Who could have guessed that a horndog wannabe rapper turned gimmicky robo-singer who looks like the dreadlocked alien from The Predator would prove to be the most influential hip-hop musician of the past five years? It's impossible to listen to Top 40 radio without being inundated with T-Pain's computerized crooning, not to mention his acolytes Lil Wayne and Kanye West. This is the tacky, superficial age of T-Pain, hip-hop's poet laureate of closing-time hookups and strip-club crushes. Success has only emboldened Auto-Tune's best friend, as evidenced by the ridiculous pop-up packaging of the deluxe edition of Thr33 Ringz, which comes complete with a mini-poster crowing "The industry is my circus." The industry is also T-Pain's bitch, and on Ringz, he seems hell-bent on setting a new standard for pop-music shamelessness, comparing himself to K-Fed, sorta-rhyming "mansion" with "Wisconsin," perversely/inexplicably stealing the chorus of the AOR sleeping pill "Change The World," anointing himself "the sex police," and crankily boasting, "I don't need your sex, I'll masturbate."
Like kindred spirit R. Kelly, T-Pain is at his best when he's at his worst, though his mentor Akon scores Ringz' cheesiest line when he vows to "turn every bullet into a Hershey's Kiss / and we can eat away our fears." T-Pain is a funny guy, sometimes intentionally so. "Chopped And Screwed" is "The Breaks" for the digital age, "Freeze" begs to be the soundtrack to a training montage in a cheesy dance film, and the agreeably grouchy "Therapy" features a lively verse from Kanye West. Ringz won't convert any non-believers, but for fans (auto) tuned into Pain's gleefully synthetic, excessive wavelength, he continues to deliver the guiltiest of pleasures.