Can this Auto-Tune trend just stop already?
Kanye West has had quite a week. Last Thursday he and his bodyguard got arrested at LAX for suspicion of vandalism after they attacked a photographer and smashed his camera. (Of course the whole incident is on view on TMZ.com.) But while blogs are dishing about that unfortunate run-in, the hip-hop heads have been arguing over "Love Lockdown," the newest single West premiered last week at the MTV Video Music Awards.
When West closed out this year's ceremonies with "Lockdown," a song that has him singing instead of rapping, it prompted a mixed response. Some (like me) actually dug the tune, while others wished he just stuck to spitting bars. But when the actual, studio-recorded version leaked later in the week, with West vocalizing through the excessive use of Auto-Tune, the positive feedback West received soon began to diminish. At least when he did it live it sounded authentic, like he's actually singing (or trying to sing). On the finished single, it sounds like he's singing through a plastic comb with some toilet paper wrapped around it.
Ah, Auto-Tune--the newest tool for artists to enhance their vocals. (Don't you wanna thank T-Pain for showing us once and for all you don't have to sing that well to be a singer?) Due to this item, quite a few rappers have recently decided they can sing all of the sudden. All they have to do is sing through a pitch-correcting phase vocoder, which gives you that freaky, echoey style of vocals, and--voila!--you have "Lollipop."
Even rappers who have established themselves as pretty decent singers are using Auto-Tune to show they're still up with the times musically. Earlier this summer Prince Be of the hippy-dippy hip-hop duo P.M. Dawn took "If You Stay," an 11-year-old song he produced for the Backstreet Boys (for the Booty Call soundtrack, mind you!), and laid his Auto-Tuned vocals all over it. I guess he must've forgotten how his natural, dulcet voice set off many a high school prom slow-dance in the early '90s when he sang "I'd Die Without You."
Not all rappers are completely turning themselves over to audio processors. Some can actually sing. The same week West dropped "Lockdown," Phonte from North Carolina's Little Brother reteamed with his Foreign Exchange partner, Dutch producer Nicolay, and released the rap-free "Daykeeper," the newest single from their upcoming album Leave It All Behind. Phonte has been on a harmonizing tear these days; he's already shown himself to be a covers crooner with the Zo! & Tigallo Love the 80's compilation recently.
Another MC coming with the vocals these days is Philly rapper Hezekiah. It turns out the 35-year-old hip-hopper has been the frontman for Johnny Popcorn, a decade-old funk/rock side project that consists of him and Philly producer/multi-instrumentalist Tone Whitfield (Bilal, Estelle, Kindred the Family Soul).
With the influx of black rock artists (N.E.R.D., J*DaVeY) on the scene these days, the Popcorn duo (who will be performing every Tuesday night next month at Silk City) decided to finally release a few of their songs on an EP, Hezekiah and Tone Whitfield Are: Johnny Popcorn (you can get it for free on Hezekiah's MySpace page). Whatever you think of their eccentric tunes--and Hezekiah's eccentric vocals--rest assured the man's voice wasn't tinkered with.
"Nah, I can't do that," says Hezekiah, with a chuckle. "I think if you can't do it, don't do it." It's not that dude is knocking it--he say's "it's cool for, like, one song." It's just not the way he rolls. "To each his own, man. A lot of people like that stuff. I mean, Britney Spears sells a lot of records, and that's what she does."
But Hezekiah does think the Auto-Tune trend is just that, a fad that'll have many of the hit songs that come from it sound pretty dated in a few years.
He says, "If you're using an Auto-Tuner right now five years from now people are gonna say, 'Oh, I remember when people were doing that in 2007 and 2008.' People are gonna date their songs. They're not gonna be timeless songs."