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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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Ballad of the Blunted Boy

I got my Masters in Dutch and a Bachelor’s in Swisher

Graduate Hard Knocks by the Narrowest Slither

I’m Smart But Not the Flashiest Nigga and once I learn lessons

Class dismissed 

A Homerun Hitter no asterisk; though you try dealing your fastest pitch

When Last I quit, I can’t recall proper

Scalded lungs pass the spliff poured Vodka I am neither man

Nor monster; won’t deny I have a sore spot for 

classy chicks

I’m aloof like the shower sponge, crass emit a sour tongue 

Amass my riches outta slums; jousting with guns is such a downer

One dollar does not a dream make; Gun Powder to prop extreme statesmen


But —


No bwoy nah guh test me yo

We posture ’cause it’s the best we know

I’m the poet-emcee’s wet dream though

‘specially blowed off the best weed, cho!

slipped inside the vestry door 

forget priests I got some questions


Dear father, does my ambition beget greed?

A balladeer 

I asked him cavalierly

I’m strong in my heart

My feet are rather weary 

What sign of the weak

that I splatter theories so loud

the people have to hear me


The youths are misguided 

we split sides spit fire piss iron

the best of us tip tides amidst liars

but after our time 

we git tired


I wanna 

collect bitches like figurines 

walk o’er floods to kick a breeze 

smoke more buds with thicker leaves 

Stalk tall funds like nigga please 

Feel familiar like six degrees 

The treasure is in the mysteries


Are these

Men or monsters

reading from teleprompters?


(per my advice 

you better watch)


Mind parables that ignore your children

And demagogues who war for scores 

Hording billions 


I used to hate but now I sorta feel ‘im 

I realize now that we was buildin’


That Gen. T-SO got me right mah nig…

The Genteel Oath To Life Unlived 

I spell dawg with an A-W

The first and last letters of my name trouble you 

I taint love the way lovers do 

Plus got flow like rain puddles 

We gain through struggle so who could say I ain’t true?

Oh You Mad Cuz’…I Punched You in the Face

I know about the narrative arc of hip-hop seemingly representing this “end to violence” in the South Bronx, giving way to breakers and b-boys to go along with emcees and DJs. But realistically, this is a romantic view of the tension and competition inherent in rap music. Freestyle battles, whether in a public space or at the local radio station drip with oneupmanship and dog-eat-dog fury. Of course, speaking as an armchair social scientist, this means that it ultimately feeds into the disunity complex among black men. It means that something that is partly responsible for a new creative class among blacks has much more of a destructive tendency than a constructive one. So there’s just as much aggression and violence in the outer world in this black art of hip-hop. Sometimes that manifests in good ways, like in Ice Cube’s “Today Was A Good Day” where Cube talked relief from the stresses of L.A. strife. Sometimes it just transfers violent memes to violent acts, as in its traditional stance on all things women.

It yields a humorous distance from reality for me. I like a good rap battle as much as the next fan. But when it deteriorates–like these do–into fights for physical dominance, I still appreciate it for just showing its ass. Hip-hop can never really be bought or framed for the positive or negative because it’s visceral. These reactions come from outside factors even if the music itself has a dandy relationship with violence. Violence courted hip-hop from the get-go, and now we have YouTube to watch the result. Enjoy!

In the storied legacy of rap battles, there have been some heated exchanges on wax. Since the millennium turned, those turned into knockout blows knuckle-up style in the form of Smack DVD clips and YouTube snippets. These fist-fighting battles trumped the tradition of wordplay, and sunk hip-hop into the dregs of other internt sensations like Bum Fights, Street Fights and Kimbo slice marauding.

Here are the HeardonmyStoop faves:

Oh You Mad Cuz I’m Stylin On You

Nikz and ENJ are having a pretty sound, typical street-style battle until ENJ drops the line of the year “Oh you mad cuz I’m stylin’ on you” which throws Nikz into a rage unseen…and then KNOCKOUT! Continue reading ‘Oh You Mad Cuz’…I Punched You in the Face’

Josh Howard In “Fear of A Black Athlete”

One of my favorite NBAers, Josh Howard, got into another scrape with the media in a summer of disfavor for him. In a moment of YouTube candor, one that he will not soon forget, Howard jokes about the National Anthem saying “I don’t even celebrate this sh*t. I’m black.” Just as many Blacks understood, and even sympathized with Reverend Jeremiah Wrights curdling invective against American misdeeds, Howard expressed a sentiment perhaps only known as a private complaint among us. Obviously, Howard should be much more aware of how young fans (of all races) perceive his words, avoiding expletives when he can. The real story, however, is the reactionary media’s want to throttle Josh Howard for being himself.

