Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Notes on T-Pain's Usage

Sean Fennessy, one of my favorite rap writers, has been enamored of a certain Teddy Penderass lately. Not only did he start a site in which he reviews each and every T-Pain track, he also explained his infatuation with a lengthy post on his Vibe blog. Through a Galactus metaphor of all things, he explains that:

"[T-Pain] is everywhere and nowhere, a sentient giant gathering 'Walk It Out' and Dem Franchise Boyz and Yung Joc and 'Money In The Bank,' stripping their songs of the only usable memorable element, devouring them whole and soldiering through the cosmos in search of more. These are the best things about recombinant culture -- T-Pain understands them, and he's insatiable."

That, along with Fennessy's analysis of "I'm Sprung," assess a point that T-Pain is successful because he can be everything to everyone.

I thought the comparison was cute, but I had never thought of Teddy as transcendent in the same way people like Kells or Eminem are. Although he has an acute sense of melody, I never saw him as having that manipulative, smart-by-playing-dumb interplay that most pop aesthetes have these days. Come to think of it though, I was always obssessed with the way "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)" hits you with an escalating number of bass knocks for each one of a four bar loop, which is way too amateurish to be able to pull off the way he does.

Fat version of Knuckles from the Sonic the Hedgehog series?

Then I heard him outshine some dude named Plies (how do you even pronounce that?) on the chorus of a joint called "Shawty."
Plies feat. T-Pain- "Shawty"

The track is pretty cookie-cutter, even by rap&b loverman standards. You can pretty much fast-forward through Plies' verses. He is to Rich Boy as Will Perdue was to Bill Cartwright, or maybe even as Luc Longley was to Will Perdue. I mean, "I taught her how to talk to me while she take pipe"?

It's a forgettable offering to the forgettable summer of 2007 until Teddy smacks you three times with unadulterated sunshine, a chorus elevated to genius with the lines, "And we ain't did nothin' that we ain't supposed to do/'Cuz you're my shawty."

Is the speaker legitimately not doing anything he isn't supposed to? Out of respect for his shawty, is he refraining from questionable actions?

Or...does her status as shawty make any escapades, sexual or otherwise, within their relationship permissible; that is, is there nothing they ain't supposed to do?

We're outside the realm of squinting modifiers here. By grounding the couplet with a double-negative, camouflaging the meaning even more by making us unpack what is actually being communicated, T-Pain reaches both conclusions. He's releasing a PG movie and an unrated DVD at the same time. It's a statement that's both sweet and prurient.

With the same number of syllables, he could have just as easily written: "And we never did what we weren't supposed to do." Clearly, it's not his M.O.

But the ambiguity not only satisfies both sides, it forces the listener (if that listener is me) to cast a moral judgment on the speaker. Is he reassuring the girl that they've done nothing wrong by virtue of their relationship, or is he simply being virtuous? Can the intimacy of a relationship negate what society considers morally acceptable or is T-Pain only reinforcing what our ideas of sexual morality are?

We don't know because the vocoder/sound machine masks that hint of motive in Teddy's delivery. The way his voice is transmitted mirrors the equivocation of the statement, and that's what we call theory meeting practice somewhere in the middle.

This dude knows what I'm talking about.

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