T-Pain was a childhood dreamer who knew only one way to get from one place to the next. He was a ninth-grader at Largo Middle School in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his mother and older sister when his father left the family and remarried. His mother urged him to apply to film school, but he was more focused on music. He asked his friend and fellow musician Nipsey Hussle to play a round of studio jams with him, but it was not long before he discovered what the music world had long known: his voice was special.
At the age of 16, he put together a song entitled “That Way” as a final act for his karaoke album. It’s a chart-topping hit with no explanation of its lyrics, which are written in loose English words. His performance voice took him out of the shadow of rap and began to be appreciated for its unique qualities, primarily for its unique sound. For him, this was a milestone that he would never forget.
In his new book, Legend Lost, I got to spend a few hours with T-Pain during a Q&A session in our offices in New York City. We talked about what it’s like to be one of the original standouts of R&B, where hip-hop now stands as a genre, and even his thoughts on possibly doing a reunion of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur’s shows together.