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T-Pain, ‘Rappa Ternt Sanga’ (Konvict/Jive)

A long, long time ago (say the ’90s), R&B and hip-hop were like The Odd Couple‘s Felix and Oscar, often grouped together even though they were at odds. But nothing erodes mutual prejudice like money, so when Nelly started putting up multi-multiplatinum numbers with singsongy rap, MCs who had just rechristened R&B “rhythm and bullshit” started calling the crooners of the day to hook their slow jams.

Florida young’un T-Pain is the result of this tension, a self-proclaimed “rappa ternt sanga.” After doing a bid with the rap clique Nappy Heads — you’ll need Soulseek and a spelunking helmet to find their brief claim to fame, “Robbery” — T-Pain struck out on his own, taking rap’s brash attitude (in press photos, he rocks dreads and camo) and combining it with church harmonies and bedroom eyes. Welcome to what he calls “hard & B.”

Under the patronage of fellow Crooner Akon, T-Pain’s music has blown national, escaping the Southern radio circuit where it first gained notoriety. Perhaps his success is due to his music’s malleability; he excels at making strip-club anthems sound like coffee-shop laments. His breakout hit, “I’m Sprung,” has the slang and 808-drum-machine lurch ready-made for thong appreciation. But his acoustic guitar and Vocoder-laced vocals suggest a hurt that no exotic dancer can cure. On the maxi-single, the song gets screwed and chopped and turned into a house-music stomper so that it’s perfect for any kind of party, whether it’s syrup or E.

On the rest of Rappa, sparse backing tracks meet lush vocal arrangements as unplugged six-strings and bouncy keys buoy the production. Whether T-Pain’s looking at a girl (“Dance Floor,” “I’m N Luv [Wit a Stripper]”) or at himself (“Going Thru a Lot”), the song remains the same. That repetition can cause headaches, though in some places –like the mantra chants of “Blow Ya Mind,” wherein T-Pain repeats (wait for it!) “blow your mind” over and over — it’s almost pleasantly trance-inducing. But T-Pain is most intriguing when he’s messing with the player/played dichotomy. As rapper and singer, he doesn’t find it to be an either/or proposition. What becomes of the brokenhearted? Apparently, they get laid.

SEE ALSO: Akon, Trouble (Universal, 2004)