Josh Howard needs some mic control advice

Josh Howard needs some mic control advice

The public neglects athlete opinion because the players have only sport to be concerned with for 98% of their year. But, in doing so, so many sports columnists want to muzzle their sports heroes for fear that they will say or do the same shocking, and frightening things associated with Black manhood. In that sense, Howard has aroused a backlash typical of sporting press: he is too rich to talk about the Black condition. Or, even better, he has no right to speak from his envious position. The presumption here is that wealth somehow eradicates racism, which shows just how little some journalists know about walking a mile in the next man’s high tops. Black athletes are in the fishbowl of criticism, waiting anxiously until their moment of judgment comes. Some handle it well. LeBron James has carefully deflected questions that would lead anyone down the road of personal beliefs. Ray Allen has also been the media’s beloved for his willingness to give the thoughtfully safe answer. Josh Howard, Baron Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Charles Oakley, Larry Johnson and others have taken the opposite tack. They know how much their privilege puts them in league with the most staunch Republican’s income brackets, but they choose express dissent from the American values that thrash the people who look like they do. The Josh Howard controversy will soon pass but some other Black athlete will have to negotiate the hazard of speaking his mind, and refuting the accusations of being ungrateful and unappreciative. Since those arguments only rehash trite notions of “knowing your place” I have devised a response mechanism for the Josh Howards of the world:

The Black Athlete Response Plan In Free Speech Terms

  • You’re Too Rich to Complain a.k.a. Wealthy Blacks Have It Easy Mike Fisher of the Dallas Morning News writes:

    Josh Howard was blessed by being surrounded by people who loved him. He was blessed with basketball skills that allowed him a four-year education at Wake Forest. He turned that into a professional career that over the course of a decade or so will pay him $10 million a year.
    He has loved ones and he owns fine homes and he owns all the automobiles he could ever dream of buying and he’s been given/earned financial security for his children and their grandchildren and their grandchildren and their grandchildren. And their grandchildren.

    Mike Fisher should have a conversation with Danny Glover, a wealthy renowned black actor who can neither catch a cab, nor find an American studio to produce his Toussaint L’Ouverture biopic. Mike Fisher should talk to the Black men of Sacramento, who are stopped by highway patrols at a much higher rate, despite living in one of the most affluent sections of the Sunshine State. Wealth and opportunity do not change the ugly biases people demonstrate based on skin color. To many a Texan racist, Howard is nothing but a 6-foot-7 black man, who affirms some of their most deep-seated fears with just his physical stature. Fisher means to say that Josh Howard does not count his blessings because he’s willing to question his country’s racial issues, as if the two could not be mutually exclusive. It’s that kind of circular logic that disables dialogue between groups of people. If racism could be bought off, Oprah, Jay-Z, Tiger Woods, Bob Johnson and Michael Jordan would have stakes in its elimination, or at least have looked into it.

    "Dyou look into that yet?"

  • Athletes aren’t prepared to speak on free speech or other important issues
  • Charley Rosen of Fox Sports writes:

    However, racism in America remains a serious and sensitive subject — one that has to be dealt with in a serious and sensitive fashion. It says here that Howard easily could have found a better, more fruitful way to voice his feeling about this.
    As it is, his foul-mouthed rant contributes nothing positive, creates unnecessary antagonisms, obscures the basic issue and demonstrates that he’s sorely in need of a crash course in anger management.

    Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell formed one of the strongest social coalitions imaginable in their quest to balance their privilege with the incredible disparities in human rights they had witnessed. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar was an outspoken athlete, rife with contradictions, poised to articulate his views no matter the cost to his athletic career. Josh Howard and Ron Artest are not as versed in sociopolitical discourse as the aforementioned greats, but you can bet they have been influenced by those conversations that came before them. Charley Rosen is an elder statesman of sporting history himself so he should know that no voice can be shut out of the conversation. For him to define what is “unnecessary antagonism” or supposedly angry is using stubbornness and rigidity to indicate what goes in a conversation about race. The above clip shows that Howard is joking but there is a double meaning. He knows intuitively that the freedom of this country allows him to criticize its still wayward tendencies. He also knows that humor can hide the eminent pain of knowing this paradox. Rosen would do better checking his censorious comments at the door.

  • If you don’t like it, why don’t you just go to another country? This is the most rich argument of all. Rhetorical questions like these needs to be followed with similar rhetorical questions. Here are a few off the top: Is this the same country that jails Michael Vick for his torture and murder of dogs even while defending a slippery definition of torture? Is this the same country that reinforces the concept of liberty while boasting one of the globe’s largest prison systems? Is this the same country that rewards sexual predators with celebrity while publishing sexual offender lists for anyone looking for that information online? Is this the same country where everyone wants to turn a buck with entrepreneurial freedom but no one volunteers to be taxed? Oh yea, it’s that country. Far be it from me to emphasize these contradictions as negative. On the contrary, addressing these contradictions helps to make us better as individuals. Josh Howard is exercising his right to free speech like any man should be able to. In our era, YouTube has made free speech an even more potent (and inadvertent) utility in expanding the conversation about what constitutes a personal belief, and which comments test the boundaries of tolerance. So be it.The media cycle moves too quickly for our senses to grind down what anything means. The circus of responses has “obscured the basic issue,” to use Rosen’s language, nudging us to find an hasty opinion before importing our fellow man’s rationale for examination. Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and a maverick in his own right. He had to answer to his irate ticket-holders and fans when Howard let his words slip out. But instead of fining Howard, or reprimanding him based on his rash behavior, he posted the racist e-mails and angry tirades on his blog to put the mirror back on the same fans who found Howard so irascible in his light-hearted assessment of patriotism. Cuban has since removed the e-mails, but had this to say about making their addresses temporarily public: Cuban said he knew those e-mailers would be receiving “the same level of hate, ignorance and judgment as Josh had and that’s what bothered me all day.”Josh Howard took the stage that so few Black athletes will, and faced the music. Fortunately, his remarks allow the rest of us to question why he would say it, rather than dismissing his mode of expression.
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    A few more links to the sites I’ve been writing for.

