Can we buy you a drank? Last night, T-Pain starred in his own episode of Behind the Music, VH1’s long-running series documenting pop stars’ offstage trials and tribulations. Back at the height of the Auto-Tune popularizer’s chart reign, in late 2007, he had four songs on Billboard’s top 10, and by the 2009 Grammy Awards ceremony, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard was hysterically railing against the evils of “digital manipulation.”
The rappa-ternt-singa born Faheem Rasheed Najm has faded from the spotlight in recent years, and despite his Lily Allen collaboration “5 O’Clock” becoming a minor hit, his late-2011 album Revolver has been his least commercially successful to date. Based on his Behind the Music episode (via Yardie), however, he’s had a remarkable rags-to-riches life, and it’s hard to hate on a guy who through hard work went from a social outcast with fucked-up parents to a hugely successful pop star.
For those of you who don’t have 40-plus minutes to spend watching VH1 fete Teddy Penderazdoun as “an R&B renegade” with “the most recognizable sound of his generation,” here are some things we learned from the episode.
- T-Pain used to stink (literally). Born Sept. 30, 1985, the young T-Pain grew up in Tallahassee as part of a middle-class Muslim family. He didn’t exactly fit in with the other children. They’d call him “fat, chubby, tubby,” he recalls. “They would make me try to do push-ups. I didn’t know how to dress. I would smell like crap every day. I would wear the same clothes for like three weeks.” By the eighth grade, he was being home-schooled.
- One of the first songs he learned to play was the Black National Anthem. T-Pain’s father brought home a keyboard he’d found at the side of the road when his son was only 8. Within a few weeks, T-Pain had already learned how to play his father’s favorite song, the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” T-Pain’s father, about whom more shortly, hadn’t even expected his son to know what his favorite song was, let alone be able to play it.
- T-Pain’s first big regional hit came way back in the early 2000s. Before T-Pain was using Auto-Tune, he was part of a rap crew called Nappy Headz. Their hit, “Robbery,” was in fact a robbery, jacking the beat of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” for what T-Pain calls a “hood version” of the song. Nappy Headz toured all around Florida and the Southeast.
- Cher’s “Believe” really was T-Pain’s Auto-Tune inspiration. T-Pain remembers searching everywhere to find the effect. “There was something driving me to look for that thing, and I found it,” he reflects. “Boy, did I find it.”
- T-Pain’s father was hiding a dark secret. T-Pain’s mother left during all the touring, because his father had allegedly started cheating on her. One night T-Pain heard his father freaking out in the bedroom, cocking a gun and shouting at imaginary people under the bed. That’s when he found out his father had been using cocaine for years. “Everybody knew but me,” T-Pain says.
- T-Pain once hung up on Akon. T-Pain’s Auto-Tune version of an Akon song eventually led to a call from Akon himself. But the aspiring singer was in disbelief. “I was going to McDonald’s to get a job,” T-Pain says, when a call comes on his “rickety cell phone” with a dying battery. As Akon confirms, T-Pain thought someone was playing on his phone and initially hung up. Luckily, the Konvict Muzik singer tried again.
- T-Pain turned down a $900,000 signing bonus from Interscope. As T-Pain and the Konvict Muzik team tell it, Interscope was willing to pay the Tallahassee phenom big bucks. Akon and his brother Bu couldn’t offer that kind of money, but they assured T-Pain they believed in him. T-Pain’s father wanted the green. T-Pain eventually packed up all his stuff and took a ride with Bu to Atlanta, pulling out just as his father was pulling into the driveway to take him to the airport for a meeting with Interscope. “That was the moment where I believed I became a man,” T-Pain says.
- T-Pain is a family man, with a twist. T-Pain met his now-wife, Amber, way back in 2001, and both say it was love at first sight. By 2005, they were married. T-Pain’s ensuing fame created some complications, however, and the singer admits he cheated. But it’s all good, because on a trip to Costa Rica his wife discovered an interest in women. The two credit their openness with helping save their relationship. “The rules are i can’t have sex with any girls by myself, because that would be cheating,” T-Pain says. “And… that’s it, actually.” The couple has three children.
- T-Pain’s relationship with his father has gone from bad to worse. The elder Pain, his son says, showed up at a show saying that if the singer gave him $250,00 he’d stay out of his life forever. The father denies this, calling that amount “chump change.” Says T-Pain: “I don’t think there’s anything worse than your parents being alive and telling you to go give them some money and just act like they’re dead.” He calls the relationship “unfixable.”
- T-Pain recently bought the house where he grew up, back in Tallahassee. Book-ending the episode is footage of T-Pain returning to his childhood home for the first time in years. The recording studio in his bedroom is still there. T-Pain says all of his dreams for the eight months leading up to the December 2011 shoot had taken place in that house. He adds that a psychic told him “it’s just God letting you know to not forget where you came from.” Tallahassee Pain is back where he started.