T-Pain Talks 'Stoicville,' Kanye West & How He's 'Not Done Making Hits'

T-Pain visits Billboard's New York offices on June 16, 2015.
Trish Halpin

T-Pain visits Billboard's New York offices on June 16, 2015.

T-Pain, the vocalist/producer who had a hand in just about every hip-hop/R&B hit of the late 00's (when he collaborated with everyone from Taylor Swift to Lil Wayne), is getting ready to drop Stoicville: The Phoenix, his first full-length album since 2011. His rise from the ashes (if you can call a prolific discography, including 14 top 10 Billboard 100 hits and numerous platinum records "ashes") has come from unlikely sources, however. The fact that it took a 2014 New Yorker feature and acoustic session on NPR to bring the hitmaker back into the limelight is something that even the man born Faheem Rashad Najm admits is "strange." 

Exclusive Video: T-Pain Sings His Hit Song 'I'm Sprung' Sans Auto-Tune Backstage at 'Larry King Now'

Whatever the path, the end result is a renewed commitment to making the club-ready bangers that led him to the top of the charts in the first place. As he told Billboard, he still has "a few more hits" he wants to share -- now we'll let T-Pain say it, so he can make it clear:

How far along are you on Stoicville: The Phoenix [due early this fall]?

I try not to stop recording until they say I have to. It's never really done -- there's always finishing touches to songs that are "finished." Maybe 30 percent?

How do you pick the songs for the album -- what's shaping your concept?

Nothing's really shaping the concept. I think I'm just getting bored with songs. You know, I have them all on my iTunes -- I just listen to them so much, once a song gets old to me I feel like it's old to the world. That's just how it goes I guess...being an artist. An artiste

T-Pain Dissects his Career on new Track 'Stoicville'

Speaking of being a capital-A "Artist," your recent acoustic performance on NPR got a lot of people's attention.

Shocked a few people! It's weird, because I never use any kind of pitch correction or voice enhancement live. I'm one of the few people that doesn't use it -- I don't even know how it works live, because the way it happens, if you've got any other noise coming into the microphone, it kind of messes it up. It seems like it wouldn't work.

It's very strange. I would have never thought that NPR would even be a part of my life. That was different for me -- I had no idea what I was doing when I got there. 

Would you ever do an acoustic album?

Yeah, I actually pitched it to my label before I did the NPR thing. They basically said no, but I see now that they didn't think I could do it. Without telling me, they were basically saying like, "How would you even do that -- you've gotta use Auto-Tune." 

By that time, when they denied me releasing an acoustic album, they wanted to release a greatest-hits album. I'm not done making hits, to have a greatest-hits album. Greatest hits so far? Maybe this year it could have been a 10-year anniversary album, but a greatest-hits album just seemed super premature. 

It kind of trucked my live album, because they didn't know I could do it. After I did the NPR thing they were like, "Let's go for it!" I said, "It's too late now, it won't be that exciting anymore."

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But someday, maybe?

Someday, someday. A few more hits. 

With your upcoming album Stoicville, the introduction is pretty heavy, serious stuff -- but a lot of the other tracks are super bouncy and danceable.

I felt like I couldn't pretend to happy until I let all that out. That's why it's the intro -- like first, let me air everything out. I'm not "the sad person," but there are some things you need to know that went into making this album. There are some situations that happened between the last time you heard from me and now, so here's all that, here's why everybody hasn't been seeing me -- I didn't want to bring anybody into that negative world, and I definitely didn't want to be talked about, as a bad person. 

I just went into hiding, stayed in the studio. After I'd let all that go, then I was able to make happy music again. 

It was a huge relief to just let it go. You know how they say write down all your bad stuff and your sins on a piece of paper and burn it? That's pretty much what that was. 

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Have you planned any collaborations yet for the upcoming album?

Not yet -- my recent work ethic hasn't been that great. [Laughs]

Juicy J on the single ["Make That Shit Work"]...

Juicy J! Fun stuff. That didn't require me to do anything, that's why that was fun. He came through pretty quickly for me.

Usually people try to get me to come to the studio -- "Let's chill for four days and see if we can come up with something." I don't want to do that. Listen, man, I got a good song. Please come up with a good verse for this, I'll send it to you, send it back, and the song's done. Let's make money. It should be that simple -- otherwise I'll be sitting in the studio with you and your girlfriend for days. [Laughs]

What I like to do is I like to get my part of the song done first so I can know, conceptually, where everything needs to go. 

You're handling the production on this album?

Yeah, I'm doing most of the production on this -- it's quite easy. It's quite easy to do it like that, and then send it to whoever you think would fit on it. You don't want to have a set of songs and go to the studio, and then it's embarrassing to tell them, "You sound like crap on this song, and I should not have come to you for this."

I would rather do the whole email thing -- it works better. You can send it to multiple people, and whoever comes back with the good verse, you use.

That's why I don't have collaborations yet, because it's embarrassing to tell people how terrible they are. [Laughs]

Recently Kanye reportedly thanked Cher for making Auto-Tune OK. Did you hear about that?

She was the first time I heard it. Nobody copied her, so she had that advantage. [Laughs] But yeah, the first time I heard it was Cher. He's right. Don't thank me, I didn't invent it. You can thank Dr. Andy, the guy who actually invented it -- came up with the math for it -- probably should thank him for even making it. Nobody knows who Dr. Andy is.

Do you ever think it's going to go out of style?

Yeah, for other people. I think it's gonna get to a point where people are like, "Please just let T-Pain do this by himself." It's already happening -- a lot of people say that. I see it tweeted every day -- "Just leave it alone, let T-Pain do it, and it's fine. You don't really need it. Didn't need it before T-Pain came out, and everybody was already doing their thing."

I think it's gonna go out of style for everybody else. [Laughs]