FFWD REW

T-Pain – Thr33 Ringz

Jive/Zomba

“Auto Tune is on its way out” T-Pain says of the voice-processing software that’s become his trademark in the closing moments of the “Can’t Believe Remix.” All the copycats can cancel their orders — we are free from robots on our radios. Of course the pronouncement is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to shake off the haters and doubters. Thr33 Ringz reveals an insecure R&B hitmaker flailing for an identity beyond the voice-processing software that has defined him thus far.

T-Pain careens aimlessly throughout Thr33 Ringz . “Keep Going” is a slow-burn ballad about the inspirational power of his family a track surrounded by club jams celebrating strip club culture and skits about grumbling circus employees. “Ringleader Man” compares T-Pain to a ringleader directing the flow of the music industry and outside the skits is the only reference to the supposed circus theme of the album. And my God the skits. “I’m a hitmaker not a comedian” raps T-Pain on the lukewarm diss track “Karaoke” and he’s not wrong. Actually “Karaoke” highlights the real problem with Thr33 Ringz. It’s hard to call out the copycats when you don’t know who you are.

The album opens with T-Pain rapping sans Auto Tune on “Welcome to the Thr33 Ringz” mimicking the intonations of Kanye West. “Therapy” brings back Auto Tune but sounds like an R. Kelly club joint. The overproduced “Change” hews to the Will.I.Am playbook while brazenly stealing the chorus from the Eric Clapton-Babyface collaboration “Change the World” and lets Diddy get so maudlin you’d think Notorious BIG died all over again.

Lyrics may not be T-Pain’s strong suit but he’s always had a flair for strong production and hooks and even that eludes him on Thr33 Ringz . Only on “Long Lap Dance” does he sound comfortable the Auto Tune cranked for maximum effect on the song’s infectious hook. With lyrics advocating longer lap dance songs to get the best value for your dollar it’s the perfect club anthem in these financially dire times and one of the rare honest moments on the album. For most of Thr33 Ringz he sounds like a throat cancer-surviving drag queen beeping other people’s songs through his voice box.

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