    Newsone Logo

    Who’s the Real Celebrity Politician – On John McCain’s claim that Barack Obama is the sole candidate benefiting from cult status.

    How Sexism is Helping Sarah Palin, Hurting Michelle Obama – On the disparate ideas of sexism as it applies to Black women in America.

    Serena Williams Wins U.S. Open and Ninth Title – On the marvelous (growing) legacy of Serena Williams.

    Palin Runs From Press, Many Questions Remain – On Gov. Sarah Palin’s seclusion from the press since being chosen as Vice Presidential nominee for her party.

    How The Mortgage Crisis Affects Black Americans – On the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac federal takeover and the housing issues bombarding the black middle class.

    I’m A Jamaican in New York

    These few weeks have felt like Prelude to An Historic Speech or America Week. The Election bonanza so fittingly dovetailed the Olympics. The Democrats and Republicans put on a show that showed how disparate and simultaneously ethnocentric America can be. It’s difficult to place myself in the middle of the American spectrum. First, I’m black so I have dealt with pressing “otherness” since I learned that blacks in this country were treated differently through a system of historical treatise. Then, uncoerced, Aime Cesaire showed me that the same system effectively suppressed blacks in the West Indies (of America/Britain) and in Africa.




    Since I was born in Kingston, Jamaica but raised stateside, I always had an allegiance to a place where most of my memories had long dissolved. I was stumped trying to figure out my Blackness, my Jamaican-ness, and my American-ness in the face of this larger diaspora idea, which in itself implies dissonance. Then, this week, as if to tap me on the shoulder, Lamika Young, educator and friend spoke to me over chat about Barack Obama. She asserted that the idea of him being named “Barack Obama,” and in turn his separateness from Black Americans, made him less threatening to the general population. I was willing to acknowledge that his exotic nature and name sets him apart from any generalized description of Black American. In the same huffy breath, I was dismayed that we were getting into a discussion of what makes someone Black American. Was she telling me that Black America had institutionalized Blacker Than Thou tests? Continue reading ‘I’m A Jamaican in New York’


    Just a few updates. I haven’t written an “exclusive” post for in a minute. I’m applying some of the video-editing skills I’ve learned from good ‘ol Windows Movie Maker to publish my first show “The Baba Ganoush Hour”. I also realized that the first incarnation of Heard On My Stoop was more focused on essays, critical analysis and poetry. However happy I was with those posts (pretty happy), I want to become a more prolific blogger and use this site as more than just a resume. Therefore, starting today, the posts will be much more frequent, cover more current events, and long essays will be either linked from other sites where I have written or posted here for personal consumption.

    But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing. It means I never will stop. I’m intent on making my posts relevant based on what categories they fit into. Since I’ve been blessed to attend events and harvest a variety of interests, I’m going to change up the site’s categories a bit and also the layout gradually.

    Click the links below for the latest articles I’ve written:

    Hello Beautiful column – It’s called Grooming in Gotham and it’s part of a series of men’s blogs about relationships. Kevin Clark is the single guy. Jerry Barrow is the father. Some anonymous guy is the fiance. It’s a humorous column based mostly on past relationships.

    She’s A Crowd – About the peril of potential threesomes in a thriving relationship.

    Double Word Score – About the competitive spirit existing between women and men. – News, news, news. I have been checking out Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, now that Tom Breihan is gone from the Voice. Ron Mexico is killing the hip-hop news but ain’t too many other brothers I read regularly for op-ed. Mark Anthony Neal has my attention. Trying to give the Issue-based journals a shot.

    The Case of USA Basketball vs. Racism – On the triumph of the Olympic team and what it means for their standing in the world beyond hard-court respect.

    Charter Schools Are Separate but Unequal – An analysis of charter schools in the Election year when education has tumbled down the Issues ladder.

    The Case for Black Conservatives – A review of the black blogosphere (Afrosphere) and its power in the media world.

    New York City Sports News – I will be writing scouting reports and player profiles for High School Basketball prospects. I’ve always wanted to cover sports, especially with amateur basketball being so vibrant in NY. This is the chance I’ve been waiting for. As a beat writer for this site, I’ll be offering some video interviews to go with the written reports. (That will be bananas, I assure you.)

    I still plan to do work for Smoking Section, Rawkus, King Magazine and all those other great sites that have accepted my work. Check me for any more links.

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