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T-Pain gave Kanye a lesson in Auto-Tune

February 8, 2009 |  2:53 pm

In case you were wondering: T-Pain taught Kanye West how to use Auto-Tune. will.i.am does, on occasion, like to write “dumb” songs.  And T.I.’s No. 1 hit song “Live Your Life” featuring Rihanna was a song that almost never was.

On the eve of the 51st annual Grammy Awards, a quartet of lyrical masterminds met up at the Key Club in Hollywood to discuss the inspiration behind the chart toppers they’ve penned.

BMI’s Catherine Brewton and co-host Quddus Philippe (yes, he’s “that dude” from "TRL") moderated the panel that included T-Pain, will.i.am, Keri Hilson and songwriter Makeba Riddick. 

As the event progressed, it became very clear that T-Pain isn’t one to mince words.  Especially when it comes to West.

“Kanye is the weirdest ... ,” the Floridian rapper said.  “He is the weirdest person I know other than me. I’ve told him that before.”

The two worked together on the song “Good Life.” And the process wasn’t without confusion. T-Pain wrote five hooks in five different recording sessions; each would be fused together to produce what became a conglomerate of hooks in the Grammy-winning song featured in Kanye’s album "Graduation."

“Kanye is definitely a genius ... no matter how weird he is,” T-Pain, 23, said.  “Most geniuses are weird.” 

So what does he think of Kanye’s latest album?

“It’s rapper-turned-singer all over again,” T-Pain said. “Can you tell I showed him how to use Auto-Tune?”

When asked how he deals with writers block, T-Pain pointed to the drink in his hand and raised it in the air. But will.i.am wouldn’t know anything about being pressed for lyrical content. The years he has spent freestyling have helped to keep a steady flow of expressiveness.

“If you know how to freestyle, you will never have writer's block,” he said.

Sure, freestyling might help, but so do childhood memories.  When it came time to work on Fergie’s solo album, will.i.am wanted to keep on pace with the success of the Black Eyed Peas' Top 10 hit “My Humps” from their sophomore album "Monkey Business." That blueprint led him to sample J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic,” a song that brought back memories of his childhood, of a day when he was walking by the projects of his neighborhood and he heard the ice cream truck. But his craving for Lemonheads was overpowered by his curiosity in the music. The tune emanating from the truck wasn’t the usual “dumb ass” song. The speakers on this particular truck were bumping “Supersonic.” And a future source of inspiration was stored away in the corners of will.i.am’s mind. It would later serve as the “fun and wacky” basis for Fergie’s second single off her debut album, "The Dutchess."

“I like to make songs that make you think,” Will said.  “But sometimes I like to make songs that make you have fun.  Dumb stuff."

For Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Keri Hilson, anything can become the source of inspiration for a song.  Even a television interview.  At least, that’s where she got the idea for Mary J. Blige’s song “Take Me as I Am” from her seventh studio album "The Breakthrough" (2005). Hilson was watching an interview wherein Mary was getting “slack” for not doing more songs about the drama in her life.

“No one wanted her to songs about her happiness,” said the 26-year-old.  “I wanted to write her something that said ‘take me as I am.’  I wanted to show that you don’t have to sulk in your misery. You can be happy.”

But, c’mon, what were you really thinking?

“I freakin’ wrote a song for Mary J. Blige!”

But the path to writing a hit song doesn’t produce immediate gratification. Sometimes it doesn’t produce anything. Just ask Makeba Riddick. The Grammy-nominated songwriter, who has written for the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce and Katherine McPhee, was commissioned to write a verse for “Live Your Life” on rapper T.I.’s sixth album, "Paper Trail."  But a series of flight mix-ups to meet with Rihanna in Italy threatened the song’s future. 

“There were obstacles,” Makeba said. “But something just kept telling me, ‘You don’t know what this could be.’”

Makeba eventually penned the verse that Rihanna belts her way through near the end of the song:

Got everybody watchin' what I do
Come walk in my shoes
And see the way I'm livin,' if you really want to
Got my mind on my money, and I'm not goin' away...

It was another reminder that each song has a journey; each song has a story.  As you watch Sunday’s Grammy telecast, remember the lyrical masterminds who keep us singing along to the musical narrative of our generation.

--Yvonne Villareal