, for breakout record, there was a knock-off (Ron Browz, looking at you), then eventually a knockout, Jay Z’s “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune).” It was a tough go for Teddy P., but, he tells The New Yorker he’s steady after a period of sadness and the Florida crooner ready to mount a comeback.
Though most pop-music fans still remember T-Pain’s big hits, most notably the slinky and infectious “Buy U a Drank,” by his fourth album, “Revolver,” in 2011, he had come to be seen as an uncool novelty act—a goofy-looking dork who rode to fame with a production gimmick that not only sounded corny but concealed his true lack of singing ability. In 2009, Jay Z released a hit single called “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” intended to draw a line between so-called “real” hip-hop and poppy soft stuff; it inspired fans to chant “Fuck T-Pain!” during live performances. That same year, Christina Aguilera, of all people, was photographed wearing a T-shirt that said “AUTO TUNE IS FOR PUSSIES.” The comedy rap group The Lonely Island featured T-Pain on their song “I’m on a Boat,” performing more or less as a parody of himself. The song was nominated for a Grammy; when asked about the honor on the red carpet, T-Pain admitted it was kind of weird that his music didn’t get nominated, but a “mockery of the art” did.
The apparent collapse of his career sent T-Pain, now twenty-eight years old, into a depression that left him unmotivated to make any more music. Only recently has he emerged from this dark period: he has started work on a comeback album, landed the tense and pretty single “Up Down (Do This All Day)” on the charts, and today embarks on a tour called “I Am T-Pain.” To promote all that activity, T-Pain has also been giving interviews, in which he has candidly discussed the experience of turning from one of pop’s hit-makers into a walking punch line.