The third annual Supafest Urban Music Festival held its second-to-last show in Melbourne, this past Saturday. Featuring the musical stylings of veteran hip hoppers Naughty by Nature, Ice Cube and Kelly Rowland, the event also brought new comers, such as Chris Brown, Trey Songz and Big Sean, to Australia.

While the crowd went crazy for the latest heart throb Trey Songz, and cheered for the controversial young star Chris Brown, the showstopper of the night was T-Pain.

The 26-year-old Florida native has the reputation of being a celebrity party boy and is featured in many popular songs with artists ranging from DJ Khaled to the Lonely Island boys. Known for his ridiculous clothing choices and use of the auto-tune technology to alter his voice, not many people take him seriously as an artist, despite the fact that he has his own recording label.

Discovered in 2005 by pop star Akon, he was signed to the Konvict Music label under the name T-Pain, or alias, Nappy Boy.  He has since produced popular party anthems such as ‘Buy You a Drank,’ ‘Bartender’ and a collaboration with Lonely Island known as ‘I’m on a Boat.’ Despite his party persona, T-Pain has stayed out of the celebrity gossip spotlight, avoiding most scandals and mishaps. In fact, a Google news search of him will result in a charming article about him and Kelly Rowland taking time out of their Australian tour to pet adorable koalas at Wild Life Sydney, and not much else. Finding a bio on this enigma is even more difficult than finding gossip. The only source of back-story came from Wikipedia, and a brief article summarising his appearance on the MTV and VH1 show, Behind the Music, which is only available to watch if you are in the United States.

However, you do discover T-Pain’s painful upbringing, being teased as a young, chubby boy and his struggles with his father’s drug addiction. He is also married to a Christian woman, although he was brought up Muslim, and is raising his two children in a household with both religions. Admittedly, I knew little of this before I attended his concert, but, apparently I am not the only one. A sassy article, written by a Yale student about T-Pain’s upcoming performance, outlines exactly how I too felt about T-Pain prior to his performance. I knew a few of his songs and his goofball ways on Twitter. I’ve seen him appear in music videos of popular party jams, yet had no idea where he came from, or who he was.

T-Pain

Standing in the throng of people at Supafest while they were setting up for T-Pain, my friend and I traded jokes about the artist; T-Panda because of his round exterior, Tune-Pain for the auto-tune, etcetera. When he came on stage, we politely cheered. He informed the crowd that he was ‘not here for the show, not here for the festival, not here to perform’ he came to (what else?) ‘PARTY!’ Then he began to play a series of popular songs and dance around stage with his hype crew. It seemed a bit odd that he was not singing or rapping, but as most performers had a DJ, it was not too outlandish. The weird part was that none of the songs that were being played, featured him! He was literally just having his own party on the stage. Occasionally, one of the songs featuring him would come on and he would continue to dance, with the occasional, motivational yelp to the crowd of ‘hey-ho!’ or ‘yeah!’

Extremely confused by this, my friend and I were wondering if the rest of the hour and a half set would be like the first 20 minutes, and that’s when it happened: the music stopped, and T-Pain belted out the most beautiful a capella notes, sans auto-tune. The entire crowd went silent. When he finished some particularly long and well pitched notes, he went into his song ‘Bartender.’ The whole place seemed to be in shock, not knowing whether to dance, cheer, cry, or where that talent even came from! The following hour we witnessed him beat box, free style rap to the beat, speed rap, auto tune sing, a capella sing, dance and do a partial comedy routine to the crowd about his weight, all with amazing skill!

Stealing the entire show, he left the audience screaming for more. All the pyrotechnics and dance numbers in the world could not get Chris Brown’s wrap up performance to outshine the talent displayed by T-Pain.  Perhaps it was the expectation that the final performance would be grand, and the low probability of success we had given to T-Pain that combined to make his act the most memorable of the night; but I think it was simply raw talent that had been hidden from the mainstream for so long. Either way, when discussing with others about Supafest, the result was unanimous ‘Did you hear T-Pain? I didn’t know he was THAT good!’

Follow him on Twitter @TPAIN.

Julia McDonald is completing her Masters of Global Communications at La Trobe University. Follow her on Twitter @Jules_mcdonald.

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