July 29, 2019

The Vindication of T-Pain

by The Nod

Was T-Pain’s heavily autotuned music totally genius… or the death knell of hip-hop as we knew it? In this edition of Vindication Court, Brittany tries to convince Judge Eric that T-Pain’s use of autotune was not only artistically ambitious, but that it changed music forever-- for the better. But with autotune’s many detractors, this case won’t be an easy one. Will T-Pain’s spin on autotune finally get the recognition it deserves?

Transcript


[sound of door opening]


[crowd murmuring] 


Bailiff: All rise. By the power vested in The Nod, This is Vindication Court. Honorable Judge Eric Jeremy Eddings presiding.  


Today's case: The People versus The music of T-Pain.  


[MUSIC: T-PAIN'S "BUY U A DRANK" PLAYS] 


The music of T-Pain stands accused of one single damning charge: T-Pain's music popularized the use of autotune. This ruined hip hop music as we know it.


[crowd murmuring]  


[MUSIC: Jeremih's "Birthday Sex" plays] 


[MUSIC: Black Eyed Peas's "Boom Boom Pow" plays] 

 

[VINDICATION COURT THEME MUSIC]


FROM GIMLET MEDIA…THIS IS THE NOD, A PODCAST ABOUT BLACK CULTURE FROM BLACKNESS’ BIGGEST FANS. I’M BRITTANY LUSE. AND I'M ERIC EDDINGS.


Narrator: What you're about to witness is, kind of, real. These are actual Black people with too much time on their hands. Their aim? To redeem people and things reviled and ridiculed by the culture. Instead of writing Twitter threads and yelling in a group text, the parties have agreed to bring their case to be forever settled in our forum. Vindication court.


[VINDICATION COURT THEME MUSIC OUT] 

[gavels] 

ERIC EDDINGS: Order in the court. Order in the court. On my docket today, I have The People versus the music of T-Pain. Also known as Tallahassee Pain, also known as Nappy Boy, also known as Teddy Penderazdoun. So before we begin our proceedings today, I just want to make clear for the court that you might've seen a few videos where I've enjoyed a T-Pain song or six at the club

[slight crowd laughter] 

But that's not what this trial is about. This trial is about what this music did for or did to the culture and I'm well aware of the many, many enemies that T-Pain music has. 

[crowd murmuring]


Councilor Luse, I was called into this court today to remain impartial and to take a long, hard look at the facts and I plan to do just that. Are you prepared to present your case honestly and to the best of your abilities?


[sound of chair scraping on wood floor]

BRITTANY: I am, Your Honor. Thank you.

ERIC: All right. Are you prepared to give your opening statement? This better be good...

BRITTANY: Yes, I am, Your Honor.

[sounds of standing up]


Judge Eddings, friends, countrymen, the task that lays before me today is not easy, but I stand square in this courthouse with righteousness in my spirit.


Today, I have come to vindication court in defense of the music of our good brother, T-Pain. Though his genius and musicianship is obvious to me, for roughly a decade, some have said that his liberal use of auto tune infected hip-hop with the computerized sound that harmed the genre in myriad ways. But I am here today to prove that T-Pain's music did not hold hip-hop back. T-Pain's music pushed hip-hop forward!


[crowd murmuring] 


But before I get to my arguments, I need to establish for the court who T-Pain actually is and why his music is so influential.


T-Pain was born Faheem Rasheed Najm and he is a Grammy-winning multihyphenate recording artist. He's known for singing, rapping, producing and wearing sunglasses in the club.


[crowd laughter] 

But he's probably best known for his hits...like "Bartender."

[MUSIC: "BARTENDER" PLAYS]


ERIC: Mmmm yes, this does take me back to when I was a young councilor, and I argued a case on Snap Music.


[MUSIC: "BARTENDER" FADES OUT]


BRITTANY: How about this one? 


