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Nicholas Forster

Nicholas Forster is a PhD candidate in African American Studies and Film and Media Studies at Yale University. Interested in the relationship between technology, race, sound, and history he has recently published pieces in Film Quarterly, The Journal of Popular Music Studies, and liquid blackness.

“‘You Know We Can Get Away, Because I’m Calling Your Name’: Young Thug, Melody, and the Contemporary Hip-Hop Soundscape”
Over the last 18 months commercial hip-hop has pivoted. Turning away from the interplay between Auto-Tuned hooks and verses pulsing with crunchy word play, artists such as Fetty Wap, Future, and Young Thug (YT) have emphasized the weird, the melodic, and the mellifluous. As the gap between rap and R&B grows smaller, the voice has emerged as the driving force of contemporary hip-hop. YT’s voice, especially, has given rise to journalist intrigue.

Characterizing his voice as unpredictable, post-verbal, and chaotic, critics have slotted YT in the long line of artists engaged in extra-earthly endeavors, from Sun Ra’s primal birth on Saturn to Lil Wayne’s repeated claims of being a Martian. Punctuated by the release of three mixtapes and a gigantic leak of half-mixed songs, YT’s online presence has been a consistent sculpting of shattered fragments over the last year. Focusing on the entangled relationship between voice and technology, this paper seeks to understand the voice’s relevance in hip-hop through Nathaniel Mackey’s characterization of duende, where “language itself takes over” and “sound itself rescues crippled speech.” I argue that the technologization of YT’s voice is less an exercise in scrambling language, than it is a spatializing of sound and a re-animating of time. Whether in the self-replicating echoes that seem to resonate in perpetuity or in the clipped phrasings that dart into the soundscape, YT’s voice pulls apart the threading of typical song structure. Looking at the diffusion of his music across the digital architecture of the internet and the dispersal of his voice across multiple layers of a song, I argue that YT is representative of a shift in hip-hop. Though emphasizing YT this paper stages a conversation among other musicians whose voices trouble the line including Future, Fetty Wap, and Big Sean.

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