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HIP-HOP

T-Pain: Stripping away the pain

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American hip-hop artiste T-Pain owns more than 30 cars but sings of other things.

With his long dreads, gold teeth and bulky medallions, T-Pain lives up to the hip-hopper image with style. He's worth more than $15 million - he earned $6 million in 2010 alone - and has devised his own way to spend it too. Every time one of his songs climbs a chart or the press writes something flattering about him, he goes out and buys himself a new car. He owns a fleet of 34 cars, including a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe and the $1. 8 million 2008 Bugatti Veyron, but doesn't think of himself as a car collector. What he does like to collect are Grammys, and he already has two gleaming gramophones inscribed with his name. He has also collaborated with big hitters like Kanye West, Pitbull and Lil' Wayne. For a boy who was the target of bullies at school, Faheem Rasheed Najm or T-Pain has come a long way.

Born in Tallahassee, Florida, Faheem was just 10 when he converted his bedroom into a music studio using a keyboard, a beat machine and four-track recorder. He was clearly more interested in working on hooks and beats than messing about with wooden dinosaurs. He began his career as a rapper with the group Nappy Headz, and it wasn't long before his version of Akon's Locked Up was noticed by the Senegalese rapper himself. T-Pain was signed on to Akon's Konvict Label. In 2005, he turned singer with his debut album Rappa Ternt Sanga and soon had two chartbusters, I'm sprung and I'm in love with a stripper, to his name.

Even though T-Pain may write about seemingly frivolous subjects such as pretty women and drinking in nightclubs, he's no fool. He knows that he's had to work very hard to be where he is today. His name, T-Pain, short for Tallahassee Pain, is a constant reminder of the struggles he faced growing up Black and Muslim. While most rappers are busy talking about 'hoes' and fancy cars, T-Pain writes songs that are inspired by events in his life. Even the song I'm in love with a stripper is based on his friend's first-ever visit to a strip club.

"My childhood has made a big impact, as my music comes from my perspective and my surroundings and how you grow up plays into both, " he told TOI-Crest in an email interview. Now he's got his own family - wife Amber, to whom he has been married since 2003, and three children, daughter Lyriq and sons Muziq and Kaydnz Kodah.

A talented singer-song writer and record producer, the 25-year-old T-Pain skillfully crafts sharp hooks and catchy beats that keep the dance floors full. Whether it was Kiss kiss with Chris Bown or Low with Flo Rida in 2007 or Hey baby with Cuban-American rapper Pitbull in 2010, T-Pain's midas touch has made many a rapper a rich and happy man. He might even look to extend his golden touch to Bollywood. He recently completed recording a track, You're the baddest girl in the world with composer Aadesh Shrivastava. "I look for what feels right to me, " T-Pain says. "I don't go into the studio with the intention of making a No. 1 song. I make what feels right and let everything else run its course. "

Many would agree that T-Pain's single biggest contribution to hip hop has been the use of Auto-Tune, an omnipotent pitch-correcting software. His brand of electro-elocution is hypnotic, as the gyrating bodies in nightclubs endlessly prove. However, though the robotic sound of the Auto-Tune is a staple in hip hop today, there are many who blame him for overusing the effect.

He has become so synonymous with Auto-Tune that an iPhone application named after him lets users sound just like T-Pain. "I started using Auto-Tune because I liked the sound and it was different, " he says. "People are entitled to their opinions and I respect that. It doesn't bother me. " But bother him it did. In a song titled Karaoke from his third studio album Thr33 Ringz (2008) which he released on his own label, Nappy Boyz Enetertainment, T-Pain sings: But listen to the radio it's obvious I still kill When ya'll was in the game Way before me So why you wanna do some shit I did in '03 I'm layin low key (yeah) For a long time But don't act like you know me He is all set to release his fourth album, RevolveR.

T-Pain's latest single, Best love song, featuring Chris Brown and Booty Wurk, was released on iTunes and debuted at No. 2 on the Top Hip-Hop /R&B. Maybe it's time for that car collection to grow.

Catch T-Pain at the Tuborg VH1 Hip Hop Hustle at Quantum in New Delhi on June 18 and in Pune on June 19

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