[MUSIC: “CAN’T BELIEVE IT” BY T-PAIN FEATURING LIL’ WAYNE] 


BRITTANY: I know you must have done a little step to “Can’t Believe It” by T-Pain featuring Lil’ Wayne!


ERIC: I also remember this video, which was really good. Uh, in general, this is a good time. This was probably Judge Eddings in his prime.


BRITTANY: ...I know that was a bit of a deep cut but everyone knows this next one… 

[MUSIC: "BUY U A DRANK" FADES IN] 


BRITTANY: "Buy U a Drank!" 


ERIC: It's a good thing you can't see me dropping it low behind this bench...because that's a thing that happens sometimes.


BRITTANY: That's nothing I ever wanted to see, but here we are. 


[MUSIC: "BUY U A DRANK" IN THE CLEAR AND THEN FADES OUT]


BRITTANY: I said that T-Pain was probably best known for his hits and let me say he had the hits. Hits he had.


ERIC: There are a few.


BRITTANY: Between the years of 2006 and 2010, T-Pain was featured on DOZENS… DOZ…ENS! Of number one singles of ALL types of genres, ok??  


And on many of these songs, he used an audio production tool called autotune.


ERIC: Trust me, I think we’re all familiar. 


BRITTANY: Then I’m sure you’re also familiar with the fact that many people reviled autotune once the charm of the trend wore off.

 

And, sure, not all hip-hop songs from the 2000s that used autotune were what you would call…excellent.

 

ERIC: Hm. Understatement. After T-Pain popularized autotune—some would say, to cover up a lack of talent - he opened the door for some truly terrible songs, and those songs ended up infecting all of hip hop… 


BRITTANY: Your honor, I take umbrage with the idea that autotune was patently terrible, and with the notion that T-Pain was in any way lacking in talent (sighs). Some critics see his use of autotune as a vocal gimmick, yes, but I see autotune as a complicated musical tool that T-Pain used to take hip hop to new heights, But you don't have to take my word for it.


ERIC: Well I won’t, counselor. 


BRITTANY: You don’t have to take my word for it because this case shouldn’t be made on my word alone...I’d like to call a surprise witness to the stand.


[crowd murmuring] 

ERIC: A witness? Counselor, I don’t see that anywhere on today’s docket. It also wasn’t listed in discovery. Look, I don’t like surprises in my court. I’m gonna call a short recess to review the legitimacy of this request.

BRITTANY: Judge are you not interested in justice?

ERIC: Ha! Justice? Justice is my middle name! 

[Gavel sounds] 

All parties to my chambers right now.

[Gavel sounds] 

BREAK

[door opening]


BAILIFF: Vindication court is back in session. All Rise!


ERIC: Councilor, in the interest of a fair trial your witness may take the stand today. But hear this: any more theatrics and there will be problems.


BRITTANY: Of course, your honor. Your honor, to break this case wide open, I'd like to call an expert witness…Audio engineer and composer, Cedric.

[Gavel sounds] 

[footsteps] 

[crowd murmuring] 


CEDRIC: Let me just adjust this mic a little bit. Make sure my vocals are nice and present. Also, can I get a glass of water? It would really help make sure my vocals are sounding nice and crisp. 


ERIC: Okay. I don't take any tomfoolery in my court.


CEDRIC: No, none at all. Just, you know, I have to be comfortable to be an expert. Okay.


ERIC: Mr. Wilson, do you swear on the name of Tina Lawson to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?


CEDRIC: I do.


ERIC: Witness, as I’m sure you remember, we’ve disagreed about music once or twice in the past.


CEDRIC: Yes, some of us think the "Life of Pablo" is a good album, but experts like me know better… 


ERIC: Regardless, are you up to the task at hand today?


CEDRIC: Absolutely. Without a doubt.


ERIC: Thank you. 

BRITTANY: Mmm. Thank you, your Honor. Watch your shade, please. Mr. Wilson, before we get started, I know your reésumeé, but for the court, could you just explain your credentials?


