Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reading the Rhymes: Death of Auto-Tune

Song: Death of Auto-Tune

Artist: Jay-Z

Date: 6/2009

To my knowledge the debut of "Death of Auto-Tune" came via radio, Hot 97's Funkmaster Flex and Mr. Cee. Nearly immediately after, you had FWMJ on the scene. Miss Info followed up, and the net was off to the races.

It's odd to me that even in this micro-analyzed cultural landscape, we still don't have a basic blog/tumblr whathaveyou doing a run-through on the lyrics for all the major-release hip hop songs. Something that gives a quick, intelligent meta-analysis of the content and sizes it up strictly on lyrics. If I'm missing out, shoot me a link. But it feels like this is where the audio-literary impact of hip hop is slipping through the cracks; of course the alternative is maybe there's just nothing there.

well, only one way to find out. to the lyrics, Batman!:

Lyrics (italics)

Only rapper to rewrite history without a pen
No I.D. on the track let the story begin…
begin… begin...

So most should recognize Jay's trumpeting of not writing his lyrics down. He talks and rhymes about it all the time. I suspect this investment in "spontaneous genius" might be one of hip hop's tragic flaws; but it's definitely one of Hov's.

For hip hop: between the ongoing argument of "Freestyle vs. off the dome"; and the "Biggie wrote that song in the booth" t-shirts; and "Jay wrote this album on the toilet taking a shit" hand-warmers, and "Weezy ain't never wrote nothing down ever." OMG, dude is a genius! Huh? What??

Then these same artist's wonder why the content is never taken seriously. In any event, I presume Gladwell's
Outliers has been accessible material for the intellectual hip hop set. If they're paying attention, the myth should be getting blown up.

(also, arguing against the "spontaneous genius" myth in hip hop is not a lack of appreciation for a hot freestyle; something i'd nominate as possibly the "ultimate" hip hop experience. but the industry is overly reliant for value/talent attribution. it's a crutch. and nowhere more present than in the case of jay. )

Shawn Carter didn't build his empire on being an "off the dome" performer, like a KRS or Supernatural, or Craig G., Freestyle Fellowship (all dated references, but jay is an old school guy). He's a song-writer. And a Business, man. And he's undermining his actual talents and legacy with this particular schtick.

But this is a sidebar to explore another time. We move on ...

This is anti-autotune, death of the ringtone
This ain’t for itunes, this ain’t for sing-along
This is Sinatra at the opera, bring a blonde
Preferably with a fat ass, who can sing a song

For the hip hop lyric-appreciation newbs, most verses are 16 bars. hence emcees talking "spit a hot 16" etc. what you see above is the first four bars, and that's typically where the good emcees establish tone, mood, message etc. Just like a book intro, if the book were 3 minutes long. or 48-60 bars.

Like any good writing, a voice with conviction commands more attention and respect. No passive-aggressive caveating bullshit. The wordy, tons-o-verbiage doesn't bump because it's thinking too much. It's trying too hard, for little payoff. No better example of this than Jay, who vaulted into the lyrical elite once he learned pacing. Before that, ODB was eating him up on tracks...

So yeah, obviously we're getting the point here. another translation might be: this ain't for starbucks latte drinking mofockers/ this ain't for tu-tu wearing lollipop needin' lil suckers. etc. etc.

"Sinatra at the opera" is a patented *urban-smooth-criminal* reference. when jay pays homage to Biggie it's because that's where he got the essence of his sensibility. His style. that was big's triumph; creating a voice for this loveable-alpha-male-sexist-family-guy. who can rap. I haven't run the numbers on this alchemy, but I'm thinking: Rakim + Kane + Kool G = Biggie/Jay formula. Sprinkle a little Slick rick in for storytelling. But no KRS. No Run DMC. No PE.

AnyJay, the reference might feel a little cliche, but bear in mind Jay is the template. So it's something like calling the latest edition of microsoft word cliche. Ok? also, "sinatra at the opera" has a certain old school panache no one else quite captures the same ...

Wrong, this ain’t politically correct (AHH)
This might offend my political connects (AHH)

a line like this is somewhat generic, but holds real weight cause it's Jay. the rule is: if your shit-talk is real talk, you earn points. this holds true across the board, i think. for example: all y'all dudes looking rolie polie (AHH), while i stay with my polie in Jolie (AHH). now if that's fake, it's wack. but if it's real, it's hot. Brad Pitt can say it, TAN can't. Even if my voice is hotter.

