Review Summary: Roll up, roll up - the ringtone king brings the circus together for a patchy third album.
In the last few years, Faheem Rasheed Najm has less entered the pop music world than formed a nation inside it. His snappy, robotic vocals under the guise of T-Pain are more or less everywhere, whether it’s booming out of a club (“Lemme buy you a drank!”), booming out of your set-to-MTV television (“Welcome to the good life!”) or booming out of some moron’s mobile phone (“Shawty got them apple-bottom jeans…”). It is this infiltration of the airwaves that lead some people to compare T-Pain to a circus ringleader, running the show. Naturally, Pain didn’t need any further encouragement and thus spawned the theme and concept behind Thr33 Ringz
Surprisingly (and perhaps thankfully), this has not evolved into a fully-blown concept record. Aside from the bombastic merry-go-round of “Ringleader Man” and a handful of mostly unfunny skits, this is business as usual for Pain- for the uninitiated, urban synth-pop which takes the Autotune “Cher effect” to newfound levels of over-usage. Certainly, it may sound like a run-of-the-mill, superficial club-filler product on paper. Perhaps the greatest surprise of all, then, is that it’s deserving of a little more credit than that.
When analysing the music of T-Pain, it is somewhat of a double-edged sword. It’s hard to fault the man as a vocalist/”sanga”, but this is only because of the ridiculous amount of time he spends pitch correcting, warping and looping it. Sure, it sounds like a lot of fun- “Chopped N Skrewed” sees Pain turn his voice into another instrument in the song, and the thickly layered vocoder harmonies have occasional flashes of robotic pop perfection. Still, it seems odd that he would use the effect on nearly every single track, especially since the two songs where he raps (“Welcome to Thr33 Ringz” and “Karaoke”) are two of the album’s best tracks. His aggressive, cocky and verbose flows recall a Country Grammar
-era Nelly, or even his close friend Mr. West. More rapping would also relieve the ears from the vocoder-assisted “ooooohhhhh”s and “yeaaahhhhhh”s that occupy the intro of practically every single song; as well as diversify the record’s sound, which is exactly what it needs.
The environment in which T-Pain finds his voice, provided by the unfortunately named Nappy Boy (having his name shouted in half the songs only makes matters worse), is just as hit and miss. “Reality Show”, which features a full-blown party beat with funky drums and excellent use of piano, organ and guitar, is an example of one of the hits. So, too, is the minimalist verses of “Blowing Up”, which gets even better when synth arpeggios slide over it come chorus time; as well as the Konvicted
guitar-centric smoothness of “Therapy”. The most notable miss is the ridiculously boring slow-jam of “Long Lap Dance”, as well as the forgettable “Digital”. These songs are really not the kind to show to sceptics who are firm in the belief that T-Pain cannot make anything worthwhile to convince them otherwise.
Another interesting note on Thr33 Ringz
is the plethora of guests on the record- certainly, T-Pain has evolved into urban pop’s village bicycle, so it seems only fair that his associates return the favour. The results are split into three groups- either Pain is outperformed, equalled or made to look even better.
Exhibit A: on the syncopated bop of “It Ain’t Me”, the reins are handed over to Senegalese hook-master Akon and the effortlessly cool T.I. Both simply cruise through the beat, gaining the lead over the main man despite an excellent chorus. The same can be said for Kanye’s exceptional verse in “Therapy”, a disappointingly brief cameo given Pain gets especially repetitious in this track.
Exhibit B: the criminally underrated Ciara reminds listeners why she had several number ones by turning out a catchy, highly pleasing duet on “Blowing Up”. The song works on equal parts of both participants- the vocals play off each other impressively, and the chorus is one of the best on the album. With plenty of single potential, this could mean another #1 for Pain and the triumphant return of Miss Harris to the spotlight. The ever-reliable Ludacris also proves to work wonders with his cameo on “Chopped N Skrewed”, still managing to make sleaze sound ever so stylish after all these years.
Exhibit C comes in the form of single “Can’t Believe It”. Whilst Pain makes the song fairly enjoyable despite some downright silly lyrics, it is completely ruined when one Wayne Carter enters the picture. Unwilling to stop at completely wrecking Kanye’s “Barry Bonds” and Usher’s “Love in This Club Part 2”, Lil Wayne continues on his path of destruction by providing possibly his most pointless, misplaced and downright creepy guest spot to date. He can call himself “the greatest rapper alive” all he likes, but whatever he does, he should certainly refrain from singing- even with the assistance of Autotune. The only good to come of this song is a remix featuring the invaluable Justin Timberlake, who helps the remix surpass its original in every way possible.
is certainly a flawed album- it’s not often that the guy who sings the chorus makes records that are exceptional (see Akon, Nate Dogg et al). Having said that, it’s not entirely without merit, either. This is fun, dancefloor-filling pop that shall certainly gain a few more number ones for Mr. Pain to be adding to his CV.