Rapper and notorious Auto-Tune performer T-Pain recently made some statements that have the music world in a stir. T-Pain claims he’s helped to write some country songs in the past, but left his name out of the credits due to racism. But what seems to be unclear is who that racism might be coming from, or if he’s even referring to this racism coming from country music or his own hip-hop community, or perhaps both.
In 2023, T-Pain released an album called On Top of the Covers covering numerous songs from multiple genres, including “Tennessee Whiskey” first popularized by David Alan Coe and George Jones before becoming the biggest country song of the last decade thanks to Chris Stapleton. “Tennessee Whiskey” was originally written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove.
Recently, T-Pain’s version of “Tennessee Whiskey” has been trending online, leading to questions about T-Pain and his participation in the country genre. In an interview-style video clip T-Pain posted on Instagram and Tik-Tok on January 31st he says,
“Good music is good music. I don’t give a f–k where it come from or what style it come in. All the people I know feel like it’s not cool to listen to other genres of music. Country music is where I get all my harmonies. I done wrote a lot of country songs [but] I stopped taking credit for it because as cool as it is to see your name in those credits and s–t like that, the racism that comes after it is just like, ‘I’ll just take the check. Don’t put me on that s–t. I’ll just take the check, bro. Nevermind, dude.’”
This isn’t the first time T-Pain has made these kinds of claims. In a previous interview from some years ago recently unearthed by The Breakfast Club, T-Pain said,
“I write a lot of country music for huge country artists that would rather not have it known that I write for them,” he said. “I got back up with Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, Rhett Akins [and] Dallas Davidson. So, you know, I’ve written a lot for a lot [of] very important country artists.”
Saving Country Music has talked to some Nashville-based songwriters that have confirmed that T-Pain has written with country songwriters and performers in the past. As T-Pain explains, he lived in Nashville for two years in his bus parked out behind a studio, and used that opportunity to collaborate with some of the Nashville’s talent. But the big question everyone wants to know is who or where this racism was coming from?
T-Pain’s accusations of racism should be taken very seriously, and if there is someone within the country music community was a party to that racism, they should be called out and asked to answer for those accusations. The four artists that T-Pain said he worked with previously were Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, Rhett Akins [and] Dallas Davidson. Are one of them the guilty party, or was it more the country music system at large that T-Pain felt was too racist to have a Black man with a writing credit?
T-Pain said in his most recent statement, “All the people I know feel like it’s not cool to listen to other genres of music.” That seems to imply that maybe T-Pain was worried how people in the hip-hop community might feel about him writing for country artists. Is that where the “racism” concern comes from?
In response to the clips, The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne tha God said, “I wonder if it’s still like that because you got a lot of Black artists that’s popular like Kane Brown … Jimmie Allen, Allison Russell. There’s a lot of dope Black country artists out right now. I wonder if that still holds true.”
Of course, Charley Pride is one of the most successful artists in country music history, and when T-Pain was living in Nashville, Darius Rucker was a current and successful country artist. Most relevantly, Tracy Chapman just won the 2023 CMA Single of the Year and Song of the Year as a songwriter after Luke Combs covered her song “Fast Car.” Combs and Chapman now famously sang the song duet style on the 2024 Grammy Awards.
Saving Country Music attended the 2023 country music-oriented Two Step Inn festival in Georgetown, Texas. T-Pain performed on the lineup, and was well-received by a country audience, with no boos or other negativity heard heard by those who’d ventured to the stage of a multi-stage festival to see him. It seems strange that T-Pain would accept a booking at a country festival, but recuse himself from the liner notes from a country album for fear of racism. Or maybe as Charlamagne tha God said, the country community is different now than when he lived in Nashville.
No timeline has been given for T-Pain’s Nashville years. But if it was when Taylor Swift was still there and Dallas Davidson was still relevant, it must have been some years ago. The “artists that would rather not have it known that I write for them” is where the concern should be.
Just for clarification, it appears T-Pain is saying that on the country songs he worked on, he’s still getting “the check,” meaning that he still received royalties for them. One of the long standing rules in Nashville has been to make sure all creators on a track receive credit. The saying is goes “write a word, get a third,” meaning even if someone simply tweaks one word in a song, they deserve a credit. But if a songwriter wants to leave their name unpublished in the public record for whatever reason, they have that right.
Perhaps the “racism” T-Pain experienced was more perceived than actual. Even then, that doesn’t mean it’s not problematic that the perception is that he could not include his name in the writing credits on country songs. But that is different than hearing racial slurs simply for having his name on a track, or having to deal with racism in some other direct manner.
Too often “country music” is dealt with as a monolith, where the action of one person or one entity is used to characterize the entire genre, like when Billboard removed Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” from the country charts, or the Grammy Awards decided to not allow Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” to be considered in the country category. These weren’t actions by “country music.” They were actions by independent organizations.
T-Pain is not the only one who has said or implied racism in country music’s writing rooms. Back in 2018, Kane Brown told The Tennessean that “Some people in Nashville … won’t write with me because I’m Black.” Similar to T-Pain, Kane Brown didn’t name any names directly, which makes it difficult to both verify the accusations, or to root out the concern. But this is slightly different than what T-Pain was saying, since T-Pain didn’t seem to have issues finding writing partners. His issue was being credited.
Either way, similar to the accusations of misogyny and sexism in the country music industry, without names or specific cases, it makes it difficult to root out the source. Though it can be problematic or perhaps career suicide to break the mainstream country’s regime of silence and speak out about a fellow performer, songwriter, or a music executive, that’s also often the only way to ultimately root out the problem and solve it.