CEDRIC: Absolutely. So my training is as a classical musician. I got my Bachelor's in sound recording technology. I did also just get a Master's degree, it was in recording, mixing, mostly like knob turning and like fader pushing and clicking. A lot of things...just to make things sound good.


BRITTANY: Roughly a decade of experience we have in the court right now.


ERIC: Are we going somewhere with this, Councilor?


BRITTANY: Judge, I'm just trying to get the court to understand the level of expert that we have in our witness, so please-


ERIC: I'll allow it.


BRITTANY: Mr. Wilson, could you please just briefly give me an idea of your knowledge of T-Pain's discography?


CEDRIC: (sighs) I think I might know it too well.


BRITTANY: Wow.


CEDRIC: Like you said in your opening statement, hits.

[slight laughter]

BRITTANY: Mr. Wilson, could you please explain autotune for the court?


CEDRIC: Absolutely. Autotune is a tool that allows you to edit your singing. On a basic level, it just corrects pitches. It sees how a person actually sang something um and then shows you what that note would be if it was in tune. Then it adjusts the note to be more in tune.


BRITTANY: Mr. Wilson, why might a musician use a tool like autotune on their vocals?


CEDRIC: Well, I think there are many different reasons. Uh, on a very basic level, it is used for that corrective, "I sang this out of tune, we wanna make this perfect. Let's just (makes popping nose) pop that thing right in there." 


BRITTANY: (makes popping nose)

CEDRIC: Exactly-


BRITTANY: Right like that.


CEDRIC: Just like that. On a bit more of an advanced level, it could also be used to change the tone of someone's voice. And I think at its most advanced level, it's using it as a creative artistic effect. Like what T-Pain does.


BRITTANY: Thank you very much. Mr. Wilson. Your Honor, I'd like to present a piece of evidence. It's a little off genre, but please bear with me.


ERIC: You've been taking some liberties today, but I think I'll allow it, Councilor. Let's just tread lightly.


BRITTANY: I'm building a case, I promise.


ERIC: All right.


BRITTANY: So here we have exhibit A1, a recording of what is commonly believed to be Britney Spears' unvarnished vocals from her 2003 mega hit, "Toxic." I personally think it's one of her best…But when I first heard this version of the song—allegedly her voice is in its raw, unmanipulated form—I must say even I was stunned… 


[MUSIC: "TOXIC" PLAYS


ERIC: Ooo. Oof. Councillor, why bring BRITNEY SPEARS into this? Like, leave Britney alone. Leave us alone. 


BRITTANY: Your Honor, please stay with me. We are heading somewhere, I promise, but first exhibit A2, the fully mixed final version of "Toxic."


[MUSIC: A DIFFERENT VERSION OF "TOXIC" PLAYS


ERIC: I’ll acknowledge this is much better. After a few drinks, maybe even I'm adding this to the playlist a little bit.


[MUSIC: A DIFFERENT VERSION OF "TOXIC" FADES OUT


BRITTANY: Your Honor, may I address you directly?


ERIC: You may.


BRITTANY: What do you think made the difference between those two clips?

ERIC: Well, in general, her singing sounded better in the latter, but I will assume for the sake of argument today that she likely employed the use of autotune.


BRITTANY: Yes. This was the use of autotune in its most classic sense, to make off pitch vocals sound on pitch. Do I have that right, Mr. Wilson?


CEDRIC: Yes, Councilor.


BRITTANY: Thank you, Mr. Wilson. But unlike Britney Spears…T-Pain’s use of autotune is NOT a corrective—It is an artistic tool…an approach which actually builds off an R&B precedent. 


To further illustrate my point, I'd like to submit exhibit B. 


[MUSIC: "COMPUTER LOVE" BY ZAPP AND ROGER] 


BRITTANY: Judge Eddings, what song is this?


ERIC: This is "Computer Love" by Zapp and Roger.


BRITTANY: Exactly.


ERIC: This is a classic song.


