"Mannnn do I hate waking up early," T-Pain groans, to nobody in particular. It's just past 1 p.m., and he's been playing Watch Dogs 2 for a press junket since 10. There's a half-empty bottle of Hennessy and a vaporizer on the table. A young interviewer is getting warmly berated for not knowing how to properly use a DualShock controller. "He's in rare form," one of his managers whispers, smiling. For all his groaning, he seems to be having a great time.
Born Faheem Rashad Najm, T-Pain is the rare rapper/singer/songwriter/producer that actually does all of the above himself. Though he currently resides in Atlanta, Najm was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida, and his stage name is short for "Tallahassee Pain" – a nod to his rough life growing up. Najm found an outlet in music, turning his bedroom into a music studio before his 10th birthday and going on to become one of the most popular and prolific pop artists of the last decade. He's perhaps best known for using Auto-Tune pitch correction to creative effect, popularizing a technique that has since been used by everyone from Kanye West to Bon Iver. He's also an avowed hardcore gamer, and occasionally streams his marathon sessions on Twitch ("I'd be on there all the time if hotels didn't have such shitty wi-fi," he says). We spoke about rappers being closet gamers, his Kickstarter obsession, and how he uses games to churn out the hits.
Do you play a lot of games in the studio?
Oh yeah. I have my laptop and my gaming sessions in the studio. I use it to write. A lot of people don't understand; they just feel like I'm in the studio "playing games." But it's kinda therapeutic. To be in the studio, have your mind free and playing games, not thinking about the song that you're about to make. I'll tell the producer, "Play this beat while I'm playing this game, and I'll have a song in like 10 minutes." Pause the game, get on the mic – full song – and then go back to the game [laughs]. Every night!
Are you thinking about lyrics while you're playing?
The gaming is therapeutic. While I'm playing, it'll be a flash of a few lyrics and, oh shit, I just came up with a smash.
Because it takes your mind off of the song, gets you in a flow state?
I'm not concentrating on making a smash or making a hit or making any kind of music – I'm just sittin' here living. If it's like a GTA V or like a Watch Dogs 2, you're gonna think about these things... you're gonna think about fucking chicks and tasing the fuck out of people, and you're gonna make a song about it! There's no writer's block when you're playing video games, man.
Sounds like you play a lot at home too?
Oh yes. My wife loves video games. She just went to Full Sail to learn [video game] development. She's developing games, doing cinematography and shit like that. We're a tight-knit family – my daughter is 12 now, she knows everything about video games. My daughter comes to me in the morning and she's like, "Dad dad dad dad dad – look at the detail on this hair on Final Fantasy XV!" We're a whole family of gamers.