T-Pain is not a fan of early mornings, but it’s the price you pay when traveling the country to highlight entrepreneurs and startup companies. “It’s a lot of non-rapper hours,” the two-time Grammy winner said with a laugh.
The singer-rapper, born Faheem Rasheed Najm, is the host of T-Pain’s School of Business, a FUSE show that explores niche, innovative businesses founded by millennials. Many are centered on new technology and forward-thinking concepts. “It’s great to back these businesses and get out here and meet the actual entrepreneurs,” he said. “A lot of people that we interview on the show are basically trying to save the environment, coming up with different ways that they can keep the Earth itself sustainable.”
The “rappa-ternt-sanga” (rapper-turned-singer), as he’s labeled himself, said jumping into the business world was a natural fit. His mornings, or afternoons, depending on when he wakes up, consist of browsing crowdsourcing apps and helping fund businesses and ideas that catch his eye. Season two of School of Business wrapped last month, but re-runs are still airing.
Pain’s career is one that can be envied for its longevity, as many of the artists that he sparred with atop the music charts in the 2000s have faded into obscurity. He has consistently put out music, and he has kept his star bright by keeping his face on television. He won the inaugural The Masked Singer competition in February, followed by hosting the iHeartRadio Music Awards in March. However, he doesn’t label it as a comeback.
“I wouldn’t call it resurgence. It’s something I was already doing. I always meet TV producers and I always have meetings at networks and stuff like that and they’re like, ‘Man, you got a personality on you,’” he said. “I’m pretty relatable when it comes to learning about these things because I’m learning with my audience, and if I’m good enough to help people learn and help people start their own business, I’ll take it.”
But while he may not call it a revival, he’s much more visible in pop culture than he has been in years. Despite touring and guest appearances, including a high-profile feature on “Finish Line” from Chance The Rapper’s 2016 Grammy-winning Coloring Book album, Pain hasn’t topped the charts or appeared on songs alongside contemporary pop and rap stars like he’s done in the past. This year, he did return to the Billboard charts: His track “Girlfriend” featuring G-Eazy, from his latest album 1UP album released in February, peaked at No. 10 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop digital song sales chart.
His music still serves as the sun in which all of his other interests orbit around. But to some hip-hop fans, it’s a wonder his music still resonates: A decade ago, many predicted his career all but dead after Jay-Z released “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” in 2009, a track urging the hip-hop world to stop using the effect after believing it had become oversaturated in pop culture.
But not only has his career thrived, his influence can be heard in the music of many of today’s popular artists, such as Migos, Future, Travis Scott and Juice WRLD. “It’s definitely come full circle. I’m glad I can have such an influence now,” said the “Buy U A Drank” singer. “I see it in TV, I see it all over the place. I think what I do is infectious enough to go over industries: music industry, the TV industry and everything. So if I can spread T-Pain as much as possible, then absolutely, I’m here for it.”
But the biggest irony might be that Beyonce, arguably the world’s biggest music superstar, and wife to Jay-Z, used auto-tune on “Ape….,” a track from the couple’s 2018 Grammy-winning album, Everything Is Love. “I felt great. … It’s hers. I don’t think (Jay-Z) can tell her what to do anyway,” he said with a hefty belly laugh.
T-Pain’s latest album boasts appearances from O.T. Genasis, Russ, Tory Lanez and frequent collaborator, Lil Wayne. He noted that he’s been varied when it comes to his collaborations. “I’ve dabbled in country, I’ve written songs with Luke Bryan. I’ve done that with Taylor Swift. I’ve come back to do Pitbull, DJ Khaled and the most gangsta rappers, all the way to Christian pop.” He added: “I don’t want there to be a specific sound or anything like that. You’ll know my voice when you hear it.”
T-Pain recently wrapped up the first half of his 1UP tour and he’s preparing for the second leg that kicks off in November in Detroit. But these days, his priorities are different than years ago during the height of his musical success. His family, which includes his wife Amber of 16 years and their three children, Lyriq, Muziq and Kaydnz, is his main focus.
“There was a big time in my career when I was chasing fame and chasing being No. 1 and having the best ‘this’ and doing the best ‘that.’ And in the end, none of that’s important if your family is not behind you,” he said. “Just put your family first. It makes a world of difference. Trust me. Big difference.”