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03.27.08 12:36 PM

Further Exploits of the Auto-Tune in Hip-Hop


Video: Lil Wayne - "Lollipop"

This track is yet another hip-hop song that alters vocals with Auto-Tune. Lil Wayne already tested this production effect on his verse in Shawty Lo's "Dey Know (Remix)". It was definitely a case of Auto-Tune gone wrong.

Anil Dash has already thoroughly explored this topic in his posts, The Death of Analog, AutoTune Edition and When Auto-Tune Strikes.

The Auto-Tune is not a new technological advancement, but it just so happens that T-Pain stumbled upon it (probably in his Pro Tools setup) when producing tracks. Auto-Tune is often confused with the Vocoder because they both create a digital effect.

In fact T-Pain is often criticized for his use of this implement, because in his case it proves he can't sing. But even our mother of pop -- Madonna -- has used Auto-Tune in performances to guarantee that her performance is spot on. [The reason you can't tell is because the effect is not as dramatic as it is with T-Pain or with Snoop Dogg on "Sensual Seduction."]

And while I give Snoop credit for taking it to another level by introducing a video that is reminiscent of a time when Roger Troutman and Zapp actually used the vocoder. The "Sensual Seduction" video further confuses us on the differences between Auto-Tune and Vocoder because Snoop looks like he's using a talkbox, which creates a vocoder like effect. Still, the Dogggfather gets credit for solidifying crossover appeal of this style of music. He definitely has more fans than T-Pain. There's no question of that fact. [Teddy Riley later reintroduced the talkbox/vocoder effect during his New Jack Swing phase.]

But does Auto-Tune really have a place in hip-hop rap music? The fact is, there are probably many more "singers" who have used Auto-Tune during performance than you could ever count. But when an entire song's vocals relies on the effect, and we know that the person behind the effect isn't really a singer, doesn't it start becoming a little overkill?

For some reason it's winning though. Whether I, or others like me, start to feel like the Auto-Tune is becoming overused. Snoop's "Sensual Seduction" was a hit, and it appears that Lil Wayne (your favorite rapper) has a hit in "Lillipop." At least radio likes it. But honestly, is anyone listening to radio? (This Lil' Wayne press release I'm reading says there are something like 25.7 million listeners in crossover and urban, but I'm not buying it.)

The stat: Lollipop is #1 Most Added and Greatest Gainer at both crossover and urban radio formats receiving a total of 138 adds at Mediabase and R&R.

Regardless, I am thinking strongly of starting a petition to ban the use of Auto-Tune from rap music. I accept Snoop Dogg's use because it serves as a cultural signifier, wherein the digital device appropriates his voice as the signified symbolizing a bygone musical tradition. The visual representation of his song furthers this theory. In the case of Lil' Wayne, the visual representation is no different than any other rap video being repurposed on YouTube, which removes the use of the vocal effect from any cultural context other than the one it already represents and exists in. It doesn't signify anything but itself and further does nothing to enhance the performer or the performance.

For a current youth market, without context, the use of these vocal devices become new instead of borrowers and reinventers and remixers of existing cultural performance machines. If the remixer has the ability to one-up the predecessor, it does become something new. But if the remixer only borrows for the sake of borrowing and not for the purpose of remixing or mashing it up, then it's basically a bite. A bite with no credit to the predecessor. So, I'm beginning to get a little worried about the route that music production is taking. And don't tell me that it the use of Auto-Tune can be viewed through the same cultural lens as sampling -- because it can't. I'm mainly worried and want to dead this misuse and overuse of the Auto-Tune now before the likes of Bow Wow or Lil Mama start using it, just because it sounds cool.

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