Florida’s “Rappa Ternt Sanga” T-Pain is currently blowing up the US charts with his laid back strip club anthem “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)”. Anna Nathanson catches up with the man with the crazy hair to find out about his numerous forthcoming projects, how he used music to beat the school bullies and how jacking a beat from Akon turned him into an overnight celebrity…
Hey T-Pain. First of all, how did your name come about?
The T stands for Tallahassee, where I’m from in Florida. The Pain stands for the struggle of getting your music out there, particularly being from Tallahassee. It’s a small town and it’s difficult getting recognition coming from there.
You first rose to notoriety by jacking Akon’s “Locked Up” beat and turning it into your own tune, “F***ed Up”. Tell us a bit more about that…
That was crazy! I did the song after I heard the beat. I used to get all the vinals first through work. So I made this tune and then made a video, word spread, and people actually started thinking it was my tune, and that Akon had jacked it from me! Then Akon heard it and was like “Dude’s making this song move faster than me!” That’s how we met, and we’ve worked together ever since. He’s great, he’s the best person I’ve met in the industry, he’s understanding, he’s just a super cool person, can’t nobody say nothing ‘bout him.
Ever been in love with a stripper?
Yeah! (Laughs and goes shy) I was 15! Strip clubs are illegal in Tallahassee, so they have these strip houses, and we always used to sneak into them! I was only young but the guys on the door knew my bro, so they’d let us in.
“I’m Sprung” is about your wife. What’s it like being in the industry, and married?
It’s hard work, with all the touring and stuff. But I have an understanding wife, you know? We’ve been married for two years now and although it’s tough and we’re apart for long amounts of time, we respect each other and that’s how we make it work.
What does she make of your strip club antics?
I’m done with strip clubs now. Although I’ve made this strip club anthem, it ain’t really my thing no more. I do still go to one in Miami, but only ‘cos they got a barber shop at the back. I’ve seen it all before.
You get your hair done at the back of a strip club?
Speaking of your hair, you’re still sporting the black and gold dreads…
Yeah, the hair’s staying. It was a split second decision before a show, and I thought, “let’s try something different, something nobody else ain’t gon’ do”, so I just did it. That’s bleach man, it ain’t dye, so there ain’t no getting rid of it now! I’m stuck with that colour for life!
Rumour has it you’ve just started a clothing line?
Yeah, it’s called “Stripper Wear for Men”. I’m big on fashion, I like to look good and wear stuff that you don’t see every day, you know? When it comes to fashion, my inspiration would have to be Andre 3000 of Outkast.
Will your clothes be designed specifically for strippers?
Nah! They’re just regular clothes, with silluettes of strippers. I’ll also be launching “Stripper Wear for Ladies”, but they won’t be strip clothes neither, just regular clothes.
Growing up, your dad was a rapper. What was it like having a rapper for a dad, was he cool, or a typically embarrassing dad?
He was actually my manager before I got signed. He was the coolest dad on the block! Every time someone went to jail, they’d call my dad to get them out. He just had this way of getting people out of jail; he was a gifted speaker.
You’ve just signed your former group Nappy Headz to your new label. Are they a bit pissed off that you’re getting more heat without them?
Nah, they love it! ‘Cos if I didn’t have this heat, then they’d have less heat too, you know what I’m saying? They’re waiting for their time. They’re in Miami at the moment, putting their album together. They’re gonna be doing big things.
Tell us something that not many people know about you?
I used to raise horses. I was 13, and I’d groom them and stuff. I got tired of it real quick! My mum was into horses and then my dad got her one for valentine’s day, so then we had this horse.
You’ve invented a new genre, Hard’n’B. Explain how this came about?
I write and produce all my own music. It’s basically R’n’B but more real. It’s more about life. I wanted to do R’n’B but with a rougher edge. I’ma keep doing it regardless of whether it catches on, as it’s coming from the heart.
Your album’s called “Rappa Ternt Sanga”. Previously, artists have tended to do the opposite. Why did you decide to switch from rapping to singing?
Well I found that with singing, I had more freedom to explore, I just found it more creative, to be honest. It just felt better, like it was coming more from the heart.
I read in an interview that you used to be too embarrassed to play your music to people. Why was this?
I didn’t want people to think I was soft! When you’re a rapper, you’re talking about hard core shit, stuff like killing, and then you bust out with love songs, that kinda switch is crazy! It’s just abrupt, so I wasn’t sure how people would take it.
What was your childhood like?
I was the pissy boy at school, no-one wanted to be around me, I don’t know why. I was picked on badly, but then I started rapping one day and suddenly I started getting more friends! That’s the reason I got into music.
Who do you rate at the moment in music? Have you had a chance to check out any UK stuff?
Yeah, Rascal is pretty cool. Not a lot of people know about him in America though, they’re too busy concentrating on one thing; they don’t try and listen to UK music. They’re stuck on one thing and that’s it. They don’t know grime or anything like that.
What are you up to at the moment?
I’m currently touring in America with Chris Brown. He’s a funny little dude. I haven’t had a chance to sleep in so long, last night I just passed out! I’ll be over in the UK in June or July, so look out for me.
Sure will do, T-Pain. Thanks so much for your time, and see you over here during the summer.
Thank you. See you in London very soon. In the mean time, hit me up on http://www.myspace.com/tpain
By Anna Nathanson