BRITTANY: This is a classic, classic song. By the brother act, Zapp and Roger. Rest in peace.


ERIC: Yes.


BRITTANY: They were one of the first major acts to create a computerized sound using a tool called a talkbox back in the 1980s, hence: “Computer Love.”


ERIC: Yes, I get it. It's a little on the nose, but it works.


BRITTANY: It works. And audiences and critics alike found their sound to be revolutionary. T-Pain simply elevated and remixed that legacy.


ERIC: Hmmmm…okay. I will acknowledge it was a part of a style, but that was back in the 80s. What exactly is so interesting and new about what T-Pain was doing in the early 2000s?


BRITTANY: Your honor, I’m about to break this down for you. (clears throat)


So first of all, let me remind the court of what we’ve already established: Unlike Britney, T-Pain DOES NOT need autotune to fix his pitch. He actually knows how to sing.

 

ERIC: Have we really established that, counselor? 


BRITTANY: Your honor, T-Pain literally WON a singing contest where all the contestants wore masks and were judged purely on their voices.


ERIC: Right, the Masked Singer.


BRITTANY: Yes, but that wasn’t the first time people were blown away by T-Pain’s vocals. Back in 2014, he performed for NPR’s Tiny Desk...Tiny Desk Concerts are small affairs where a known artist will give a stripped down, live performance in the NPR offices among a bunch of tiny desks:


T-Pain: So (laughs) I know everyone is wondering where the autotune is going to come from, it’s ok, I’ve got it in my back pocket, it’s totally fine, got it right here, it’s all surgically inserted…


BRITTANY: And then, he started singing. So allow me to introduce Exhibit D1, the rare recording of T-Pain singing WITHOUT autotune. I’m sure you remember this hit.


[MUSIC: "BUY YOU A DRANK" (TINY DESK VERSION)] 


ERIC: Let me buy you a drank.


BRITTANY: [singing along]


ERIC: It's an impressive rendition of a classic song. I will acknowledge. This is one of his bright moments. And surprising, I will add.


["BUY U A DRANK" (TINY DESK VERSION) FADES OUT] 


BRITTANY: That was obviously, you know, the T-Pain classic, "Buy You A Drank." I think one of the greatest songs of the last 20 years, personally. When this video came out, the internet went wild. Some people—not me—were surprised to learn that T-Pain could actually sing. 


Which brings me to my argument: that T-Pain was a pioneer, that he was doing something pretty new and special for his time…Because he originally released "Buy You a Drank" like this… 


[MUSIC: "BUY U A DRANK" (ORIGINAL)


ERIC: I mean it's, I will say it's the difference between a good song and a bop.


BRITTANY: Interesting. I'd like to hear from our witness.


CEDRIC: Absolutely. First I'd like to say how expertly layered these vocals are. The musicality, the composition is there. Just like any other good R&B singer. It's brilliant. He uses auto tune very sparingly here. It's only on a few lines here and there…


And you can really hear that he’s actually hitting those notes. He’s using the autotune— autotune is not using him. And it's just this brilliant mix of his natural singing voice—and this autotuned voice. 


BRITTANY: It's interesting. It's, kind of, like the layers on a cake or in a Napoleon, you know-


CEDRIC: Yes.


ERIC: I feel like that's a leading...we don't want to lead the witness.


BRITTANY: I apologize, Your Honor. Let me rephrase. Mr. Wilson, what kind of food would you say that those vocals, you know, most resemble?


CEDRIC: An interesting question that I haven't heard before. I would say like a cake. 


[crowd laughing] 


You know, all of these, these harmonies are like this wonderful, moist, delicious...It's a beautiful, moist yellow cake. Then, you know, you have all of these, these extra lines. We have the frosting in between each layer, so perfectly, beautifully spread in between the layers and the auto tune really is just like the fondant on top. It's the flower petals to this beautiful arrangement here.


BRITTANY: T-Pain is giving you variety and richly layered surprise.


CEDRIC: Absolutely. It's more interesting.


