T-Pain

    {grate 3}

    T-Pain is in a predicament that any sane music-industry hustler would envy. How could he possibly rise to the ridiculously high bar set by 2007’s Epiphany? While Thr33 Ringz doesn’t quite par with last year’s gift to the world, it’s enough to keep the Grammy winner happily buzzing atop R&B’s vocoder fixation.

    The hit-or-miss sequel starts at a snail’s pace, with tracks like “Long Lap Dance” (think “In Love Wit A Stripper,” but a lot crappier) and “Keep Going” — which really shouldn’t.

    T-Pain joins fellow chart-toppers Akon and King-of-the-South T.I. to deliver “It Ain’t Me,” which is probably what the King said to officers when they arrested him for attempted theft. With a hard-thumping bass backing gurgling with synthy sound-alikes, the track is pure fire.

    Collabs abound on singles “Can’t Believe It,” which features a now-ubiquitous Lil Wayne, and “Chopped and Skrewed” keeps the album rolling on the shrewd, sharp tongue of scene-vet Ludacris. Throw in a few golden-boy drops from Kanye, and T-Pain’s MTV cred is successfully secured for the holidays.

    From the man who once crammed “Church” and “69” onto one disc, T-Pain’s new showcase for his charming brand of unwitting candor rings loud and clear, as evident on “Change” — a remake of Babyface’s “Change the World” — which manages to make the ’90s feel-good song even cornier with lines like, “I’d turn every bullet into a Hershey’s kiss/ And we could eat away our fears.”

    At the end of it all, T-Pain gives us what we all expected: a couple of head-scratchers, a handful of poppin’ joints and whole lot of indulgent laughs. Even if it doesn’t reach his sophomore standards, sometimes we don’t need an Epiphany — just another reason to shake our ass like it was the first time.

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