As a straight-edge suburban white guy who just started getting into rap and hip-hop over the past two years, I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. Now, thanks to Sirius radio, I think I have a pretty good grasp on the current state of hip-hop. I can now pick out artists and songs that I like and dislike, but more importantly, I’m breaking it down and learning what is is about these songs that I like or don’t like. One major pet peeve for me and major trend lately is the use and overuse of auto-tune.
Li’l Wayne is probably the best example of overusing the auto-tune. That’s like his signature sound, and I’m here to tell you that his signature sound is complete shit. Auto-tune has its respectable applications in music recording. When used in moderation, it does exactly what the name implies; it takes your already decent singing and just subtly fixes all the pitch imperfections. Now if you crank it to 11, you get the dramatic electronic voice effect with bubbly steps between notes. It sounded awful when Cher did it back in ’98 and it sounds even worse today.
It’s unfortunate that todays rappers have to resort to gimmicky audio tricks to make themselves stand out. Li’l Wayne, T-pain, even Kanye West is starting to use it. You might not even notice it enough to give a damn, especially when the the effect is applied to the whole song. But take the all-star ensemble track “Swagger Like Us” and it’s easy to pick out the weakest link. I love the M.I.A. sample, I love the verses by Kanye and Jay-Z, but as soon as Li’l wayne starts slurring his way through elctronic auto-tune world, I’m ready to change the station. The reason artists like Jay-Z and Kanye command such respect and staying power is because they have obvious raw talent. They’re more than a catch phrase or gimmick effect. Hearing Kanye’s “Love Lockdown” was a total disappointment. The hook is there, it’s definitely a catchy song and it’s nice that he’s doing some singing as a break from the rapping, but he’s smart enough and talented enough to pull it off without the auto-tune. Instead, he overdoes it and the song is ruined.
I can only hope this is a short-lived trend and we will grow out of it soon. The only good thing I can see is that, with the current hip-hop scene so watered down with terrible music, it will leave room for some truly talented artists to rise up and blow us away. I like what I’m hearing from Lupe Fiasco, and I think eminem is coming back at just the right time. Now we just need a new Outkast album and we’ll be set.
In other news, Matisyahu and Flobots are coming to Philadelphia next week. You might scoff at the orthodox Jewish reggae rapper and the kids behind “Handlebars” after I just ranted about gimmicks, but they’re both amazing. I’m looking forward to some real positive, danceable tunes. If you have not heard Matisyahu’s “Live at Stubb’s” album or Flobots debut “Fight With Tools”, do yourself a favor and start downloading today.