CD Review of Thr33 Ringz by T-Pain
Recommended if you like
Flo Rida, Ne-Yo, Akon
Label
Zomba/Jive/Nappy Boy
T-Pain: Thr33 Ringz

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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T
his just in: "Mansion" rhymes with "Wisconsin." T-Pain says so, right there in the opening lines of "Can’t Believe It," the seventh track on his new album, Thr33 Ringz, and if you disagree, too damn bad – as you’re no doubt aware if you’ve looked at the Billboard Top 10 at any point over the past couple of years, T-Pain owns what’s left of Top 40 radio. He could probably rhyme something with orange and get away with it at this point.

If you’re unfamiliar with his work, T-Pain is the guy responsible for the Auto-Tune fad that’s spread like Ebola throughout pop music during the last 18-24 months – a feat he loudly acknowledges in Ringz’ closing track, "Karaoke" ("Hundred motherfuckers tryin’ to do what I dids"). Piles of cash aside, it’s hard to understand why anyone would be proud of borrowing a production gimmick from Cher’s "Believe" – but then again, it’s just as hard to understand the public’s seemingly bottomless appetite for said gimmick, so we’re probably best off just giving Pain his due.

And actually, "give T-Pain his due" is the conclusion that even his haters may very well reach by the time they reach the end of Thr33 Ringz – he may look like Rob Zombie crossed with the Predator, but he’s got the double-jointed goofball presence of Jim Varney, and although little on the album reaches (or, probably, aspires to) must-hear status, Pain has a master showman’s instinct for arranging the stage and aiming the spotlight. As a producer, he’s largely a one-trick pony, but he’s smart enough to surround himself with enough A-list talent to keep things interesting from start to finish: the guest list includes Ludacris, Chris Brown, Ciara, Lil Wayne, Akon, T.I., Kanye West, Musiq Soulchild, Raheem DeVaughn, Jay Lyriq, Diddy, and Mary J. Blige.

With all that marquee talent, a circus-themed title, and Pain’s larger-than-life persona, you could be forgiven for going into Thr33 Ringz expecting an endless succession of club bangers, but the album’s actually mostly a mid-tempo affair; it isn’t until the blistering "Karaoke" that things really get sweaty, and then the record’s over. It’s still far from a subtle record, mind you, but for something that suggests P.T. Barnum levels of lowest-common-denominator lunacy, it’s surprisingly smart – hell, it’s almost refined, if you can believe it.

If the source of T-Pain’s appeal has eluded you thus far – and this writer claims befuddled membership in that club – Thr33 Ringz won’t solve any riddles for you, and hearing those damn Auto-Tune vocals on every song is equally annoying whether they’re coming from the gimmick’s originator or one of his imitators. But even if you’re predisposed to dismiss it, Thr33 Ringz isn’t as bad as you might expect – which is a very good thing, considering it’s more or less destined to spend at least the next year hogging the charts. If history has shown us anything, it’s that no matter how bad you think a current trend might be, the next one is bound to be even worse – so we should probably just accept that we’re living in T-Pain’s world for now, and be grateful for small favors.

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