T-Pain & Lil Wayne - T-Wayne
I never took the notion of T-Wayne seriously, even back when its constituents were at the top of their games. Shout-outs and references to the project always came across as an elaborate in-joke between T-Pain and Lil Wayne, a pie-in-the-sky intersection of two of the biggest and flashiest careers in ’00s pop music that was as much a no-brainer as it was unlikely. An album of “Got Money”-styled club bangers was fun to imagine, but then life happened: the appeal of autotune vanished seemingly overnight, leaving T-Pain’s career out to dry while Wayne’s collapsed in a thunderclap of medical complications, legal battles, and prison. The records Wayne released in the years-long build toward The Carter V have been disposable at best, and T-Pain is fast becoming a legacy act. Wayne is still haranguing YMCMB for Carter V and T-Pain is...around, but T-Wayne seemed to have been relegated to wistful memory, a dream we had in 2008 that would never come true.
Except it was made, and it’s here, streaming exclusively on Soundcloud. In a series of tweets as excited as they were exciting, T-Pain announced and released all eight tracks of T-Wayne to the music streaming service. To no one’s surprise, it sounds exactly like an album of Lil Wayne and T-Pain collabs, capturing both artists in their prime, Weezy’s rubbery croak meshing with Pain’s assured tenor as they trade verses over glossy pre-trap club beats, oozing charisma and (retroactively nostalgic) fun. “He Rap He Sang” starts the record off with an understated bang as Pain and Wayne subvert expectations from the jump: the track sees Pain rapping and Weezy sangin’, the former spitting fire and the latter inhabiting his crooner persona to an almost hilarious degree. “Listen to Me” plays with its Oompah Loompah sample (cribbed from the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder) and turns out a banger. The two carry on with the role reversal, Wayne soaking up all the autotune from Pain’s voice on a blissfully incomprehensible verse that sees him slur, moan, croak, rasp, and warble in true Carter III fashion, presenting a more animated Wayne than we’ve seen in the eight years since. “DAMN DAMN DAMN” might be the laziest song on the record with a chorus of “she was like damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, / ’cause I hit her with the wham, wham, wham, wham, wham,” but it’s also the sultriest, with T-Pain finally reverting to his usual hyper-smooth R&B showmanship around the halfway mark. It’s not exactly a song meant to be listened to, but it adds dimension to the record, and the way the two seem to be grinning knowingly through the entire thing makes it worth revisiting.
“Waist of a Wasp” throws it back with a scratchy soul sample and a simple boom-bap rhythm, over which Pain showcases a different kind of smooth. Sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s the rappa turnt sanga, but his appropriately old-school delivery, heavy on the rhythmicality and internal rhyme, is a hard nudge reminding us that Pain deserves a lot more credit as a performer. Wayne, not to be outshined, slithers in with an understated verse to match Pain’s beat-for-beat, and their autotuned a capella toward the end is lovably chintzy in that way only these two can pull off. “Oh Yeah” slaps with the sparsest beat and shortest runtime, a minute of hi-hat and suggestive, echoed-out samples. Pain minces no words as he goes in on an aggressively sexual verse, but the track is over just as he catches his tempo. No worries: “Breathe” comes off as a direct spiritual successor and could probably have been folded into “Oh Yeah” with a Weeknd-style transition, building into a yet another bass-heavy stomper of skittering hi-hat and what sounds like a sample of Katy Perry’s voice threaded into the mix.
Interestingly, “Snap Ya Fingers” isn’t a cover and has no dancefloor ambitions whatsoever: it’s a T-Pain ballad through-and-through, with a couple bars of Wayne sporting that husky lover’s-rasp he’s so adept at when called to guest on an R&B track. Although it would have probably made a lucrative single, it feels the least like a T-Wayne effort, which is to say it feels kind of impersonal. This is where both sets of hitmaker instincts overwhelm the fun of the T-Wayne project, but it’s a sore spot “Heavy Chevy” is quick to help us forget. Booty-quakes incoming: T-Wayne catches its tempo and rides it for all its worth, trading braggadocious verses back and forth across a set-up of throbbing bass, stuttering snare, and Pain and Weezy’s ongoing conversation about their love of Chevrolet. “Heavy Chevy” probably features the only acceptable use of Weezy’s phlegmy caterwaul that isn’t “Young moolah, baby!” from the halcyon days before “Rebirth,” and ends the album on a loose and infectious note.
It hasn’t been long enough, and not enough has changed, for T-Wayne to take on a retro vibe or for nostalgia to eclipse its more questionable moments, but it’s real value is in its reminder that, at one point, these guys were on top of the world. If T-Wayne had come out when it was intended to, what would the game look like now? How would the careers of its makers have changed? There are too many factors at play to say with any accuracy, but some things are clear: T-Wayne is harmless and fluffy and fun as hell, a time capsule from 2009 that won’t shake up the rap game but will more than satisfy the urge for something new and old.
- Brian L.