Remember When T-Pain Made Auto-Tune a Thing?

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Album cover for T-Pain’s Rappa Ternt Sanga
Amazon.com

Let’s get the album title out of the way first. T-Pain indeed started out as a rapper. His hip-hop cover of Akon’s hit single “Locked Up” led to a record deal. But T-Pain decided to transition to singing in lieu of rapping, hence the name of the album, which was released a decade ago on Dec. 6, 2005.

I know it shouldn’t have bothered me. But 10 years ago, before I could even give T-Pain’s debut album a fair listen, the phonetically spelled album title turned me off. It couldn’t just be Rapper Turned Singer? Obviously not. I had to get over it, which was easy to do once his first single, “I’m Sprung,” was released. The song was a catchy (if not simple) track about a man who finds himself doing things he thought he’d never do for love.

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With another hit single, “I’m n Luv (Wit a Stripper),” immediately following, T-Pain’s first album would sell nearly 1 million units within its first year of release. And while his output has waned in recent years, the success of his debut album led to several platinum singles as a featured artist, including his appearance on Flo Rida’s 2008 hit single, “Low,” which sold more than 7 million copies.

Everything you need to know about: T-Pain’s debut album, Rappa Ternt Sanga

Pretest No. 1: While similar in sound and scope, this artist (and his instrument) is often incorrectly cited as the first use of the Auto-Tune effect that T-Pain made ubiquitous in the 2000s.*

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Pretest No. 2: Originally used to disguise off-key studio performances, Auto-Tune entered the mainstream when this legendary pop singer used it in her 1998 comeback smash single.**

Why Rappa Ternt Sanga matters: T-Pain’s use of Auto-Tune spread across the industry and actually eclipsed his own popularity. Snoop Dogg, Diddy, Lil Wayne and, particularly, Kanye West on his 808s & Heartbreak album heavily used the process. At one point, T-Pain publicly lamented the fact that the artists who used the sound he’d pioneered on his debut album didn’t give him enough credit—or royalties.

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Homework: Guess what? T-Pain can sing. Without Auto-Tune. It’s true. Check out his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Los Angeles Dodgers game back in September. Perfect? No. But he proved that he can use his pipes without enhancement.

The essential two-song playlist: I just listened to the entire album for you. You can get a dose of nostalgia with the first two singles and keep it moving. 

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In related news: In 2009, Jay Z released “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” a seemingly pointed jab at T-Pain and other artists who he felt had overused the vocal enhancement. Although the song raised eyebrows and left T-Pain defending himself, the success of T-Pain’s 2011 single “5 0’Clock,” featuring Lily Allen and Wiz Khalifa, proved that not even the power of Jay Z could stop Auto-Tune.

* Roger Troutman is often thought to be the originator of Auto-Tune or the closely related vocoder. Actually, Troutman used a talk box, which is an instrument that has to be learned, not simply a tool that can be used in post-production. Troutman learned about the talk box after Stevie Wonder used the instrument during an episode of Sesame Street in 1973.    

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** In 1998, Cher’s song “Believe” became a worldwide smash—and brought Auto-Tune into the pop lexicon. Auto-Tune is actually also referred to as “the Cher effect.”

Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at aliyasking.com

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