Wednesday, July 17, 2024

T-Pain’s Redemption Arc | The New Yorker

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Sheldon Pearce
Pearce has covered music for Goings On since 2020.

To call T-Pain’s journey back to the center of pop culture a redemption arc might be underestimating his influence, even at his most marginalized, but in recent years the singer and rapper has become a case study in successful second impressions. Once the purveyor of a liquor-infused, Auto-Tuned R. & B. that pitch-corrected his voice to sound like a libidinous robot, he was soon deemed gimmicky and regressive, a blight on true artistry. A 2014 Tiny Desk concert went a long way toward dispelling the notion that he couldn’t actually sing; winning “The Masked Singer,” in 2019, beating out Donny Osmond and Gladys Knight, ratified his performance credentials. These days, he leans into his newfound brand as a soulful crooner, most recently with more role-playing, on his 2023 album, “On Top of the Covers,” which takes on staples by Sam Cooke, Journey, and Black Sabbath. But T-Pain is still most captivating when he’s navigating the tipsy world of strip joints and night clubs, even with a voice that’s now sweet and unclouded.

TPain is wearing purple and black dotted attire white sunglasses and is holding a mic

Illustration by Richard A. Chance

T-Pain makes a stop in New York on his “Mansion in Wiscansin Party” tour, on June 23, capping a week of stirring performances at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield, for SummerStage. First, on June 16, the English singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae is joined by the Oscar- and Grammy-nominated singer and instrumentalist Dixson, a secret weapon for Beyoncé. For many years, Rae operated in a sunny pop R. & B. range, but with her 2023 album, “Black Rainbows,” she broke free, expanding into experimental jazz and rock for some of the best music of her career. On June 19, the saxophonist and singer Masego and the backup dancer turned R. & B. front man Jordan Ward—like-minded artists tinkering with jazz and blues—take turns running through songs that reimagine the classic forms they revere. Then on June 22 the accomplished jazz drummer Yussef Dayes, who made his solo début last year with “Black Classical Music,” synchs up with the bassist Aneesa Strings in a perfect convergence of knowledgeable and formidable players.

An illustration of the New York City skyline.

About Town


In “Home,” Samm-Art Williams’s celebrated play from 1979, the blithe, tricksterish farmer Cephus (Tory Kittles) is in love with Pattie Mae (Brittany Inge), who goes off to college and decides not to return to their North Carolina home town, dashing Cephus’s hope to marry her. Cephus ducks the Vietnam draft and does time in prison, then reluctantly skips town and heads north, to the coldhearted streets of New York. Inge and Stori Ayers play a host of characters, giving Cephus’s journey shades of an epic allegory. But the director Kenny Leon creates a shallow stage plane, all bright, saturated color, more interested in horizontality than in depth, making Cephus and his tribulations look like a series of comic-book panels.—Vinson Cunningham (Reviewed in our issue of 6/17/24.) (Todd Haimes; through July 21.)


Although it took a while for the government to catch up, people have been observing Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S., since the late eighteen-hundreds. For the sixth consecutive year, Carnegie Hall hosts a Juneteenth Celebration, in partnership with the Healing of the Nations Foundation. The evening features the frequent “Les Mis” Javert and acclaimed baritone Norm Lewis, the Grammy-winning and cap-donning jazz singer Gregory Porter, the orchestrator and pianist Joseph Joubert, and the esteemed Chicago-based contemporary-gospel group the Adrian Dunn Singers.—Jane Bua (Carnegie Hall; June 19.)


A quiltlike collage with many colors

“Calm Center.”

Art work by Ray Johnson / Courtesy Craig F. Starr Gallery; Photograph by Thomas Barratt

If the late performer, artist, and conceptualist Ray Johnson (1927-95) was known to you primarily as a chief architect of Pop art, this show will come as a revelation—and a relief. Though in much of his work Johnson’s restless energy can be inspiring, one can feel fatigued by his desire to be heard, and noticed. But these exquisite paintings and collages are meditative: Johnson eschews words and symbols for shapes that are soulful and calm. And even as some of the incredible detail he gives to pieces like “Calm Center” (ca. 1949-55) is eye-boggling, you don’t get lost in Johnson’s bravura hand so much as you want to be close to the formal distance that haunts the work. Beautifully lit and laid out, this show is like a well-ordered dream, filled with care and tenderness.—Hilton Als (Craig F. Starr; through June 29.)


In 2013, the indie-rap lifers billy woods and Elucid joined forces to become Armand Hammer, a clear-eyed, thrilling guerrilla duo with a penchant for cutting through nonsense. Taking the name of a man dubbed “Lenin’s chosen capitalist,” they trade complementary snarky, razor-sharp bars. Elucid, a Queens-born skeptic, can’t help but be blunt, wielding his bludgeoning voice like a hammer and sickle, and his raps press ever forward through the beats. woods, who hides his face in photos, is more elusive; his elliptical verses are built like a labyrinth of postern doors all leading back to the center of the maze. Their music plays up the absurdity of the dystopia it evokes, and their most recent album, “We Buy Diabetic Test Strips” (2023), transmits shrugging revelations from inside the matrix.—Sheldon Pearce (Union Pool; June 23.)


A flamenco dancer in a black and vivid red outfit on a stage

Photograph by Manuel Garcia

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