"I'm T-Pain/You know me" crooned the six-time Grammy-winning singer, rapper, and producer on his 2007 mega-hit Buy U a Drank. Do you really, though? There were a lot of hip-hop artists who burst onto the scene in a big way in the mid-2000s, then moved off center stage as music evolved and time marched on. But only T-Pain is using his fame, fortune, and no small amount of skill to put together a surprise second act as the owner of a professional drift team, with his sights set on one day running with the big leaguers in Formula D.
If the path from 7x platinum singles to smoking tires is a little fuzzy to you, you're not alone. T-Pain—real name Faheem Rashad Najm—has always loved cars, but even he didn't see this obsession coming until he took a drift lesson five years ago with Chelsea DeNofa and was instantly, forever hooked on going sideways. It's no hobby—T-Pain is throwing his whole self at mastering drifting. And he's getting good. See for yourself in the video below.
But he noticed something when trying to share his newfound love with friends: as Black people, they felt pretty out of place at the track.
"Not to sound cliche and current right now, but I didn’t see a lot of inclusion in the sport itself. You know what I mean?" he told me. "I asked a lot of my friends that I always take to the track, because they love going to the track, they love riding with me and stuff like that. I’m like, why don’t you just do this? They always have the same basic answer of, we don’t really feel invited.
"It doesn’t feel like a place to be, you know? The same reason you don’t see a lot of us at NASCAR, stuff like that. We just don’t really feel invited. It’s not as uninviting as NASCAR, it just seems like a pretty prominently…one-sided sport."
Now, having formed his own team under the banner of Nappy Boy Automotive, he and Hertrech Eugene Jr. of Hoonigan fame are making it their mission to bring not just more Black people into the drifting world, but all manner of new fans and converts. ("It’s not like we’re trying to make a Black drift team. We’re not doing that. We’re getting everybody that would otherwise not have the confidence to show up at the track.") Getting to Formula Drift is the ultimate goal, but it only takes a minute of talking to T-Pain to see his passion lies in connecting with the car community—hanging out at local tracks, meeting new people, teaching kids how to do donuts.
T-Pain also just completed a neat little partnership with eBay Motors and our friends at Donut Media to promote the site's new Guaranteed Fit verification program—which aims to take the guesswork out of knowing which parts will fit your car as you're browsing—by taking care of some long-deferred maintenance on his 1994 Honda Accord. You can read more about that here, as well as details on an in-person event where the car will be on display in Atlanta this weekend. For now, here's our chat with T-Pain covering his current collection, drifting, and why you can't always rely on YouTube alone for wrenching advice.
The Drive: Thanks for doing this, T-Pain. I want to start by asking you about your current collection. Gimme any highlights you got right now, what are you daily driving, any new additions, recent departures, hit me.
T-Pain: Whew! Man. We just got the 2019 488 Italia. Got the spyder with that. All white, red interior, I am living the life in that thing. I don’t drive it much though, it’s not like an everydayer anymore. I used to, until I realized how bad Atlanta roads were for it. Jesus Christ, they’re terrible. They just don’t even care.
I just bought my son a BMW i3. I don’t know why that’s what he wanted, but what do you got.
TD: I think those are under-appreciated, honestly. They’re pretty cool cars. Carbon fiber chassis!
T-Pain: They are, they are. Oh my god, the steering is one to one. One to one. [Laughs] Yeah, let’s see. I got the Catch-22 truck, I have that. That’s mine now. I got my drift cars, my E46, RTR Mustang. Got an RX-7. What other drift cars I got... oh, and Pickle Rick.
TD: Yeah, I want to ask about that too. But the RX-7! That’s a drift car?
T-Pain: That is a new addition. So HertLife and I are starting Nappy Boy Automotive, so that’s a whole new company, and I think the RX-7 that we build together is gonna be our flagship, and yeah, that’s gonna be our drift baby.
TD: Five years ago you took your first drift lesson, now you own a drift team. What made you want to go for it for real, and how far are you trying to take this?
T-Pain: I mean man, I’ve never seen anybody that’s been drifting for the first time and not been hooked. You know what I mean? It’s just a thing, anybody I take out on the track or to the track, they don’t even have to do a ridealong or anything. If they see drifting, they just automatically want to do it. You know, we just added a new member to the team, Rob Robinson from Auto Extremes, and I’ve been knowing this guy 20 years, and we took him drifting once, and now he has an FD-certified 240 right now. This was a MONTH ago I took him. And he already has a more aggressive setup than me. He’s got a sequential shifter, and I’m like, what?
He has no idea what he’s doing, but I told him, when I started drifting with my first lesson with Chelsea DeNofa, I didn’t know how to drive stick shift. I had no idea how to drive a manual. [Laughs]. So that turned into this whole journey, not only how to do that but also manipulate it while drifting, figuring out when to do what. I couldn’t even drive a manual on the street, let along coming over a hill at 60 mph sideways. [Laughs]. It was awesome. It worked out.
TD: I took a drift lesson five years ago—hey, I guess around the same time you did—and again, stick shift, RTR Mustang. First gear donuts, no problem, but the second I had to shift while sliding, I was lost, man. I was lost.
