The extremely recent past can be disorienting. Often, it’s the photo of you from six months ago that feels distant and strange, not the one from six years ago. So it is with T-Wayne, a newly unearthed collaboration between Lil Wayne and T-Pain. T-Pain shared it last week in a fit of spontaneity, eight songs that he said had been sitting around since 2009. Released into the wild in 2017, they feel less like a “lost mixtape” than like an outdated tweet in the drafts folder, one you send out by accident after five or six drinks.
By 2009, Lil Wayne had already stormed the gates of the English language and basically negotiated the terms of its complete and total surrender. The concessions he extracted were shocking: It was agreed that “dwarf” and “barf” could rhyme; that “when I was five, my favorite movie was the Gremlins” was a feasible thing to say in a gangsta rap song, and that it was safe, even advantageous, for rappers to call themselves “pussy monsters.” He had gone on to sell a million copies in a week of this kind of stuff with 2008’s Tha Carter III, and in 2009, rap was basically a field he had terraformed to look like the inside of his mind.
T-Pain, meanwhile, was having a rougher go. Somehow, despite having ushered AutoTune into mainstream rap; despite having partially inspired 808s & Heartbreak, he had been singled out—by Jay Z, no less—as the one guy who wasn’t allowed to use it. It’s the kind of slight that makes it hard to know how to move forward, and T-Pain’s standing never quite recovered. No matter that he produced nearly every note of his debut record Rappa Ternt Sanga, and that he was an auteur in his own right. Clowned once by Jay Z, he was now a clown forever.
He needed Wayne at the time, then, and clung to his affiliation with zeal. You can hear this clammy energy coursing through the eight songs he’s given us from these sessions. T-Pain, it should be noted, has been a convincing rapper before: His coiled and tense performance on the intro to Rappa Ternt Sanga evokes Dungeon Family-era Cee Lo. But on T-Wayne, he says innumerable terrible and regrettable things, all with disturbing pride: “They call me MC Boom Box/Cuz when I grab a bitch I just boom box,” he bellows on “Oh Yeah,” and there is nowhere to hide from the clang the line makes upon landing. Just a few moments later, he promises to “bring the dick storm,” which seems like a reason to board up doors and tape down windows.
T-Pain’s verses are basically extended Neil Hamburger rap routines. He promises to leave a woman’s “belly button glistening” on “Listen to Me,” an image so unappealing it’s almost impressive. “Her head game sick like cancer” from “Breathe” turns two different played-out cliches into a singular car crash. On “Snap Ya Fangas,” he relaxes a little, doing the sort of thing he does best: weightless, bright-toned love songs. Wayne raps briefly, but it feels like T-Pain’s world, the place he doesn’t have to strain to prove himself.
Wayne, meanwhile, isn’t straining in any way, shape, or form: He is yawning almost audibly on these tracks. But this was during the blessed interval where Wayne’s on-record yawns were indelible, and even in these just-passing-through appearances, there are revelations. On the Oompa-Loompa sampling “Listen To Me,” he finds a spot just left of the beat to slip-side his flow, elevating a goofy song into giddy territory. This is the guy, we’re reminded, that ripped up verses into the little streaming bits of confetti, ones that are still falling around us in the shape of new guys like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty. He doesn’t have too much else to say here, but even for a few unheard verses, we can thank T-Pain’s restlessness.