“Generals gathered in their masses”
2023 has already had a lot of unexpected pop culture moments: The live-action Barbie movie trailer creating the biggest moment of 2023; Lil Yachty releasing a Psychedelic Rock album, Let’s Start Here and it contending for album of the year.
And now for another shockingly enjoyable moment in this already batshit year, T-Pain’s cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’. Let’s break down a few of the burning questions that you might have about this unexpected turn of events:
Who is T-Pain?
T-Pain is a singer-slash rapper who put together a nice run in the mid-2000s and was one of the first mainstream artists to base his entire sound around Auto-Tune.
At the time this was bold and he got a lot of pushback from the Hip-Hop establishment.
Despite his mentor’s disproval, Kanye West recruited T-Pain to mentor him in the use of Auto-Tune for his hugely influential 808s and Heartbreak album.
The style was controversial at the time, but has become almost the defining style of modern R&B singers and rappers.
Nevertheless, T-Pain had a good run earning a number 1 single and album in 2007/08, however, he wasn’t able to sustain the run and faded into relative obscurity throughout the 2010s. By no means a laughing stock, he’s maintained a loyal fanbase and managed to win the 2019 season of the American series of The Masked Singer to jumpstart a late-career resurgence.
Who are Black Sabbath?
It’s generally accepted that Black Sabbath pretty much invented the Heavy Metal genre with their 1970 iconic self-titled debut album. They returned a few months later with Paranoid; the album where the band really perfected their style combining the talents of Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler and of course legendary frontman Ozzy Osbourne.
‘War Pigs’ is the near 8-minute opening track – it was hoped to be the title track but was rejected by Sabbath’s record label. The sombre mood is created with one of the darkest and foreboding openings in music history:
‘Generals gathered in the masses / just like witches at black masses’.
With its strong anti-war message; dark sludgy atmosphere and focus on technical musicianship, “War Pigs” remains an enduring piece of Heavy Metal folklore.
So, where does T-Pain come in?
T-Pain’s seventh studio album On Top of the Covers is a cover album, he teased it thusly:
“These songs are not what you’d expect when you hear that T-Pain is doing a covers album and that is what I think is cool about it.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Oftentimes, when an artist releases a covers album, they often stick to their genre giving their interpretation of the standards that shaped their early career. A classic example is John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album from 1975, with re-imaginings from Rock n Roll innovators like Ben E. King, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.
Aside from the album opener, a moving cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”, T-Pain ventures outside of the expected and tackles tracks such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, and “Stay with Me” by Sam Smith.
Why is this shocking?
T-Pain built his name on his merger of R&B and Hip-Hop styles, slathered in Auto-Tune, his first album was aptly named Rappa Ternt Sanga.
Nobody would expect the man who made his name in the late 2000s with songs such as “I’m ‘n Luv (Wit a Stripper)” and “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” to be rocking out to classic Sabbath in 2023.
“I fucked a mermaid” T-Pain 
Is it true that there’s no Auto-Tune?
The shocks keep coming, as far as I can tell, this is the first full-length project from T-Pain that showcases his natural singing voice. Despite establishing himself as the King of Auto-Tune, T-Pain has a great singing voice and it is on full display here.
Is it any good?
Surprisingly, it’s great!
Serving as the closer to the relatively spotty On Top of the Covers, “War Pigs” is the highlight of the project.
Without the Auto-Tune to add layers to T-Pain’s vocals, there’s a harshness to his vocals that matches the brooding atmosphere of the original. While the instrumentals feels a lot cleaner and the guitarwork is certainly more polished than Tony Iommi’s original.
The focus is certainly on T-Pain’s vocals and he does a great job of carrying the song.
Is it T-Pain’s “War Pigs” than the Black Sabbath version?
In short, no. But T-Pain does a very good job of channelling the atmosphere and gloom of Black Sabbath’s original. It’s a very good cover, with a high potential of disaster for Teddy Pain, but his delivery is probably as close as we can get to Ozzy Osbourne without him growing up on a council estate in Birmingham. The instrumental feels too clean, but it is a lot to expect session musicians to match the original.
Overall, it’s a compelling cover and is the high point of On Top of the Covers.
8 headless bats out of 10.