T-Pain: That’s when it gets tough. Especially when you gotta go back from third to second. You’re like why would I do that? I’m supposed to be going faster! [Laughs]
TD: But it’s one thing to make it a hobby, and another thing to make it a business. So why build a team? Are you trying to get to Formula Drift with this?
T-Pain: I am trying to get to FD. And you know, not to sound cliche and current right now, but I didn’t see a lot of inclusion in the sport itself. You know what I mean? I knew a couple guys here and there, you know, Hert[rech Eugene Jr.] and Simba [Nyemba] and people like that, but just in the sport as a whole, there’s not a lot of inclusion. And I asked a lot of my friends that I always take to the track, because they love going to the track, they love riding with me and stuff like that. I’m like, why don’t you just do this? They always have the same basic answer of, we don’t really feel invited.
It doesn’t feel like a place to be, you know, the same reason you don’t see a lot of us at NASCAR, stuff like that. We just don’t really feel invited. It’s not as uninviting as NASCAR, it just seems like a pretty prominently…one-sided sport. [Laughs] So I think our mission is just to invite everybody. Even Rob, you know, Rob’s white. We’re inviting everybody, it’s not like we’re trying to make a Black drift team. We’re not doing that. We’re getting everybody that would otherwise not have the confidence to show up at the track. We’re trying to show people, like, look. It’s us. Like, we’re fucking lame-os, dude. Come on! Get on the track! Get out there, see what happens!
All these people that you think are cool, we’re all nervous as fuck when we get out there. Bring your ass on, and let’s go. So we’re trying to encourage people, we’re doing classes for kids, we’re getting the youth out there, the underprivileged youth in these million dollar cars. We’re trying to bring more community to the community.
TD: You strip away the bullshit, and cars are supposed to be fun. That’s all it comes down to.
TD: Speaking of inclusion, you don’t see a lot of E46 drift cars. Why’d you go with that one, and how’s the build going?
T-Pain: Yeah, that was me being a rich asshole for no reason. [Laughs] It had to be an E46 and it had to be a convertible. I think at first I didn’t understand what was happening in the drift community, and I didn’t know why everyone was being so fucking nice, why everyone was so helpful and shit. So when I got the E46 I was like, I want to show up like the villain Asian dude in all the movies, with the gold wrapped car and all that shit. Like, you roll up and people go ohhh, there’s the rich Asian guy. I wanted to be the Black version of that at first.
But then when I first went drifting in it, it felt like I was flying. It’s a convertible, it’s a small car, it whips super easy. And because I built it from the ground up, it really helped me a lot to understand the mechanical side of drifting. I think the E46 has stuck with me because I’m the one who built it. I bought it stock and got it to where it is right now. Obviously with help from friends with lifts and shit. I did almost kill myself trying to do the suspension because I didn’t have any help on that [Laughs.]
TD: What happened?
T-Pain: I had the front jacked up, I had some jackstands securing the frame, but I had to pop the springs off myself because I was doing coilovers, and didn’t have anybody to tell me how to do that and I had never done it myself. And yeah, that shit shot around like a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
TD: There’s a lot of tension in those springs, man, yeah.
T-Pain: I didn’t know that! All I saw was hey, I could get it out if I could get the crowbar in there, push up, and it should just fall like everything else did. Control arm fell, tie rod fell, rotors fell, everything else just fell. The spring should fall as well. This should be fine. [Laughs]
I’ll tell you what not to do: don’t watch fucking Chris Fix videos and think you know how to build a whole car.
TD: What’s the latest with Pickle Rick after all that drama last fall? I saw it pop up in the background of one of your videos recently. How’s it going with the car now?
T-Pain: It’s going great, actually man. I’m doing something with a couple companies, we got Haltech, Texas Speed getting involved, we got some radio things getting involved. We got a big project on our hands but it’s gonna come back as a completely different car. It’s gonna shred. It’s gonna shred. Trust me.
TD: So you recently worked with eBay Motors and our friends at Donut…
T-Pain: Yeah! eBay Motors! That’s why we’re here! Absolutely! Hoooo!
TD: …to do some work on your 1994 Honda Accord—the Bel-Cord. Tell me about how it’s modded and what all you needed to do for it.
T-Pain: So, the Bel-Cord man. Basically, we modeled an Accord after a ‘56 Bel-Air. And as crazy as that sounds, it actually kinda worked out. We got the same pinstripe, the seats are the same, we modded everything on the interior, and it’s been a dream for the last 13-14 years that I’ve had it. But it was time for a renewal, you know what I’m saying? And eBay Motors came in and said, yo, we got you. They got this cool thing, Guaranteed Fit, right? Got this little check mark so when you check for parts for your car, as long as you put your make and model in and all that stuff, any part you click on, it’ll show you if it’s guaranteed to fit or not. I got a performance cat-back exhaust, got a brake kit, we got the touchscreen head unit with a backup camera, LED underglow, all kinds of stuff man. We went all the way around it, made sure it’ll run for a good amount of time now. If you’re a huge car person or just trying to make sure your car can get from A to B, as long as you look for that checkmark, you good. You get those parts, get the shipment, and they should fit right on the car. Renew your ride, modify, or just, you know, make sure it works at all. There’s a lot of people that just need that.
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