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A hits-and-run scene

T-Pain sets the example at Screamfest, singing snippets of the songs that have made his name and moving on.

September 03, 2007|August Brown | Times Staff Writer

During the genial R&B singer T-Pain's set at Screamfest '07 on Saturday at Gibson Amphitheatre, he recapped his recent guest verses on other artists' hit singles. First was his turn on R. Kelly's charming bachelor anthem "I'm a Flirt," then Huey's club staple "Pop Lock & Drop It," then the remix of Unk's "Two Step" and finally Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss."

This came after Pain opened the set with his choruses from E-40's "U and Dat" and Plies' "Shawty," followed by his own slow-burning singles "Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin')" and "Bartender," which would be achingly familiar to anyone who's encountered an open car window all summer.

Indeed, T-Pain's set was little more than a reminder of how much time you've spent listening to him, whether you intended to or not. He remains a prime example of how to stay above water in a testy hip-hop market. Pain's equation: have an instantly recognizable timbre (for him, it's tweaked by a ubiquitous vocoder) and be omnivorous in genre and the artists you collaborate with.

That strategy made Lil' Wayne this year's most acclaimed MC, and it defined Screamfest headliner T.I.'s most recent album, the purposefully schizophrenic "T.I. vs. T.I.P." -- the latter being his supposed alter ego. The big lesson at Screamfest was that purism has no place at the top of the charts, and radio is certainly more interesting for it.

One of early 2007's most dominant sounds was spacious, minimalist electro-R&B, and Lloyd's "Get It Shawty" is a welcome late entry to that field. It's hard to imagine Lloyd having too many singles ascend like "Shawty" though, as the song's best asset is that it feels hypnotically depersonalized, which doesn't make for a lasting image.

Yung Joc's similarly quick set seemed more of an occasion for him to administer a particularly spirited lap dance and toss cash around a girl from the audience. It's a clichéd gesture, but it fit the mood of his jackhammer-repetitive breakout hit "It's Goin' Down."

And contrary to expectations, it seems Joc has another hit on his hands with the cheery "Coffee Shop," one of the better recent metaphors for the ever-popular rap topic of how much cocaine he's sold.

Another regrettably common gimmick of live hip-hop is for an artist to barely get through one verse and a chorus of any song before skipping off to the next one. For T-Pain though, it almost seemed necessary, given how many radio staples he needed to get around to.

If R. Kelly is the standard for lechery in pop, Pain is a downright gentleman, as he spends most of his album "Epiphany" buying girls Patrón shots and kicking it with his favorite club waitress. "Buy U a Drank" and "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)" are firmly ensconced summer songs, and Pain seemed eager to keep them that way, bouncing across the stage in cheeky white sunglasses and pulling Chris Brown onstage during "Kiss Kiss" to hysterical cheers.

T.I., on the contrary, has spent more time listening to the voices in his own head. "T.I. vs. T.I.P." was a bit of a mess, as his split-personality shtick played against his strengths, namely his elastic, behind-the-beat drawl and richly slangy rhymes. It coalesced a bit better live however, as the tight format forced him to cut the identity-crisis fat off.

"Watch What You Say to Me" plays off a swampy, languid guitar line that left him plenty of room to be both dismissive and menacing.

T.I. has a way of over-enunciating his vowels and stretching them to near-breaking, and it sounded great on the loping, rope-skipping single "You Know What It Is."

Nothing on "T.I. vs. T.I.P." has the sheer anthemic quality of his biggest hit, "What You Know," but he proved an interesting contrast to the rest of Screamfest: a singular artist struggling with his own needs to diversify.

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