My raps don’t have melodies
This shit make jackers wanna go and commit felonies (AHH)
get your chain tooken
I may do it myself, I’m so Brooklyn (AHH)
I know we facin' a recession
But the music y'all makin' gonna make it the great depression

liberal do-gooder bloggers might have fun with this. anyone looking to play it straight in life will wince at the race-profiling of brooklyn. gives me a chuckle though thinking of the media blogger types in Park Slope being the Brooklyn that's so Jay-Z (AHH!).

The *ahh* business I think might be distracting, but it's testament to the whole pacing/verbiage thread. Jay isn't building, he's decorating the space in this case.

or your lack of aggression
Pull your skirt back down, grow a set men
yeah, this just violent
This is death of auto-tune, moment of silence

Along the Huffington-Post lines in the note above: Sexism, Stand Up! We are in the building! If you got a sack of balls, let me see you throw them mf'ers to the sky. That's how you access this in Park Slope. A little humor, a little intellectualizing. But fuck that, I'm down. The spirit of the song is alpha-male. word. So maybe i'll toss it to the feministes to handle the proper moral position, while i grab my nuts ... holla.


holdup, this ain’t a number 1 record
This is practically assault with a deadly weapon
I made this just for Flex and
Mr. Cee, I want people to feel threatened
Stop your blood clot crying
The kid, the dog, everybody dying
No lying
you boys jeans too tight
Your colors too bright, your voice too light

hipsters on blast! i guess this is the manifesto part of it. it's not really about auto-tune; it's about hyper-sensitivity, caring what everyone thinks, destroying that which is twee.

I might wear black four years straight,
I might bring back Versace shades,
This ain’t for Z-100
'Ye told me to kill yall to keep it 100
This is for Hot 9-7 -----
--- for Khaled, for we the best n’
Yeah this just violent
This is death of autotune, moment of silence…

not much more to say -- actually I could say more about jay evoking classic rock and roll. but eh. not this time. i think the broad takeaway is second verse establishes the manifesto element. at the top you might have taken it literal.

Holdup, this shit need a verse from Jeezy… ay!
I might send this to the mixtape Weezy
somebody from BMF to talk on this
Give this to a Blood, let a Crip walk on it

this is hov having fun. details, name-drops, obvious word play. first verse set the tone. second verse expanded to manifesto. now we return to close it out, reinforcing the vibe.

worth noting though, if hov's having fun, it means he's not getting serious. or truly gully. this isn't takeover. this isn't threat.

Get me foul to style on this
I just don’t need nobody to smile on this
You rappas singin too much,
Get back to rap you T-Pain’n too much (ahh)
I’m a multi-millionaire
So how is it I’m still the hardest ni**a here?

i think these are three strong, quotable couplets. obviously with the ahhs, he thought so too.

I don’t be in the project hallway
Talkin’ bout how I be in the project all day
That sounds stupid to me,
If you a gangsta, this is how you prove it to me
Yeah, just get violent
This is death of auto-tune, moment of silence

you know, i like the landing. but based on reaction i think it prob didn't translate to the crescendo he wanted. i think we go back to the beginning, and maybe he compromised too much of the aggression with the broader manifesto. he started hard, and he needed to keep escalating to make it truly bang. he's already set a high standard for what this song ended up becoming; an urban-smooth-criminal freestyle joint for the "hip hop heads". this is a businessman's street single. i like it, it's hot. but it's not a real artistic statement. just off the lyrics. not even getting into the industry context. that's a whole other story ...

la da da da… hey hey hey goodbye

worth adding: his phone call to flex after the debut, he pimped the drums. i think part of the artistic choice is servicing the track in a certain way. should have some weight in final analysis.


  1. Fucking fantastic reading.

    RE: grow a set men

    'ladies is pimps too' -- I think Jay has made it clear that his notion of (masculine) power isn't confined to the male sex, so any feministes that would have a problem with that would be misdirecting their energy

  2. Anonymous6/11/2009

    Sexist. Hypocritical. Hip Hop is so American.

  3. I don't agree with the spontaneity critique. Freestyling is so unique to hip hop. And it's the one thing that can redeem an otherwise terrible hip hop show.

  4. Anonymous6/11/2009

    I really like Jay's blowout mini-afro. How do you feel about that, TAN?

  5. Anonymous6/14/2009

    Not a great song, IMO.


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