Donnerstag, 23. Juli 2009


A while ago, Jay-Z proclaimed the Death of Auto-Tune, now hip hop's "grand oak" KRS One and Black Moon's Buckshot weigh in. The visuals are compelling, the beat is well-done but I cannot shake off the feeling that something is very wrong here. At first sight, it seems like another "the youth of today ..." lamentation - a story of generational conflict and the loss of authority on Jay-Z's and KRS One's side who have been left behind by a bunch of young and successful rappers. But there's more at stake here.

The general suspicion against the auto-tuning device rest on the bias against technological enhancement in music: the resentment that "we are being cheated". But can there be cheating in music? Only if you believe in the ideal of a true musician as master of his trade, working his ass off and shedding a lot of blood, sweat and tears for his art. Of course, this sounds much like the critique of "real" musicians when synthesizers and drum machines were introduced. Or even worse, a few years later when digital samplers became established. It's a bit unsettling to hear KRS One reproduce the same prejudice that hip hop had to face whose proliferating creativity was only made possible by new democratized technology.

He must have realized this, so we get a distinction between good and bad use of the technology. And as much as i like seeing Roger Troutman, Afrika Bambaataa, Kraftwerk and the Jonzun Crew mentioned (and even their cover art shown - good PR for some good music!), I cannot help but wonder: What do they have to do with Auto-Tune? Nothing of course - he is not only talking about Auto-Tune. A pitch correction via Auto-Tune is a very subtle effect and will go unnoticed in 99% of the cases. In today's Pop music, all vocalists use some sort of auto-tuning device. It is quite ironic that only the reflective, self-confident use of it draws critique: artists like T-Pain or Lil Wayne make no secret of the artificiality of their vocals.

KRS One's beef is not primarily with voice modulation. "Robot" is a metaphor for all that's wrong in today's hip hop: commercialization, selling out, going pop, fake rappers ... you name it. And that's a paradoxical situation: Hip Hop has always been haunted by the trope of realness. It cannot do without the appeal to authenticity, but the identification has alway been imaginary and fragile. Thus all the hyperbole, all the symbolic staging to conceal the nagging fear of the emptiness of the real. Pop music on the other hand doesn't know any authenticity, it embraces surface and dissolves any substance or essence. With hip hop's entrance into the pop canon the contradictions have only become more apparent - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, cause the resulting friction might convert into some great music.


  1. Alternatively, one could argue that various rappers have spoken out against Auto-Tune not because they've fallen out of touch with the younger generation or that they're clinging to some antiquated notion of keeping it (musically) real but rather because the use of it has resulted in several genuinely bad songs.

  2. absolutely true ... and if you asked me: a SHITLOAD of genuinely bad songs.
    i just felt the urge to defend talk boxes, vocoders and the whole robot strain of hip hop (minus auto-tune).