It turns out that even hip-hop royalty is fed up with the current state of music. In his newest release “D.O.A: Death of Autotune,” Jay-Z calls bullsh** on all of the rappers (and I would add would-be singers) using excessive technology to pimp out their otherwise meritless tracks. I’m not normally HOV’s biggest fan but when he rhymed: “I know we facin’ a recession/But the music y’all making gonna make it the Great Depression,” I just about fell in love.
To be fair, he did kind of get the terminology wrong. So for those of you who might be wondering, here’s a little lesson:
Autotune is used to correct pitch problems when a singer can’t quite hit or sustain a note, a technique that’s probably been used at least sparingly on some of my favorite artists and certainly more aggressively on some less (ahem) trained vocalists. It got really famous, though, whentook it to the next level in 1999 with “Believe.” If Wikipedia is to be believed, sound engineers accidentally set the autotune to the wrong speed, making a slightly alien sound out of Cher’s voice on certain phrases. The ageless diva apparently liked it so much she let it ride–much to her record label’s chagrin–and this became the biggest hit of her career:
Then, there’s the talkbox. That’s a pretty nifty device that a musician can wear in his mouth to make the instrument he’s playing create musical notes in the “shape” of language. Tough to explain but you know it when you hear it done really well, as in the opening guitar notes of the ’s signature track, “Livin’ on a Prayer” (skip to about 1 min, 20sec):
But I don’t think either of those are exactly what the Jigga Man is talking about. I assume he means the methods employed by the ubiquitous (and increasingly irritating). What he’s got is a vocoder. That’s another little device that can take a sung or spoken phrase and speed it up, slow it down, or digitize it so that it sounds like a robot’s voice. Done best in the Styx classic, “Mr. Roboto”:
Whatever the technology, I hope that Jay-Z’s calling the industry out on the carpet will end the overuse of showboat-y digital technology in music. In each of the examples above, the artists used it to innovate an art form at which they were already quite adept or to enhance the meaning of their music. It wasn’t about creating a radio-ready, no-talent-required, just-add-swagger hit.
Enough is enough, guys. It isn’t artistry any more; it’s just plain lazy and boring.