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Home Entertainment Review | At an emotional D.C. show, T-Pain shows a deeper artistry

Review | At an emotional D.C. show, T-Pain shows a deeper artistry


During the triumphant hook of the chest-pounding “All I Do Is Win” at T-Pain’s concert Saturday at the Anthem, photos flashed on the display screen of the rapper-turned-singer performing at award shows and cradling his Grammys. The 38-year-old Tallahassee native was rightfully staking his claim as a pop music innovator after years of ridicule and outright rejection. T-Pain’s vocal talents, along with his exuberant stage presence, fluid dance moves and transformative live mixes (with longtime collaborator DJ Montay) beamed brightly during the D.C. stop of his “Escape from Wiscansin” tour.

T-Pain first brought his experimental use of Auto-Tune to the fore with his 2005 debut album “Rappa Ternt Sanga,” and the carefree, lovestruck singles “I’m Sprung” and “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper) put him on the charts.” Into the 2010s, the words “featuring T-Pain” accompanied numerous hits.

But the tide shifted as use of the pitch-correcting effect seemed to oversaturate the market. From Jay-Z’s “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” in 2009 to direct disdain from industry peers, including an in-flight callout from Usher in 2013, the artist who had evolved the tool into a signature vessel for expanding vocal expression had become a target. T-Pain’s stripped-down NPR Tiny Desk performance in 2014 signaled a reevaluation. The songwriter and producer showed off his warm, yielding voice, a rich instrument that had always provided a verdant field for his musical explorations.

For his latest album, “On Top of The Covers,” T-Pain has polished his voice once more for his takes on well-known soul, pop, country and rock tracks, including soaring renditions of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”

During his set on Saturday, T-Pain told the crowd that he sold the most tickets at this Washington stop since he went independent three years ago. With family and friends watching, he said, “Y’all are letting my people see me shine the way I was supposed to be doing years and years ago.”

The opening video installment featured an alien invasion and T-Pain taking the stage in a neon-green outfit. Aliens have been used in science fiction to represent a feared outsider. Perhaps it was also a reclamation after the alienation T-Pain experienced in his earlier years in the music industry.

The impressive show that followed featured high-octane mixes of his songs, as with the blending of his “Up Down (Do This All Day)” with Saweetie’s “Tap In.” His feature on Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” with Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” made for a particularly transcendent combination. His remix of Libianca’s “People,” showcasing his dulcet timbre, offered a glimpse into a promising Afrobeats future, should he choose to take it.

Nearing the show’s end, T-Pain thanked his loved ones. “I know this seems overly emotional, but if you know me, then you know the dark place I crawled out of to get to this point,” said the musician, who has been candid about struggles with mental health.

And, he added, “Anybody that’s still f—— with T-Pain in 2023 — we’re best friends.”


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