Auto-tune is out of whack in the Milwaukee rap scene

Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre rap chronicle covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trendsand anything that catches his eye.

Milwaukee’s street-rap scene is obsessed with Auto-Tune to the max, reminiscent of early 2010s rap swag, 1017 Thug-era Young Thug and Chief Keef’s robotic chirps have gone to 100. But just like their influences, these electronically-enhanced MCs use a tool designed for perfection to augment their imperfections. They tell stories of credit card scams and dope cooking to beats that could have been done ten years ago, while sounding like cyborgs.

It’s not exactly a new trend in Milwaukee. In 2019, Chicken P and Jigg released one of the city’s iconic rap songs to date, “Fast Cash Babies”, which is drowned out in Auto-Tune. Then there was Mari Boy Mula Mar, whose Auto-Tune-assisted streak of local hits in 2019 and 2020 mixed human sounds with digitally altered sounds as well as any descendant of Thug. So the current wave of distorted, mechanical scene crooning makes sense, even if rappers elsewhere aren’t exactly on their wavelength. In popular rap at least, Auto-Tune is most often used to sound somewhat naturalistic and to capture R&B sensibilities – think current incarnations of Future and Lil Durk. In Milwaukee they use it to look like monsters.

Here are some of my favorite Auto-Tune cuts of Milwaukee rap from this year.

Big Pee is having too much fun with the power of Auto-Tune. It’s like when you teach a child what inhaling helium from a balloon does to their voice and it won’t stop. Throughout “Farewell,” Pee can hardly get through a line without belting out like he’s Chaka Khan singing the national anthem. I would tell him to relax, but that exaggeration is part of what makes the scene’s infatuation with the tool so great.

For the past few months, Certified Trapper has flooded their YouTube page almost daily, posting short, catchy songs along with self-recorded music videos filmed in the same two or three locations. He doesn’t always use Auto-Tune, although when you’re as prolific as he is, the mix doesn’t hurt. On “Freak Like Me,” over drums and clapping that might appear on a mixtape hosted by DJ Spinz, he experiments with altering his voice. Her voices eventually overlap, creating an eerie echo that makes the lines linger long after they’ve left her mouth.

If used in a certain way, Auto-Tune can make your voice sound cold, but used in another way, it can help release a soulful, emotional edge. Jonny Blves doesn’t exactly say anything that profound on “Lose By Yourself,” but it sounds like he is. From the opening seconds of his whispering “Let me talk my shit” to the raucous improvisations, details that might have originally been inconsequential make sense with a few crucial pitch tweaks.

1LilRB shares some traits with Southern pain rappers, like NoCap and Rylo Rodriguez, except his music is much faster. He is fired from a cannon on “Who RB” and does not press the brake for the entire minute and a half. Compared to others locally, its use of Auto-Tune is reduced but still weird.

Two of Milwaukee’s top rappers with Auto-Tune, TrapBaby and Big Haulin, team up with two of Milwaukee’s top sans, MarijuanaXO and Joe Pablo. The latter may have a joint mixtape that is part of the 2022 shortlist (window service), but the computerized melodies of TrapBaby and Big Haulin are the draw of “POD”. Check out Haulin’s “Outside” for a full out-of-body experience.

Big Homie Dre Cash looks like he teleported from the blurred area. Not only is Auto-Tune enabled, but the unusually high tone makes it sound like a cartoon alien. I especially like how each line ends with robotic “uggghhhs”, which are more eye-catching than they have any right to be. Strangely, the overuse of Auto-Tune made me think of the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow”. It’s way cooler, though.

Retro Rapper Movie Corner: The 2002s Undisputed

Occasionally throughout Undisputed, a 2002 prison boxing drama directed by Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames, a song produced by Mannie Fresh will start playing, and every time it’s frankly shocking. Its distinctly choppy drum patterns aren’t normally what you hear in movies. The film’s soundtrack was composed by Cash Money shortly after Juvenile and BG left the label, i.e. it’s mostly C-list material. There is however a song Particularly memorable: The title track “Undisputed” is the soundtrack to the opening credits and features a hard verse from Lil Wayne and a punchy beat from Mannie Fresh.

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