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Jack Hamilton

Jack Hamilton teaches in the departments of American Studies and Media Studies at the University of Virginia. He is also the pop critic for Slate, where he writes about music, sports, and other areas of culture. His first book, Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination, is forthcoming from Harvard University Press in fall of 2016.

“After the Future: Future, the Voice, and the Life of Auto-Tune”
Critical appraisal of Future, music’s reigning ATLien, often dwells at the intersection of human and machine. A 2014 Rolling Stone profile referred to Future as “hip-hop’s paranoid android”—a sly nod to Radiohead, rock’s own techno-human portmanteau—and similar descriptors have appeared in countless other spaces, almost always in reference to Future’s voice and his distinctive synthesis of Auto-Tune and rap. This paper explores the relationship between technology and the voice in Future’s music, and argues that in the rapper’s work we can see a subtle but profound shift in the musical logic of Auto-Tune. Unlike previous iconic uses of Auto-Tune like Cher’s “Believe,” Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, and the near-entire ouvre of T-Pain, Auto-Tune in Future’s music functions not so much as a melodic device than a subtly inflective one, creating a micro-accidentals that skitter in the interstices between pitch and timbre. Future employs Auto-Tune to create a sort of melismatic style of rap, a seemingly contradictory and jarring development for a genre not generally thought to be beholden to conventional ideals of vocal pitch. In blurring the boundary between song and speech, between “singing” and “rapping” (and indeed, newly energizing the scare-quotes around those words), Future’s music also blurs boundaries between human and machine, between organic and synthetic. What we hear in Future’s music is in fact a shift in the ontology of auto-tune from being a replacement for a musical instrument—the singing voice—into a unique instrument in itself. In Future’s deployment, Auto-Tune is not simply a way of seamlessly adjusting or ornamentally exaggerating melody, but rather a way of complicating and enhancing melody’s own relation to timbre. In so doing, this paper argues that Future’s music represents a subtle but profound revolution in the musical voice itself.

“Reflections of the Future Present”
Since his 2010 emergence as some extraterrestrial mixtape phenom fortuitously crash-landed in Atlanta, rapper/singer Future has cultivated one of the most unique and prolific voices in popular music, his warbling, Auto-Tuned rap often blurring the boundaries of speech and song, man and machine, real and unreal. In 2015 his career reached new heights: in the first half of the year alone he released the mixtapes Beast Mode and 56 Nights as well as his critically-lauded studio album, DS2, causing Complex to marvel in September that “Future already has three of the most impactful hip-hop releases of 2015.” That same month saw the release of his chart-topping album-length collaboration with Drake, What a Time to Be Alive, a work whose title felt less like a boast than an affirmation. This panel, composed of a diverse array of critics and scholars, offers a variety of responses to what we have deemed “the Future Present.” Our four papers plumb the musical and cultural implications of rap’s greatest Auto-Tune MC, including such topics Future’s position within the African American vernacular blues tradition; Future’s paradoxically confounding-yet-revelatory deployment of alter-egos; the ways Future’s distinctly inhuman voice fosters both humanity and human desire; and the lessons that an Auto-Tune rapper can teach us not simply about the current state of rap, but the future of the voice itself. “The present is histrionics,” Dave Tompkins has written of Auto-Tune. “The moment, all over the place.” Ultimately we seek a better understanding of Future’s now, and precisely what sort of time it is to be alive. 

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