Nick Bringardner: No T-Pain, no gain

By Nick Bringardner, Columnist
Published July 17, 2011

A couple of weeks ago a colleague at the Daily sought to capture our generation’s zeitgeist by lightly comparing us to a rapper, calling us "Kids of Cudi". The title of the column stuck with me. I thought the theme of the article was a sweeping generalization, and a rather discouraging one. We shouldn’t try to be the kids of Cudi, entitled young people consuming in excess. We can do better than that. If anything, we should strive to be the sons and daughters of T-Pain.

If you think about it, T-Pain is the ultimate badass. If Andy Samberg could choose only two people to accompany him on a free boat ride, T-Pain would be one of those people. In the big single that launched his career, “Buy You A Drank,” he assumed we knew him before he was even really popular, saying, “I’m T-Pain, you know me…” Well, it doesn’t matter if we knew him before the song because we certainly know him now. He’s a hugely successful recording artist, and although the title of his first album, Rappa Turnt Sanga, might confuse some, he can actually sing.

T-Pain knows how to play the game. First, he added Auto-Tune pitch correction to his voice, which was (and still kind of is) the fad in hip hop and other popular music. It became his signature and his name is synonymous with the effect. It propelled him to superstardom, so much so that he got in bed with Apple and created an app called “I Am T-Pain,” a portable Auto-Tune application. Rather than advertising that the program will autotune your voice, it says it grants you the privilege of sounding just like T-Pain. Forget what you think about all the people who bought the app — or what that says about our generation — T-Pain is making a lot of money from it. Rappers nowadays get their hands on all types of entrepreneurial endeavors. Mogul is a word commonly used now for rappers like Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Nelly, who, while continuing to produce music, seek to broaden their horizons by creating their own record labels, owning restaurants and basketball teams, or developing fragrances and clothing lines. They’re finding success through several business ventures, which is commendable no matter how you look at it.

We should all be more like T-Pain. And it’s not just because he stacks paper to the ceiling and gets honeys. No. He, like so many other rappers and performers, is living his dream of being an entertainer. He went after what he wanted and got it. Unfortunately, many would see his success as selling out, dressing ridiculously and producing subpar music. However, I don’t view changing one’s image solely as conforming. In some cases, it can be more like rebirth, redefining oneself according to his or her own choices. With shrewdness similar to Lady Gaga, T-Pain is able to do whatever he wants and act however he wants to attract fans. He has carefully crafted his image to get attention because attention earns him money. And I don’t know why people are so quick to denounce his music as trash. Has every artist in the history of music produced instant classics? Certainly not. Plus, I bet you can’t avoid bopping your head and moving your feet to his song’s catchy beats. And to be quite honest, that’s more or less the point of the music.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be more like a rapper. T-Pain’s not a caricature of some silly rapper stereotype and he’s not an inept hack pawning off horrible music. Nope, he's successful. Maybe rappers and performers like him are consuming in excess with fast cars and fast women, but they certainly earned it first. Whether we think they deserve it or not is irrelevant. The Kids of Cudi come from their middle to upper-class environments without any regard for who earned that money, who provided them with that lifestyle. Sons and daughters of T-Pain seek to innovate within the structure of the game, carving out a niche for themselves and finding success on their own terms. The ubiquitous “rags to riches” stories within the rap community are actually good examples of how ambition can get you anywhere you want to go. So don’t hate, emulate.

Nick can reached at njbring@umich.edu.