The Virtue of T-Pain’s “Can’t Believe It”


The short ad-lib that clips the melody of another T-Pain croon. Either we believe that T-Pain is the loose assembly of hollow machine sounds. Or we believe that he is the brilliant incarnation of many soul singers pressed through the strainer of digital synthesis. Obviously, he is a bit of both, and it’s hard to assign him a mode as he adopts a similar harmonious template for most of his songs, whether they are cloying or redemptive.

T-Pain is brilliant emptiness. He is not vapid. His clownish costumes recall Flava Flav, but there’s always some hidden meaning with the jester. I remember The Source article covering Flav in the nay-day of Public Enemy. The formerly grand hip-hop rag made sure to color Flav’s run-ins with authorities, and family court issues as part of the mad genius that made him. In a way, T-Pain is a Flava Flav protege.

With the T-Wayne hit “Can’t Believe It” we get the best of the circus motif, from the track’s insistent twinkling bells to the top hat on a dancing teddy bear’s dome. The video is a work unto itself because it renders T-Pain as the ringmaster, the sad engineer of a strange world in which only he and some bizarre others fit. To keep with the running theme of being in love with a stripper, T-Pain indulges a wild fantasy about saving her from her life of lecherousness. He has this absolutely morose dream of loving a woman who has set herself up not to be loved. And he wails distressingly about it.

“Cause you look so gooo-oood, you make me wanna spend it all on ya”

And the poetry there is that he cannot spend it all on her. For all the “you ain’t tricking if you got it talk” seeping into the framework of his songs, he is bitterly deciding against being with this morally insufferable woman. This stripper-harlot-trope makes T-Pain’s exceptional use of melody more than a jester’s prosaic call: it’s his pastiche for invention. In a radio interview on Hot 97, T-Pain talked to Angie Martinez about his married life possibly being in contradiction with his woeful Single Man in the Club image. And as playfully as Angie brought up the randy contrast between the two value systems, T-Pain niftily explained that he wrote many of those songs (about strippers) while broke. This leads me to believe that he was never fascinated as much about the marketing of a Strip Club song as he was about getting to the heart of the troubled, enraptured club patron.

If T-Pain’s Can’t Believe It is ostensibly about being in the V.I.P. section of some seedy strip joint, it makes no real pretense out of being that close to its subject matter. “She make the people say yeeeeah” could just as well be a chant in any other R&B song, but here it’s as if he’s commenting on the allure of some dancer in some flashing light panel. He is bathing the song in that same light of ominous revelations: that strobes can hide the scars; drinks and tips can push a good man away from reality.

That is why T-Pain has the most appealing song in radio rotation for my money. It’s not because there is something honorable about using the auto-tune capabilities as instrument, rather it’s the audacity of hiding such depressing themes in such upbeat music. The whine of the “yeahs” is fully submerged in their electronic coating. The ardor of unsanctioned love is also there beneath the sweet surface. To be honest, I didn’t know T-Pain was so deep.

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3 Responses to “The Virtue of T-Pain’s “Can’t Believe It””

  1. 2 drewricketts October 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    EASILY EASILY EASILY my favorite part of the song. He can just stop and clown no matter what he’s saying. He’s got my vote.

  1. 1 Bring Some Soul For My Robot « Heard On My Stoop Trackback on August 21, 2009 at 2:09 am

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