[gavel sound] 


ERIC: Counselor! I don’t know how you passed the bar… the ETHICS portion at least. This witness has clearly been bribed or coached. 


[crowd murmuring] 


BRITTANY: Ha! Your honor, coached or not, facts are facts. May we move on?


[crowd murmuring] 


ERIC: Proceed, counselor. 


BRITTANY: Mm. Let's move to exhibit E, a little song called "Bartender." 


[MUSIC: "BARTENDER" PLAYS] 


Do I hear you humming, Your Honor?


ERIC: I had something in my throat. Okay. 


[MUSIC: "BARTENDER" FADES OUT] 


BRITTANY: Mm. Mm. Mr. Wilson, could you please tell the court what makes this particular song so special?


CEDRIC: I would say, again, and to keep with the food analogy, beautiful layers, beautiful frosting, the musicality. It's there. With a little dusting, dusting of auto tune on the main lines, we also get a little bit of it right in the harmonies, too. It's just this richness that you just can't get with not auto tuned singing.


BRITTANY: Could it be said that that richness gives the song, like cake, a rather addictive quality?


CEDRIC: Yeah. It's, like, you just can't get enough. I'm, like, I want to just get into the fridge 2:00 AM, you know, I know it's gona fuck up my sleep cycle because now I'm going to be up with all this sugar—but I don't care because it's so good. I just have to have it.


BRITTANY: Exactly like "Bartender." It's amazing, too, because the song is so simple. You know what I mean? If you really listen to it, it's simple, it's repetitive. And yet does it or does it not sound just as rich as the "Four Seasons" by Vivaldi. You be the judge, you be the judge, Judge Eddings, you be the judge.


[crowd murmuring] 


[gavel sounds] 


ERIC: That's a bold claim, Councilor. That is a bold claim.


BRITTANY: Thank you Mr. Wilson. I'll be coming back to you later in my argument for further questioning.


CEDRIC: It's been my pleasure.


ERIC: You can be dismissed, witness. Thank you. 


[footsteps walking away] 


Uh, Councilor, I have to interject here. T-Pain is a genius. Sure. But even though his use of autotune might've been okay, he heralded this period of lazy, unimaginative, and frankly bad autotune use.


[crowd murmuring] 


What about all of the other bad autotuned songs?


Let’s talk about it. 


Let’s talk about two songs in particular…released in 2008—when it seemed the autotune trend—most would say T-Pain kicked off—when that trend was at its height! 


[MUSIC: "RIDER, PART 2" BY G-UNIT]

This is "Rider, Part 2" by G-Unit. Mmmm. This doesn't feel good, right?


BRITTANY: I can't speak for 50 Cent. I don't know why he was doing those... I'm not here represent 50 Cent. He's almost indefensible. You can't put that on me.


ERIC: The stress you feel is the stress everyone feels when listening to him sing. Uh, let's play another. 


[MUSIC: "PUT ON FREESTYLE," BY A ONE RICK ROSS]


And here’s the "Put On Freestyle," by Rick Ross.


Again, Rick Ross, is this a person you want to empower to sing?


BRITTANY: I don't know if he was working with Justice League yet. I don't think we can fairly judge. 


[MUSIC: "PUT ON FREESTYLE," BY A ONE RICK ROSS FADES DOWN] 


I don't know if we can judge him by this, Your Honor.


ERIC: These are still things that happened, Councilor. Are we just going to gloss over the 2009 Grammy awards?


[crowd murmuring] 


That year, members of the band Death Cab for Cutie wore blue ribbons to raise awareness for autotuner abuse. The lead singer of the group, Ben Gibbard, said, "Let's really try to keep music back to its roots of actual people singing and sounding like human beings."


BRITTANY: Objection, Your Honor, that is Death Cab. Excuse my French, but who gives a shit about Death Cab in this instance?


