I’m quickly coming to the realization that T-Pain and I could totally hang out. Not because he’s jumped the shark a la Tom Waits, singing about carnivals and midgets and psychedelia most people are completely unable to imagine. Rather, T-Pain is a lot like your average Joe: getting shot down/messed with by girls, not all that good at singing, dreaming of making it big, and wanting nothing more than to get high and hang out with his buddies. But this average Joe managed to get his hands on a vocoder and turn himself into a worldwide sensation.
Anyone who’s been near a radio or music television in the last three years knows the sound: the colloquially named robot voice that has appeared on just about every pop song since T-Pain’s breakout. But T-Pain uses the vocoder unlike his contemporaries who frequently employ the effect—specifically recent converts Kanye West, whose upcoming 808s and Heartbreak features it on every song, and Lil Wayne. T-Pain uses the vocoder as a crutch rather than as a way to sound different or weird, because, frankly, T-Pain isn’t weird or different. He just doesn’t have the vocal chops to keep up with his high-powered beats on his own. And since his voice and music lack this eccentricity, the dude makes up for it with his general demeanor and by creating an album revolving around the concept that he runs a circus. We’re all privy to the inner workings and backstage bickering… when he’s not frequenting his favorite strip club, anyway.
Enter Thr33 Ringz. Though T-Pain’s recent affinity for top hats, the cover art of this release, and the every-other-song carnival skits argue otherwise, Thr33 Ringz isn’t much more than a standard pop R&B album, rife with love ballads, emcee guest spots, and even the typical Mary J. Blige appearance (read: social awareness). And yet, it’s the record’s predictability and T-Pain’s everymanness, as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, that elevates this disc above the general mainstream drudge.
T-Pain, for better or worse, and this record as a whole, can be summed up by one song: “Long Lap Dance”, a song that is neither particularly long nor lap dance-enticing. The premise is this simple. T-Pain gets really annoyed when he’s geared up for a lap dance right as the song is ending. He wants “two for one tonight”. (His words, not mine.) Even as cringe-inducing as the concept might be, there’s nothing that more accurately encapsulates T-Pain. Not only does he really just want to sit around and get a lap dance at a strip club, but he is not demeaning towards the women doing it. In fact, he’s more than willing to shell out immense amounts of cash, and he encourages the women to go get as much money as they possibly can.
The rest of the disc is pretty typical with, unfortunately, few standouts. “Freeze”, which features a guest spot from the increasingly talented Chris Brown, is the obvious all-star on Thr33 Ringz. T-Pain’s electronic swooning lays perfectly over the minimalist digitized handclaps and maracas. Meanwhile, Chris Brown kills—like, really kills—the chorus, punctuated by the knockout “Freeze!” command. “Can’t Believe It” is basically a worthless single, and “It Ain’t Me” has its moments, including the intro, in which T.I. questions, “Have you ever been in the club and have a chick run up on you and tell you to buy her a drink?” But it’s ultimately devoid of little more than a good Akon hook and stutter-stepping hook.
And aside from the other sluggish hit, “Chopped N Screwed”, the entirety of Thr33 Ringz is almost immediately dismissible. What this record ultimately boils down to is whether or not you’re tired of the incessant vocoder effect. If you are, this really isn’t for you. But if it’s little more than a mainstream trend, T-Pain does it better than anyone. He does pretty well for himself on Thr33 Ringz, and he matches some of the funnier moments on recent R. Kelly discs.
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