Though incomplete, the T-Wayne project is a necessary reference point for an influential time in both artists' careers.
The announcement of a project is far from a guarantee. This is an unfortunate reality accepted by rap fans, and one even more familiar to the followers of Lil Wayne. Despite being one of the genre’s most prolific voices with dozens of full-length releases to his name, Wayne still has a number of mixtapes and album concepts that have either been swept under the rug, left stranded on a hard drive, or barred from release (DEVOL, I Can’t Feel My Face, and Like Father, Like Son 2 are just a few that come to mind). In fact, over the last two years, the New Orleans rapper’s career has been defined by a dispute with his label, leaving Tha Carter V, his long-awaited and very much complete swansong in limbo. With a legal battle and media play-by-play taking over Wayne’s narrative, Weezy’s many other loose ends were gradually forgotten. So when T-Wayne, the rapper’s doomed collaboration with Florida R&B singer and auto-tune pioneer T-Painarrived on SoundCloud a good 9 years after its announcement, no one saw it coming.
This ain't for y'all new niggas. These the lost files from '09 and I'm tired of em just sittin on my hard drive. #FreeC5— T-Pain (@TPAIN) May 18, 2017
Really, there was no reason for anyone to believe the project existed in the first place. In an interview with Rap-Up in 2011, T-Pain seemed pretty convinced that the album would never come to fruition. According to the singer, it was Wayne’s incarceration in 2010 that put the final nail in the coffin. “When he got into his little trouble. That was like right at the peak of when we was like, ‘Ok, let’s go, let’s do this now.’ He finally had time… and he went to jail,” he revealed. “Hey, things happen, and I’m pretty sure he’s over the whole idea right now. So I don’t even be bringing up to him no more,” he said, laughing off the disappointment. “I’d make a T-Wayne album any day. I have no problem with that. That’ll never be something I’m not interested in.”
From these comments, it’s clear that Pain was a little more invested in the idea than his collaborator, at least a few years after their initial recordings. The remarks also make it seem like the project was far from complete at the time -- so then what are we make of the 8-track album that Pain shared on SoundCloud last week? Let’s start at the beginning.
Plans for a T-Pain and Lil Wayne supergroup were first announced by Wayne in a 2008 interview with MTV. "We both have the same energy," Wayne said of his natural chemistry with Pain, who he would later take on his I Am Music tour in support of Tha Carter III (at which T-Wayne t-shirts would be healthily stocked). "I don't sleep. If you ask anybody, I don't sleep… He don't sleep. I play all day. He plays all day and all night. The connection is crazy. He loves to be creative, he loves to work; I love to create, I love to work.”
The two did work on music over the course of 2009, much of which was unfortunately dispersed across multiple unofficial mixtapes. Anyone who followed Wayne’s output in the late aughts will remember just how much of his material was released without his consent, often in unfinished form and plastered with some now iconic DJ tags (“Damn, son, where’d you find this?” was as quotable as it was applicable to the curiously stolen material).
Quite a few of those collaborations are now present on the T-Wayne project T-Pain has released nearly a decade late. While they will certainly be new to many fans, Wayne and Pain completists will know them quite well, making the collection a little less exciting than it may have immediately seemed. At the same time, it makes sense considering Pain’s previous insinuation that the project was never really completed. While familiar, the songs sound shiny and clean compared to their mixtape predecessors.
Conceptually, T-Wayne is not your average supergroup. Collaborative albums like Watch The Throne or What A Time To Be Alive find their respective duos combining their greatest strengths and forming like Voltron. T-Wayne, on the other hand, is about Wayne and Pain trading roles and challenging their regular dynamic. In 2008, both vocalists were arguably the hottest artists in their respective lanes. An album with immense, radio-ready T-Pain hooks and top-tier Wayne bars was exactly what fans wanted to hear. However, that’s not exactly how it was envisioned.
