When Nas proclaimed that hip hop was dead, protests rang from all corners of the urban music world; it would seem, however, that few artists are quite so keen to speak up for Auto-tune after hip hop giant Jay-Z called for its immediate demise. Auto-tune, originally intended to correct slight pitch inconsistencies, is often used by hip hop and r’n’b artists to achieve an ‘over-tuned’ digitalised vocal effect. This practise was popularised by artists, such as Akon, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, The Dream and Kanye West, but after becoming a trend in the urban music scene, many feel it has been over-used.
In his battle-cry to the seemingly Auto-tune obsessed hip hop world, Jay-Z expressed his distaste for not only the ‘over-tuned’ style but also iTunes, ringtone sales and the general commercialisation of hip hop. It could be argued that Jigga’s street anthem ‘D.O.A. (Death of Auto-tune)’ is particularly hypocritical, especially considering that his forthcoming album ‘The Blueprint 3’ will be produced almost entirely by self-proclaimed Auto-tune fanatic Kanye West. Although it is questionable whether or not Jay’s track will have any true impact on the trend, it is likely that the influence of one of hip hop’s biggest names will separate the urban music community when it comes to Auto-tune usage. Many r’n’b artists will most likely continue using the technology to varying degrees, whereas the majority of rappers may now attempt to distance themselves from the style.
Whilst there are many who feel that the Auto-tune phenomenon has been predominantly a curse for the hip hop world, rather than a blessing, it must be said that initially some classic, innovative sounds emerged from it. T-Pain’s pioneering use of the over-tuned vocal style provided an exciting and distinctive new sound, which many rappers were keen to incorporate into their work, leading to a number of collaborations. A shared love of Auto-tune sparked the highly-anticipated ‘T-Wayne’ project between T-Pain and Lil Wayne, which is reportedly scheduled for release later this year.
Love it or hate it, another prime example of this unique strain of hip hop is Kanye West’s masterwork ‘Heartless.’ West’s haunting melody coupled with his robotic over-tuned vocals perfectly mirrored the cold, metallic feelings of heartbreak. Released after a number of personal disasters, the album ‘808s & Heartbreak,’ which received mixed critical response, succeeded in providing a rare insight into his vulnerability, a theme that has become a taboo for many rap artists. His so-called ‘heartbreak effect’ was a refreshing break from the swagger and ego usually associated with Kanye and also hip hop in general.
Whether or not you agree that Jay-Z should have the right to condemn Auto-tune to death, it is clear that the sound has become a gimmick in the urban music industry. In a recent interview with a Chicago radio station, Jay stated that it was ‘time to move on’ from the trend, which is currently just contributing to evidence for the age-old argument that hip hop ‘just sounds the same.’ When will hip hop artists learn that evolution is the key to success in the music world? Surely it would be better to move on from current trends and develop new styles than to fall prey to the stagnant cycle of tedium that Nas warned about. Therefore, perhaps the real question should be, is it hip hop that is in danger of dying rather than Auto-tune?
© Hannah O’Connor (3threat Media)