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Last month, T-Pain revealed a piece of information that shook the music industry. On the second episode of Netflix’s docuseries, This Is Pop, the Tallahassee rapper and singer told a story about how he fell into four-year depression after Usher told him that he “fucked up music” back in 2013. At the time, it was just one of many blows T-Pain had taken for his use of Auto-Tune.
To his surprise, the clip went viral, with many fans uplifting T-Pain and praising his contributions to popular music in the early 2000s. Now, T-Pain tells Complex that he’d actually viewed the episode a year prior to its Netflix premiere, when it was available to watch in Canada under a different name, so he was shocked to see the explosive reaction all this time later. Still, he appreciates the recent outpouring of support.
“I’m trying to figure out what I’ve done to receive such love because everything that I do is so normal to me and so organic,” he says. “I wasn’t really trying to get all that from this, but OK, thank you.”
Thankfully, T-Pain assures us that he’s in a much better space now. “I just love music again,” he says. “It makes me whole. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.” He says this change in mindset happened when he stopped chasing numbers (“I know these streams can be bought,” he points out) and became content with the success of his career so far.
This regained passion is why he’s taking on so many new projects this year. On July 14, he teamed up with Lipton Iced Tea to launch a series called Have Some Tea with Cousin T. The mini series, which is inspired by ’90s sitcoms, follows Pain’s character Cousin T as he brings tea to his family. Lipton has also launched a sweepstakes in tandem with the series, where one grand prize winner will receive a cookout with T-Pain.
That’s not all he’s working on, though. T-Pain is also working on several musical projects, including his solo album Precious Stones, which is expected to release in September 2021. He also hints at a female-driven project executive produced by Kehlani, a country-rock fusion, and a cover album without Auto-Tune. “I’ve got a lot of projects coming,” he explains. “My schedule is not very forgiving.”
T-Pain hopped on a call with Complex to talk about Have Some Tea with Cousin T, the response to his viral This Is Pop episode, and his upcoming music projects. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
Why did you decide to get involved with this new series as Cousin T?
Well, Lipton has always been a favorite of mine. It’s like a go-to drink for me. I mean, it’s kind of synonymous with the South. That’s just what you think of when you think about the South and I represent the South quite well. The original flavor has always been my favorite, and when they hit me up, like, “Yo, we want to do a Have Some Tea with Cousin T, I said, ‘Absolutely.’ That’s freaking weird. Like, I didn’t know you all knew I existed. I’ve been drinking this for years. Why not? It was a no-brainer.
What can we expect from the miniseries and your character Cousin T?
It’s like a sitcom theme. It’s super fun. This is one of the few things I’ve actually enjoyed shooting. I usually hate being on sets and stuff like that, but this actually was fun. It was a good family setting. It shows what Lipton Iced Tea brings to the family setting. You get to see me in different settings, but always bringing the fun. I think that’s a big part of what Lipton does for a lot of people, so it was easy.
Can we get an update on your upcoming album, Precious Stones?
Look at you! Not to get off subject here, but thank you for doing that. I had an interview with a newspaper from my hometown and the dude asked me if I recorded the song with Kehlani yet.
“Me and Kehlani are actually working on a project together. She’s going to executive produce an album for me that’s just me and all female features. The tentative title right now is A Day Out With the Girls.”
Exactly. This was like a week ago. So thank you for that. Jesus Christ, journalistic integrity.
So, how is the album coming along?
Yeah, I’m still working on it right now. Actually, I had EarthGang on my podcast last night and showed them a new song that I recorded the night before last and they’re getting on that. So I guess we’ve got EarthGang on the album now. But it just keeps evolving. I’m letting things happen organically and naturally, so it’s a slower process and more intentional than, “Let’s get this person. Let’s get that person. Let’s get this one. Let’s do this.” Even when I come up with songs, it’s just me coming up with songs. It’s not like, “I need three more songs for my album.” Whenever the mood comes, whenever the feeling actually happens, that’s when it happens. So it’s a slower process, but I’m definitely still planning on a September release… Hopefully on my birthday, September 30.
You mentioned EarthGang, and you already released “I Like Dat” with Kehlani. Are there any other newer artists you’re interested in collaborating with?
Ski Mask [the Slump God]… And you know what? It’s Complex. I know you all are going to blast this out, but me and Kehlani are actually working on a project together. But it’s not the way you think. She’s going to executive produce an album for me that’s just me and all female features. The tentative title right now is A Day Out With the Girls. We already are in talks with CHIKA, SZA… A bunch of people have been hitting us up already, so we’re just getting on the move right now. We’ve got a lot of projects. We’ve also been talking about a project I’m supposed to be doing with Trap Money Benny—a seven, eight-song joint. Internet Money wants to do a project. So, I’ve got a lot of projects coming.
A lot of fans have been rediscovering your natural singing abilities. Along with everything you already have going on, have you considered releasing an a cappella album or something along those lines?
