Tonight / History
Future's Crying Robots: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Auto-Tune
by Mike Ramos
on Sat, Dec 8, 2012 at 9:35 AM
Atlanta rapper Future is arguably one of rap's biggest stars in 2012, and his voice undoubtedly one of the most ubiquitous. His appeal to both the pop and street sides of mainstream rap music is largely unmatched, thanks in part to local respect gained from grinding on the mixtape circuit, but more notably because of his now-signature use of Auto-Tune—a studio effect that has already run a full course, rising to fame before overuse killed it off. Future's robotic warbles speak as equally to "the ladies" when crooning over glossy, club-ready beats (see "Turn On the Lights") as they do to people in the streets when rapping about drugs and money over aggressive Southern "trap" bangers (see "Tony Montana," the promotional blurb for which makes sure you know that he "raps under the influence of codeine and promethazine syrup with a fake Cuban accent").
In an attempt to grasp Future's rise to fame using an already-passed trend, here are a few of the most significant moments in Auto-Tune history:
1996: Engineer Andy Hildebrand had been working with an oil company interpreting seismic data from exploration. He used an autocorrelation formula to record reflections of sound waves sent into the ground, providing a map of potential drill sites. He applies this formula to vocal pitches in music, inventing the Antares Auto-Tune software plug-in.
1998: Cher's "Believe"—widely regarded as the first mainstream song to use Auto-Tune in its popular form—is released. The specific tonal effect is produced by setting the program's "retune speed" to zero, causing the output pitch to warp to the closest note instantly instead of transitioning smoothly between them. In a later interview with Time magazine, Hildebrand says he "never figured anyone in their right mind would want to do that."