T-Pain is working on a comeback plan. In April, Pain—real name Faheem Rasheed Najm—started by cutting off his signature dreads and revealing the title of his fifth studio album, Stoicville: The Phoenix. The album title signifies his “happy place,” or his moment of Zen where he can go and nobody will judge him. Given the talks of the Tallahassee native being on a hiatus, he’s using his free time to perfect his craft and explore his roots again. The fans won’t have to wait much longer for his rebirth.

“I went off for a little while trying to reinvent myself and try[ing] to do different music and stuff. Everybody was saying that you need to switch it up,” Pain tells XXL on the phone while on the way to the studio in Atlanta. “That was the Revolver album, and it didn’t do as good as I wanted it to. People like familiarity. People like to know what is happening. It was only right that I go back to what made me the T-Pain I am today.”

Pain’s referring to “Up Down (Do This All Day)” featuring B.o.B and produced by the purveyor of ratchet, DJ Mustard, which he released in August. The twerk-ready anthem—the first official single from Stoicville—is a return to form; with his trademark Auto-Tune vocals and lyrics about the strip club, T-Pain isn’t afraid to venture back into his comfort zone.

Right now, T-Pain is focused on putting the pieces together for the album, slated for 2014. “This is really going to be what’s on my mind and what’s me,” he says. “I’m doing this album like [how] Quentin Tarantino makes movies. Everybody always asks Quentin Tarantino, ‘Who you make movies for?’ He don’t make movies for anybody. I make movies for myself and hope to God that there’s somebody out there like me.”

T-Pain isn’t your typical rapper-turned-singer. Throughout the mid-2000s, he gained massive success for guest appearances on hits like Kanye West’s “Good Life,” Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” and Flo Rida’s “Low.” His solo songs, too, were instant party-starters and catapulted him to the top of the hip-hop food chain. These days, Pain has to fight to reignite his hot streak, mainly because a certain Auto-Tuned crooner/rapper has dominated his lane. Rumors have circulated about his alleged feud with Future, but Pain’s more concerned about how rappers have used the technology he studied and popularized for the mainstream than any hip-hop beef.

“I changed music completely, so it is good to see that, but it’s terrible to see how horrible everybody sounds with it,” Pain admits. “I studied my craft, and I make sure I know how it works. I know where it comes from. I knew how Auto-Tune got invented. I studied the technology of it. Everything. Then I used it. But everybody else is slapping it on their voice and saying they got a smash.”

His frustrations with Auto-Tune are just a small part of the larger picture. Next in Pain’s rise to prominence is a methodical approach to making music, while being mindful of what is truly missing in the game now. Pain hopes to bring more diversity and feel-good records with Stoicville. “I want to get back [to] when people were actually moving in the club. You go overseas, they still play every goddamn song from the '90s,” he says. “We come over here, just shoot a nigga, and kill a nigga. 'Fuck this. Fuck that. I’m a dope boy.' Goddamn, dude! Not everybody [is] singing this shit.”

T-Pain’s strong opinions about today’s landscape only fuel the fire for his second coming. He lives in the studio, laying down infectious hooks for anyone who requests them. He is returning to rapping again, confirming that there will be multiple rap songs on the album. And he has decided not to drop a mixtape in order to have a full body of work that’ll leave a lasting impact. Everything is going according to plan—even his new career goals.

“I want to make it like everybody else,” he says. “I don’t think I made it yet. Until I get to Jay’s status, until I get to Diddy’s status, I don’t think I made it yet.”

Until then, T-Pain is out here grindin’.

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