Backseat Freestyle: Russell Simmons & T-Pain Present Spotify's 'Traffic Jams' in New York City

Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Spotify
T-Pain and Russell Simmons attend the Spotify/ All Def Digital Traffic Jams Premiere Party at Neuehouse on March 29, 2017 in New York City. 

Traffic in Los Angeles is notorious; gridlock, road rage and mind-numbing delays that can make five miles feel like a marathon. But from aggravation comes inspiration.

Traffic Jams is a video series by All Def Digital and Spotify that pairs one rapper and one producer -- who have never worked together before -- and drops them in the backseat of a SUV in rush-hour traffic. The mission: create a brand new song on-camera before arriving at a venue and then perform that song live. "I wanted to give artists the ability to create outside of the typical studio setting. When you cram two creative people into an environment like a car, it pushes them outside of their comfort zones," says Amir Abbassy, Head of Music and Talent Programming at All Def Digital.

Last night (March 29), Abbassy joined All Def Digital founder Russell Simmons, Global Head of Spotify Studios Tom Calderone and rapper/producer T-Pain to premiere Traffic Jams in New York City.

"When I got the call about the show, it sounded weird as sh-t," admits T-Pain. "I didn’t know what to expect. I guess, I think I was more intrigued than anything. Because it was an intriguing concept…and I wasn’t really listening.” Outfitted in a sequined jacket -- which sparkled even amid the dim screening room lights at NeueHouse -- T-Pain showcased the same humor and propensity for randomness as seen in his Traffic Jams episode, featuring Atlanta hitmaker Southside.

In their session, T-Pain is noticeably hungover and shares that he had a hard night of partying, which ended with him eating an entire pizza by himself in bed. During a Q&A following the screening, T-Pain revealed that the pizza had lobster and sausage.

Comedian DoBoy serves as the driver for Traffic Jams and the show's moderator of sorts, asking artists questions and keeping the conversation -- which spans some 10 or so miles to the venue -- moving.

Although it’s easy to make the comparison between Traffic Jams and The Late Late Show with James Corden’s recurring "Carpool Karaoke" segment, for T-Pain, this is a literal return to his roots. “What really made me want to do it is, because it’s what I used to do anyways. I used to pull up to the club -- I wasn’t old enough to get into the club yet -- so I would pull up to it in my wife’s truck. I would hook up my laptop to one of those cassette things that had the AUX cord coming out of it and record songs outside the club. [I would] wait on the local rappers to come out, like, 'Put a verse on this.' So I would actually record songs in a truck outside a club.”

Simmons admitted that his first reaction to Traffic Jams was lukewarm. “Then, I saw the demo and it was brilliant. Amir, Sydney [Sydney Kim, Head of Music Production at All Def Digital] and what they all did was great." As a legendary producer in his own right, Simmons underscores the DIY ethos that makes the series relevant in hip-hop: "I never made a song that took two or three hours anyways. It was the fixing of songs that took long. The ideas come and bam! To make it better, that’s a process. These guys are geniuses."

In many ways, Traffic Jams breaks the fourth wall of the studio and gives fans a glimpse of the creative process. Southside, for instance, approaches beat-making as a visual, almost mathematical process. The producer (behind such hits as Future’s “Commas”) doesn’t actually hear any sounds when he makes two beats for T-Pain. The latter is legitimately stunned, watching a beat created in mere seconds. In the episode with Jidenna and Sonny Digital, we see the “Classic Man” show dexterity as both a rapper and singer; he effortlessly freestyles lyrics that end up as a song several miles later.

Other artist combos in Traffic Jams include Joey Bada$$ and Cardo, MadeinTYO and araabMUZIK, and E-40 and Willie B. "We chose a mix of emerging and established artists who were open to something as crazy as Traffic Jams,” said Abbassy. “[We] wanted to curate artists with complementary and contrasting styles to keep things fun and unpredictable.”

Traffic Jams debuts April 4 on Spotify (under Original Videos). See the full programming schedule below:

April 4 – T-PAIN & SOUTHSIDE

April 11 – DRAM & MELO X

April 18 – JOEY BADA$$ & CARDO

April 25 – PELL & !LLMIND

May 2 – JIDENNA & SONNY DIGITAL

May 9- MADEINTYO & ARAABMUZIK

May 16 – DAE DAE & MARVEL ALEXANDER

May 23 – E-40 & WILLIE B