Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Death Of Auto-Tune

Jay-Z has finally created the song that puts words to the thoughts I've had about mainstream rap music for years.

Let me explain: his new single D.O.A (Death Of Auto-Tune) is the long-awaited call to revival that hip-hop has been thirsting for. For the last few years, anyone trying to listen to hip-hop on the radio or at a house party or in the club has had to endure endless strings of songs by T-Pain, Rihanna, Akon, and a million one-hit wonders who sing with warped voices over a dope beat and a catchy hook.

It's impossible to tell if they have any talent because the auto-tune that their voices are on manipulates them into that addictive, near-mechanical quasi-whine that gets everybody to sing along before they even realize they're doing it. It was fun at first, but then everyone realized that it was just much easier to have a hit with an auto-tuned song than with real, hard-hitting skills.

It's not just the poppy Teen Beat artists that use it either. Besides goons like Chris Brown, Ray-J, and Jeremih -- whose fun but ultimately inconsequential songs dominate the airwaves -- legitimate MCs like T.I., Lil Wayne, and Wyclef Jean have all fallen prey to this trend.

Auto-tune is to the current music scene what the synthesizer was to the 80's, only not as iconic or productive. It has softened the mics of the MCs and the minds of the audience. Jay-Z attacks the the current downward trend, trying to single-handedly cause hip-hop to regress back to the mean, where live MCs like Mos Def and Talib Kweli can get their propers instead of being pushed to the fringe by "Birthday Sex" and "Buy U A Drank."

Maybe it takes an artist like Jay-Z to make this song. For years, talented but non-mainstream rappers like Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and Pharoahe Monche have bemoaned the pop-ification of hip-hop, but none of them is Jigga. Perhaps only HOVA himself can turn the downward slide of the genre.

Jay-Z is an empire unto himself; "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man" he says in one of his verses. He is widely considered as the greatest rapper of the post-Tupac/Biggie era and has used his talent to build a colossal fortune through various businesses and investments. And he did it all without selling out. He's mainstream without trying, the perfect storm of talent, aura, charisma, and marketability.

Jay-Z comes with a loaded lyrical bazooka on this track and backs it with real live, stone-cold, smoky-as-a-jazz-club band music that drives his point home. It's a Big-Tent call back to the hip-hop gospel and here's hoping that the revival is real.

"I'm hungry for knowledge. The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter. That's what this world is about. You look at someone like Gandhi, and he glowed. Martin Luther King glowed. Muhammad Ali glows. I think that's from being bright all the time, and trying to be brighter."
-- Jay-Z


claude said...

I really, really don't like this track. I like the objective of bringing hip-hop to its roots but even though I don't listen to Jay-Z like I used to, I think this track is pretty weak given his talent-level.

Also why is he fronting like he might snatch your chain 'cause he is "so Brooklyn"? The guy is 40 something, still banking off glorifying the same ole street stuff.

For the record, the fact that Drake is now a superstar is also a joke.

D.I. Zzo said...

I'm surprised you're not down. So be it. I, for one, am grateful that Jay-Z laid this track. I hope it starts turning the tide.

PS - Loved the way he just shows up at the playground to go 1-on-1 with LeBron. Classic.

Aaron said...

You speak the truth in love. Great comparison of Drake and Jay to drive you popification point home. I have long complained about the synthvoice on the radio, which makes me wonder, if I could lay down a top 10 track given enough money and the right people. (but don't worry, I'm not going to try)

the vis

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