I’m doing a cover album. I’m doing a cover album sans Auto-Tune, but it’s not the type of cover album people are thinking I’m going to do. I’m doing all classic rock and country songs. I’m doing “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra, doing “War Pigs,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” and “Tennessee Whiskey.” I’m doing stuff like that. I’m not doing Keith Sweat songs like everybody assumes. Yeah, so my schedule is not very forgiving.
Each of the projects you mentioned has a different sound. How would you describe T-Pain as an artist in 2021?
I just love music again. I love it. It makes me whole. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right. Makes me feel like I’m doing it for a purpose again. It’s not my job anymore, it’s actually back to my passion. For a long time, it became my job and I had to do it in order to survive, but now I’m not chasing No. 1 anymore. I’m not chasing any numbers. I know these streams can be bought. I’m not getting that depression from Instagram anymore to where I’m like, “How the fuck are these little niggas doing this shit?” I found out how they were doing it. Now you can see it every time.
You ever seen [John Carpenter’s] They Live, like, where the dude puts on the glasses and he sees the advertisements for what they really were? It’s like that now. Now I can see everything that’s going on that’s an advertisement and it’s just like, “Hey, good for them.” They successfully deceived the fuck out of everybody. So it helps to have that mindset and not the competitive feeling of, “Oh my God, I’ve got to do better. I’ve got to make sure I get as good as this person.” I’m just, like, “I’m doing pretty good for where I came from, this is great.” Being content with where you are and being grateful for the longevity and the career I’ve had. A lot of people don’t make it past the first year and I’m grateful I’m here 15, 16 years in.
“I’m not chasing any numbers. I know these streams can be bought. I’m not getting that depression from Instagram anymore to where I’m like, ‘How the f*ck are these little n****s doing this shit?’ I found out how they were doing it. Now you can see it every time. ”
You’ve recently received a wave of support from fans on social media for your contributions to hip-hop. How has the recent support made you feel?
Good. [Laughs]. What a fucking rapper-ass answer. But no, the gratitude has been received and given. I’m trying to figure out what I’ve done to receive such love because everything that I do is so normal to me and so organic. I wasn’t really trying to get all that from this, but OK, thank you, I think. I never put out a song and said this shit is going to go No. 1 or people are going to love this shit. When I put out songs, I’m like, I really like this song and some other people should hear this. I don’t know. It’s different to see people show love like they have and they are. I mean, it’s great. It’s amazing. But I’m so awkward, I don’t know how to receive it. I don’t know what to do with it.
You sound somewhat resistant to your legacy and contributions. Have you come to terms with all that you’ve done and accomplished?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, at first it was like, “Do you all not see? You all don’t hear the similarities in nothing?” And I was fine with it. Back in the early 2000s, we had a whole bunch of Soulja Boys that was obviously the first people to use Auto-Tune, and I’m sitting in the back like, “Hey, I don’t know if you all remember...” And people were so innovative and it’s a new art, and especially when ’Ye did it and Wayne did it and everybody else did it, and it was just like, “Alright, I’ll just chill, I guess.” Once the first couple of people used it, it kind of made it OK for everybody else. And then I guess I was just a part of the group again. I started using Auto-Tune to make myself sound different, and, what the hell, everybody started using it. Now, I’m just part of the group again. I didn’t want to be part of y’all’s group.
Did you expect your episode from This Is Pop to blow up the way it did?
So, it was only available in Canada for a while. Yeah, it wasn’t on Netflix. When it got to Netflix, then it just, Oh my God! I saw that episode like a year ago when it was only available in Canada. I had to use a VPN to see it. It was crazy. I’m hovering around a phone like, what is this? Canada didn’t seem to react a lot, so we was like, “All right, cool. That’s probably just going to be one of those things.” Then, once it got to Netflix, it turned into something else. It wasn’t even called This Is Pop in Canada. It was a whole different show. It was crazy. I don’t know what happened. I feel like they sold something to Netflix and I should have got some extra money.
Have you been in contact with any of the artists who initially dissed you, like Usher?
“I started using Auto-Tune to make myself sound different, and, what the hell, everybody started using it. Now, I’m just part of the group again. I didn’t want to be part of y’all’s group.”
Are you looking for any kind of apology or communication from anyone?
No, not at all. I never did that interview to search for anything. I was just telling my story and that was the end of that.
When creating “Can’t Believe It,” did you ever think that rhyming mansion with Wis-can-sin was going to take off like it did?
No, because that’s how they pronounce it. It’s so weird to me that people were like, “Why do you pronounce it like that?” I’m like, “That’s how they say it. That’s the only reason I knew how to say that.” I have a better one anyway. It’s not me, but it’s a Kanye line, and when people talk about forced rhymes, I always go to this line. Kanye said, “Don’t ever fix your lips like collagen when all you goin’ to do is end up apologin.” I thought that was the most genius. You turned apologizing into apologin? Yeah, I’m good, bro. Mansion and Wiscansin ain’t got nothing on that, bro.