The loose premise of the project is outlined in the opening track “He Rap, He Sang.” The two artists point to each other in the hook as they explain their talents, but Wayne is the one using auto-tune while Pain is delivering furious, unfiltered rhymes. It’s a clever contradiction that allows the multi-talented artists not only to subvert expectations, but to walk in one another’s shoes. “Just think of me as the R&B version of Wayne,” snarls T-Pain in the opening verse, before making reference to the Weezy’s Five Percent Nation wordplay from 2004’s “Tha Heat” (“I hit ya arm, leg, leg, arm, head”) as well as his #1 auto-tune-driven hit “Lollipop” (“He so sweet make her wanna lick the singer”). In fact, the absurdist approach to punchlines Wayne was known for at the time is all over Pain’s verses (“My money long like a tube sock”).
“He really wants people to respect his rapping,” Wayne told MTV. “I really want people to respect my harmonizing.” As established as they were, T-Pain and Lil Wayne were both artists in search of a co-sign. Just after going on a legendary mixtape run and subsequent victory lap with Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne was looked at as the “Best Rapper Alive” in 2008. For someone like T-Pain, who had put emcee-ing to the side to explore melody (hence Rappa Ternt Sanga), there was no better person to vouch for his bars. Similarly, T-Pain was the authority in auto-tune, to the point that it was customary to ask the singer for permission to use the vocal effect. Kanye brought him on as a consultant for his emotional departure 808s & Heartbreak, while Diddy also received his blessing for the robotic voice textures across Last Train To Paris. “I got permission from the Auto-Tune king, T-Pain,” said the rapper in 2008, drawing up a scene straight out of the Godfather. “You have to go to him to get permission. I actually gave him a half a point on my album for showing me certain tricks.” Wayne had already earned some hits using auto-tune, but it was still seen as a passing fad to many more traditionally-minded fans. Putting himself beside Pain gave his melodic tangents more credibility in the R&B world. It was a mutually beneficial relationship that allowed both artists to venture out of their comfort zones, using their collaborator's reputation as a safety net.
While the role reversal does apply to quite a few songs on T-Wayne, some of the most effective moments replicate the snap-infused R&B-pop perfection of Thr33 Ringz single "Can't Believe It" (which happens to have its own leaked T-Wayne edition with an increased Wayne presence). “Damn Damn Damn” is one of the tape’s strongest moments, with Wayne delivering some of his breathiest R&B backed by Pain’s masterfully inventive harmonizing techniques. If there’s any moment that will transport you directly to 2009, it’s Wayne’s lyric, “Cause I hit her with the wham,” a nod to his short-lived signature dance move. Meanwhile, “Snap Ya Fingers” is an infectious slow jam that probably could have ranked among Pain’s best singles were it properly released. Here, Wayne opts for a spacey whisper rap that’s as romantic as it is psychedelic.
There are a couple of cuts that hint at other paths the two could have taken had they had the opportunity to lay a few more ideas in the studio. T-Wayne gets its most unhinged on “Breathe,” a track that reunites Lil Wayne with Bangladesh on a beat that would later go to Nicki Minaj for “Did It On ‘Em.” It brings out slithering sing-raps from Wayne and a goofy-fun verse from Pain. On the closing track, "Heavy Chevy," the Tallahassee-based Pain gives Weezy, a Miami transplant, a lesson in Florida culture. It makes for a throwback Southern rap voyage that would be right at home on Like Father, Like Son.
More than anything, T-Wayne enforces a moment in time. A moment that’s importance we already knew, but couldn’t bring into focus. The 8-track T-Wayne project we have now helps us see it much more clearly, but it’s still more of a draft than a final product. With that being said, for historical purposes, having a preserved, if incomplete idea of T-Wayne is essential not just for fans of the artists, but rap music at large.
Thanks to SoundCloud’s auto-play feature, T-Wayne’s closing track is followed-up by Quavo's hook on "Park The Bentley," which seems like a fitting testament to its -- perhaps indirect -- influence. After all, Wayne can be heard soaked in auto-tune alongside both Quavo and frequent T-Pain collaborator DJ Khaled on the recent No. 1 single “I’m The One,” a song that is difficult to picture existing without the work both T-Pain and Wayne put in during the late aughts.
Now when your little cousin tells you how much he loves the new Khaled single, you can assign him the T-Wayne album. T-Pain's long-delayed hard drive clearing will act as a proper page in the history books to turn to (with none of those pesky DJs scribbling in the margins). It’s scotch-taped into the text, a little bit creased, and only halfway written, but the rest of the book makes a lot more sense with its inclusion.