[crowd murmuring] 

[gavel sounds]


ERIC: Well, for one you've clearly never heard "Soul Meets Body," so let's check that right now...But also with language like that, you’re flying dangerously close to contempt of court, Councilor. 


But since this is my court, my court today, I do feel compelled to ask you about the time Christina Aguilera, a fine vocalist in her own right.


BRITTANY: That's true.


ERIC: I don't think anyone would deny. She wore a t-shirt that read, and I'm quoting, "Autotune is for pussies."


[crowd murmuring]


BRITTANY: Your Honor-


ERIC: That's her language, not mine. Or what about the time that Time Magazine named autotune—autotune!—one of the 50 worst inventions-


[crowd murmuring]


BRITTANY: Your Honor, Christina Aguilera, Death Cab, Time Magazine, what do any of them know about hip hop?


ERIC: Ah but councilor, would you say the same about Jay-Z?


[crowd murmuring]


BRITTANY: Oh, Your Honor. I mean I-


ERIC: I noticed some hesitation there-


BRITTANY: There's no need for us to go here today.


ERIC: We acknowledged a Jay-Z might be an expert on the topic.


BRITTANY: Oh Gosh.


[VINDICATION COURT THEME PLAYS]

ERIC: So let's see what Jay-Z has to say about autotune, shall we?

T-Pain’s fate will be decided… After a quick recess.

[VINDICATION COURT THEME PLAYS OUT]

BREAK


BAILIFF: Vindication Court is back in session. All rise.


[gavel sounds]


ERIC: OK, counselor, we’ve heard your ramblings on autotune, but now it’s time for Jay-Z’s verdict on this troubling trend... 


Jay-Z: This is anti auto-tune, death of the ring-tone, This ain't for iTunes, this ain't for sing alongs. This is Sinatra at the opera, bring a blonde. Preferably with a fat ass who can sing a song.


ERIC: This is Jay-Z’s 2009 hit, the prophetically titled…D.O.A. Which stood for Death. Of Autotune.


Jay-Z: I know we facing a recession. But the music y'all making going make it the great depression (arh!). Or your lack aggression. Put your skirt back down, grow a set man. Nigga this shit violent. This is death of autotune, moment of silence.


[crowd whispering] 


BRITTANY: Your honor- 


ERIC: Oh, councilor, I am far from done here…So, the song continues, with the following lyrics…and again, I’m quoting, here's some language here—"Ya'll niggas singing too much. Get back to rap. You T-Paining too much." 


[crowd reaction]


Fans even chanted, "Fuck T-Pain," during live performances of this song. 


By the time Nicki Minaj released "Starships" in 2012, autotune was the butt of a hell of a lot of industry jokes.


BRITTANY: Fair enough. OK, and sure. T-Pain, you know, did bring so many bad songs via other artists’ autotune usage, but he also brought us this.


[MUSIC: "LOVE LOCKDOWN" PLAYS] 


ERIC: Yes. This is the Kanye song, it’s "Love Lockdown." I'm familiar. It is actually very good. I must say.


BRITTANY: It is very good. This was the lead single off of Kanye's fourth studio album also released in 2008...right before "Death of the Auto Tune" called 808s & Heartbreak


[crowd murmuring] 


It's often considered to be Kanye's most seminal work. 


ERIC: Counselor, I might note that at the time of its release. 808’s was very divisive. A lot of people wondered what the hell Kanye was thinking making an album where every inch of it had been autotuned. 


BRITTANY: Well your honor, that might have been true at the time, but since then, it’s said to have influenced the sound and even the careers of Drake, Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino and Kid Cudi. It’s generally regarded as one of the most influential albums of the 21st century and one of the most influential albums in hip-hop, periodt. And do you know what music Kanye was listening to at the time?


ERIC: Let me guess.


BRITTANY: Oh! No need to guess. It was T-pain’s first album Rappa Ternt Sanga


[crowd surprised murmuring]


I’d like to play you a song from that right quick, in case you need your MEMORY JOGGED…which it's clear that you do, Your Honor, respectfully… 


ERIC: Respectfully. Let’s tread lightly, here. You've given again a lot of grace.

