Mr. Roboto

T-Pain triggers the long-prophesized Rise of the Machines

Here, then, is your new robot overlord.
photo: Anthony Cutajar
Here, then, is your new robot overlord.

In any case, my favorite r&b moment of 2007 came unexpectedly on 8 Diagrams, the Wu-Tang Clan reunion album that nobody bought. On the six-minute ghetto-life lament "Stick Me for My Riches," producers RZA and Mathematics brought in a ringer: Gerald Alston, the 65-year-old former frontman for '70s soul veterans the Manhattans. There's nothing effortless about Alston's screech-wail delivery—he sounds like he extracted his guest-verse directly from his own bone marrow, without anesthesia. For a minute and a half, before any rappers come in, Alston builds from a matter-of-fact singsong to a stormy melodramatic cry, letting his voice crack and wobble as he builds up to his climax. By the time the track fades out, Alston sounds like he's drained and destroyed, as if it took him every last drop of life-force to finish the song. At the end of the year, "Stick Me for My Riches" was a sharp reminder: For some singers, everything is always at stake. It's worth remembering.

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