T-Pain Stripped Down and the Pulse of American Pop

As a mid-twenty-something, the auto-tuned trills of T-Pain are part of the soundtrack of my partially ill-spent youth, and there is certainly a touch of nostalgia to hear his unique(?) brand of pop-hip-hop.  Recently, he performed a stripped-down concert for NPR’s ‘All Songs Considered’ segment, and the product is strangely beautiful.  Songs that were pushed along by heavy bass-beats and marked by their being highly processed (not that this didn’t have its own kind of appeal) are now slowed down to the strokes of a talented keyboardist and T-Pain, real name Faheem Rashad Najm, brings real soul to his club-hit tunes.  The songs are essentially transformed.

One not-so-surprising consequence of this stripping down is that his lyrics really stand, standing in stark contrast to the soft keyboard chords that sound more suited to cocktail hour than midnight at the club.  Over this keyboard, you have:

imma buy you a drank ooo wee
ohh imma take you home with me
i got money in the bank
shawty whachu think bout that
find me in the grey cadillac
we in the bed like
ooh ooh ohh, ooh ooh
we in the bed like
ooh ooh ooh, ooh ooh

While one’s initial reaction is certainly to think about how silly it all sounds, and lament for a moment on the state of popular music in America, the juxtaposition of tones has an interesting effect: it produces a self-aware music that creates its own beauty and intrigue. Not to mention, T-Pain has a great voice. Like many previous artists (though granted, often much less in the business of commercial art), T-Pain seems to have cultivated the power of contrast.

This mini-concert is a reminder that art, even art you feel thoroughly acquainted with, can surprise you.  I must admit that I (with some guilt) love the “booty goin up” against that soft, soulful keyboard.  It doesn’t hurt that T-Pain himself is aware of how strange this version of his songs are.  He even blurts out “Weird as hell!” after his first number.  It remains, though, that it really works.

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