Since the early 00s, autotune has become commonplace in rap and hip-hop.
Almost every rapper today has used some amount of autotune. But some have used it heavily, making it integral to their sound.
Autotune technology was first invented to correct imperfect pitch in vocals. It has come to be used almost like an instrument in itself, in a similar way to the vocoder.
When used with extreme parameters, autotune gives the voice a distinctive robotic sound, which is loved by many, and hated by perhaps even more.
Critics claim that autotune is used to cover up a lack of vocal abilities. Others simply don’t like the sound of it.
However, it has become clear that autotune can be used creatively, sometimes to spectacular effect.
Let’s find out more about how different rappers have been using autotune.
Future is a rapper who has used a great deal of autotune, and has on the whole received more criticism than praise for doing so.
That has not stopped him from becoming one of the foremost rappers of our generation.
In his early days, Future was accused of “relying” on autotune. He has also been criticised by the King of Autotune, T-Pain, for his methods.
Although T-Pain defended Future’s songwriting, about his autotune he said, “he’s thinking you just turn it on, and it happens… [but] there’s a lot of stuff you’ve gotta know about autotune before you can start using it.”
Future’s biggest autotuned hits include the 2011 track ‘Tony Montana,’ the lead single from his Pluto album.
Lil Durk is often credited as a forerunner in using autotune in rap.
In one interview, the Chicago rapper described the criticism he received for embracing the sound in the early 2010s. But as he put it, it wasn’t long before “everyone” was doing it.
“You just can’t be scared to do what you want to do,” Durk said about his use of autotune.
The way Lil Durk uses autotune contributes to his melodic and flowing vocal tone.
One of the most popular rappers today who use a large amount of autotune is Travis Scott.
Scott, who is amongst the most streamed rappers of all time, has risen to massive popularity in recent times.
Autotune has become one of the key features of Scott’s distinctive sound, demonstrated in many of the tracks on his 2018 Astroworld album, and on most releases since.
Although plenty of his rapping bars are free from autotune, many of his beats are punctuated by the glistening and robotic autotuned ad-libs that have become integral to his smooth, futuristic sound.
Young Thug has used autotune extensively in his music, with fans divided over whether he sounds better with or without it.
Thugger generally uses a natural sounding autotune, but he also uses it to create distinctive high-pitched and squealing vocal sounds, demonstrated in tracks like ‘2 Bs (Danny Glover)’ (2013).
Check out his 2016 album Slime Season 3 to experience Young Thug’s peak gurgling autotune experimentation.
One of the foremost figures in US drill, Chief Keef uses autotune heavily on a number of his tracks.
Smooth, robotic-sounding vocals are a signature part of the rapper’s sound, which give it a silky, melodic and at times poppy feel.
Some of his hits that feature autotune include ‘Citgo’ (2012) and ‘Oh My Goodness’ (2015).
Playboi Carti is a big experimenter when it comes to vocals. His music is infused with all kinds of vocal effects, baby voices, and ad-lib utterances.
Carti generally uses a less-extreme autotune, which, along with his generally wild vocal technique, makes it less noticeable in the mix.
That said, autotune is heard clearly on tracks including ‘Count It Up’ (2016), ‘dothatshit!’ (2017), and at the beginning of ‘wokeuplikethis*’ (2017) featuring Lil Uzi Vert.
Migos rapper Quavo is well-known for using autotune.
Quavo uses autotune the most out of the three Migos rappers, as well as using it heavily on his solo projects. Generally, he uses it to create smooth, gliding vocal textures.
Check out Quavo’s autotune in full effect on tracks including Migos’ ‘Kelly Price’ (2017) featuring Travis Scott, and Quavo’s feature on the Travis Scott track ‘Oh My Dis Side’ (2015).
It’s fair to say that autotune is generally used less amongst the older generation of rappers.
That said, Lil Wayne has never been shy of experimenting with it, and he has released a couple of hits that use autotune heavily.
Some Lil Wayne tunes that feature heavy autotune include ‘Prostitute Flange’ (2007) and ‘Lollipop’ (2008) featuring Static.
Kanye is an artist who has always experimented with production techniques, regularly embracing bold and unusual sounds.
To that end, in the late 00s, Kanye started to use autotune extensively in his music. Most notably, his 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak frequently uses extreme autotune.
Kanye brought in T-Pain to help him master the autotune sound on the record, and T-Pain’s influence on the record can clearly be felt.
T-Pain would later claim that Kanye did not give him the credit he deserved, and even stole some of this lyrics.
‘Love Lockdown’ and ‘Heartless’ are two well-known examples from the record that feature that extreme, smooth, sliding autotune sound.
Often referred to as the “King of Autotune” T-Pain is well-known for his frequent use of extreme autotune.
The artist has been subject to quite some criticism for his role in popularising heavy autotune usage. Allegedly, Usher told him that he had “kind of f***** up music. Like, completely.”
That did not stop him from becoming a driving force in rap in the mid 00s, with his distinctive sound becoming highly influential. Although he has his critics, few today would deny that T-Pain mastered the sound of autotune rap.
In one interview, T-Pain claimed, “I can firmly say that nobody has looked into autotune the way I have… I literally met the inventor of autotune.”
“I talked to him about the way that autotune was invented… I know for a fact that nobody has sat down in the studio and studied this s*** that much.”
You might also like: