A year ago, I was pretty much in the tank for T-Pain and his takeover of the radio, and put his second album Epiphany on all my year-end ballots and everything. And while I haven't really felt compelled to backlash against him (backlash against other artists biting his AutoTune style badly is another story), I've been generally a lot less excited about his work in 2008, more for the quality of the work than its ubiquity. Most of his biggest hooks since "Low" have been monotonous club chants, with none of the personality he exudes on his best songs, and my favorite singles he's been featured on lately have generally been flops (Charlie Wilson's "Supa Sexxy," Lil Mama's "What It Is"). He's still a talented producer, and he still sounds ten times better than anyone else playing with AutoTune in his wake, he's just a lot more hit'n'miss than he used to be. And Thr33 Ringz, while a good and frequently enjoyable album, is not as good as Epiphany, and has some pretty serious flaws.
The main problem with the album is the skits, and I'm not the kind of guy who bitches about all contemporary rap albums having too many skits. Literally six minutes (that's almost TEN PERCENT) of the album are given over to incredibly dull skits, mostly featuring Eddie Griffin in a tedious extension of the record's circus theme, that aren't very funny the first time, and get worse on each additional listen. Plus, the actual funniest part of the album is when T-Pain covers the Eric Clapton/Babyface joint from the Phenomenon soundtrack and Akon passionately sings about how he'd change the world so that "hate crimes would never exist/ I'd turn every bullet to a Hershey's Kiss/ AND WE COULD EAT AWAY OUR FEARS!"
A few duds aside, though, the actual songs are pretty strong. "Freeze" is a big ball of cheesy featuring Chris Brown that I enjoy way more than I would ever expect to, and "Reality Show" featuring Musiq and Raheem Devaughn is a pretty strong indication that the king of ringtone rap hooks could do nice and proper R&B if ever wanted to. I said this about a John Legend song last week, but it bears repeating here: the breakup song featuring Kanye West, "Therapy," is way way better than anything I've heard off 808s & Heartbreak. Only "Long Lap Dance" really falls short of its potential, mainly because Pain doesn't full commit to the gimmick with a 7-minute epic and wraps it up in just 4.