[MUSIC: "I'M SPRUNG" plays]


BRITTANY: "I'm Sprung." The first single off of that album. This was the song that started the avalanche that is T-Pain’s artistic influence on the culture. And the album that Kanye himself says inspired one of his most creatively ambitious works, 808s and Heartbreak. 


ERIC: Yes, I would acknowledge "I'm Sprung" is really good. 


BRITTANY: So, when Kanye wanted to use an auto tune aesthetic for his fourth album, he called in, guess who… T-Pain to help him get this sound right. That’s right! T-Pain didn’t just inspire one of the greatest hip-hop albums of the 2000s, he’s credited as a producer on it.

[crowd murmuring]



You see, Your Honor, T-Pain did bring autotune to mainstream hip-hop, but his music wasn't an infection. It was a vaccine. Okay?


[crowd murmuring]


He breathed new life into the genre, but because his music was popular at the same time as heavily produced pop singers and gimmicky rappers, he wasn't getting his credit in real time. 


BRITTANY: Meanwhile, Kanye has been getting his laurels for 808s & Heartbreak for over a decade at this point. What gives?


ERIC: Councilor, you have at last made a valid point.


BRITTANY: Mm. And not only should T-Pain be recognized for his contributions to hip-hop’s recent past—he’s played a role in shaping its future. I present to you… Exhibit G! 


[MUSIC: "STOP TRYING TO BE GOD"] 


ERIC: This is Travis Scott.


BRITTANY: Yes, this is a song called "Stop Trying to be God" from an album called Astro World.


ERIC: I'm familiar with this material.


BRITTANY: It is a behemoth of an album. Mr. Wilson, I'd like to bring you back into the fold. Could you please just, just one word. Tell me how big this album was last year.


CEDRIC: One word.


BRITTANY: One word.


CEDRIC: Huge.


BRITTANY: Huge. Exactly. Astroworld was one of the most streamed, most downloaded, most critically lauded albums of 2018. Mr. Wilson, could you talk to me a little bit about how Travis Scott uses autotune, and admittedly other filters, to play with his sound?


CEDRIC: Absolutely. I think the best way to describe Travis Scott's use is to use another musical example…is a guitarist. Okay. So any guitarist, or any good guitarist, is going to have what's called a pedal board. Right. They use all these little pedals, which have different effects to shape their sound...hm what would be a good way to demonstrate…you know I luckily have brought my guitar with me today…always prepared as an expert.


BRITTANY: Hm. 


CEDRIC: So, here we have a clean guitar sound...No effects…


[clean guitar sound]



So, let's demonstrate what's um you know what effects guitars would use. So, we know what a wah wah pedal is?


BRITTANY: Yes, a wah wah pedal. 


CEDRIC: Here's what it sounds like with wah wah... 


[wah wah pedal plays]



Here’s another effect, delay… another popular one…  


[delay guitar sound plays]


And one of my favorites, a very recognizable tone: distortion.


[distortion guitar sound plays]


So now, let’s hear what they all sound like together… 


[wah wah, delay, and distortion guitar sounds play]


Interesting isn’t it? Beautiful. 


BRITTANY: Hm. 


CEDRIC: And it’s this combination of sounds you know, having them run into each other is what helps a guitarist mold their personal sound. 


BRITTANY: Hm. 


CEDRIC: And I would say that Travis Scott is an example of someone who was doing the same thing, but with their voice.


BRITTANY: It's interesting that he would make such a stylistic choice to, to use, you know, these musical tools available to him to give him a unique, slightly distorted sound.


CEDRIC: Yes, I agree. It's uh- you know—some—I would say in my expert opinion, just like T-Pain.


[crowd murmuring] 


Thank you so much, Mr. Wilson. You’ve been fantastic today. 


CEDRIC: No, no no thank YOU so much. 


