This post has been updated. See below for details.
In 2005, the Florida-born R&B singer Faheem Najm was looking for an innovative way to leave his imprint on modern music. Performing as T-Pain, he began to experiment with Auto-Tune, an audio processor that alters vocal pitch. He employed this on his first single, "I'm Sprung", and surged into the Top 40 charts. More hits quickly followed with tunes like "I'm N Luv (Wit A Stripper)" and "Bartender."
As the 2000s progressed, so did opinions on Auto-Tune. Some fans and musicians began to deem Auto-Tune as an inauthentic aid. Once seen as a pioneer of its sound, T-Pain was heavily lampooned and couldn't seem to reestablish himself over a string of albums.
After years off of the popular circuit, T-Pain has released a new single "Up Down (Do This All Day)" – the single, his first solo offering since 2012, peaked at No. 15 on the R&B chart -- and is planning to release a new album in 2015. He'll be performing at the House of Blues Sunset Strip on Thursday. Here, The Times talks with T-Pain as he tries for a comeback.
When you first got into making music, what made you opt for using Auto-Tune? Was there an external influence?
I wanted to have something different about me, something that could separate me from all of the other R&B artists that were coming out at the time. It was just bland at the time. Everything was just bland on the radio, no real excitement really happening. I figured I could come in and make my voice an instrument; make people basically listen to a four-minute instrumental. It's like listening to a nice jazz album, I guess, just way more excitement.
Since there was a time after your success that there was a change in appreciation of Auto-Tune, at any point did you regret going that route?
No, not at all. I felt flattered. I felt like I did something right because everyone was going the route that I was going. I felt like I was ahead of the curve, I was ahead of my time. I felt like I changed the world, I changed the sound of music. You can't get away from it now. I'm the reason that music sounds like it sounds like right now. You know, good or bad I influenced an entire music industry. I feel great about it.
With technology continually evolving, do you feel that it's unfair the way that Auto-Tune is looked down upon by the music industry? How do you feel it should be perceived?
It's hard to say, because I know myself. It's been looked upon as a crutch. A lot of people that use it now really can't sing. . . . People are going to find out what you really sound like. It's going to murder your career. It's about longevity. People don't understand that. They come into the game thinking that they can just write a crappy song and throw Auto-Tune on their voice because that's the sound of music right now. It's devaluing.
What has this whole process taught you about the music industry that you maybe didn't realize when you were younger and going through those phases of your career?
People are just terrible, man. I just don't get it. I think I've said the phrase "Why would you do that to a person?," I think I've said that phrase well over 2,000 times in the last year. There's just so much crap that gets done to artists. Two-sided things. Oh, man, I wish I would have known how two-sided people are. I just wish I knew not to trust all the people that say that they're your friends.
You embarked on a lengthy U.S. tour this year and are continuing to add dates. Were you worried about being given a chance?
I didn't actually have any worries. I had literally just gotten out of the contract that was really hindering me from being seen out in public. Once I found the fact that, "Oh, people do want to book me. It's just been hidden from me," I felt great. I'm happy again.
Update, Tuesday 4 p.m.: An earlier version of this post did not clarify that T-Pain's new album isn't scheduled until next year. In addition, the single was listed as "Up/Down." The song is called "Up Down (Do This All Day)."