ERIC: Witness, you have done a lot today, ah thank you. You may now return to your seat.


BRITTANY: So as my expert witness so brilliantly explained, autotune is an artistic tool. And who was playing with these ideas and with unique vocals in hip-hop roughly 15 years before Travis Scott made AstroWorld? No other, none other nein other than T-Pain, Tallahassee Pain, Teddy Penderazdoun, Nappy Boy.


[crowd murmuring] 


ERIC: We're familiar. We laid that out.


BRITTANY: Judge Eddings, Mr. Wilson, I rest my case.


[crowd murmuring] 


ERIC: Ummm you've presented a lot here today, Councilor Luse. And I've reviewed all the facts that you've presented to me today and I've considered your arguments and you've given me a lot to sit with.


First, I just want to say that I don't think we can discount the terrible, terrible autotune songs that we have all been forced to listen to…Things got really, really bad. What I will give you though is that the evidence you provided here today showed me that T-Pain did invest in autotune as a unique and distinguishing skill.


BRITTANY: (sighs)


Coming back to the legacy that you outlined of T-Pain's music, it does feel distinct in hindsight. You mentioned seeing T-pain’s influence in Travis Scott, and some would say Future, but I would also acknowledge even more artists like Migos, Lil Uzi Vert,and Juice Wrld.  


CEDRIC: Finally, he says something right! Uh. goodness.


ERIC: Thank you, witness. I got it from here. What is clear—or what you have argued well-

BRITTANY: Thank you. 


ERIC: Hip-hop has grown infinitely more creative as artists and rappers experiment with their voice and melodies in the same ways that they experiment with beats and production. T-Pain gave musicians a contemporary blueprint for that, you must note.


And it’s important that we are re-examining this today…Because for so long, we’ve laid the blame onto T-Pain for all the bad autotune in hip-hop. And that is a heavy weight to carry. But he shall not carry it any longer. So I will say, somewhat reluctantly, but not too reluctantly because this court is about justice and so in the name of justice, I think it is only right that we vindicate T-Pain, Tallahassee Pain, Teddy Penderazdoun.


Where's your top hat? We gotta throw it into the three rings of all charges. He has officially been vindicated by this court. May he get what he truly deserves, which is much.


BRITTANY: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you, your Honor. I'm humbled. This is a victory not just for me and also for Mr. Wilson and also, you know, for Mr. Najm, a.k.a Mr. T-Pain. Yes. I think this is a victory for all of music.


ERIC: By the power vested in me, in the case of the people versus the music of T-Pain, I hereby rule in favor that all charges are dismissed and that T-Pain is now free to create all the great music that he can.


[autotune plays]


 I hereby declare this Vindication Court…adjourned.


[gavel sounds]


[VINDICATION COURT THEME MUSIC PLAYS]


ERIC: Hey y’all, starting next week, for the next month we’re doing something new... We’re starting our version of a podcast club. We’ll share a lot more in the show next week, but in the meantime, stay tuned for more information on our Twitter: we’re at ‘thenodshow.’


The Nod is produced by me, Brittany Luse, with Eric Eddings and Kate Parkinson-Morgan. Our senior producer is Sarah Abdurrahman. This episode was edited by Sara Sarasohn. It was fact-checked by Max Gibson.


This week's episode was also produced by Cedric Wilson, our expert witness. Not only is he a T-Pain expert—he also mixes our show every week. And if you enjoy our Vindication Court theme music, you have Cedric to thank!


[VINDICATION COURT THEME MUSIC FADES OUT]


[CODA]


ERIC: (singing) I can't live- (singing stops) I can't- I used to try to hit that note- that's a hard note 


(singing continues) I can't live! I can't live! (singing stops) 


Will I need autotune for that? (singing continues) I can't live my life!!


CEDRIC: Well, if you sing it like that.


ERIC: without- (laughs) You're going to get uh kicked out of this court and held in contempt. 


CEDRIC: (laughs) 


ERIC: Witness!