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Five years ago today, the highly-anticipated third installment in Jay Z's Blueprint series finally became a reality, as Jay premiered the album's first official single, "D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)" on Hot 97. After T-Pain broke through to the mainstream in 2005, the rapper-turned-singer's auto-tuned style spawned countless imitators and adopters and ruled both the charts and the airwaves, simultaneously frustrating and delighting listeners, depending on which side of the fence you were on. When Kanye West dropped his desperately-anguished 808s And Heartbreak in November 2008, it marked a newfound acceptance for the form and a bold new direction for Kanye's career as he transitioned away from the sped-up-soul beats and tongue-in-cheek punchlines that he'd built his career on.
Six months later, Jamie Foxx and T-Pain's torturously-auto-tuned "Blame It" was wrapping up a 14-week run on top of the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and Jay Z had apparently seen enough. With lyrics like "This is anti-auto-tune/Death of the ringtone/This ain’t for iTunes/This ain’t for sing-alongs" and "My raps don’t have melodies/This should make niggas wanna go and commit felonies/Get your chain tooken/I may do it myself, I’m so Brooklyn," he made his point loud and clear. Many people responded—T-Pain and Lil Wayne among them—and others thought that the song was a pointed shot straight at Kanye (since the two embarked on Watch The Throne shortly after, it probably wasn't). But either way, the heir to The Notorious B.I.G.'s throne had spoken, and the matter may have been settled.
Except it wasn't. The track, and the wave of anti-auto-tune that followed, may have sent T-Pain into exile, but as 808s And Heartbreak became latently appreciated for its brutal honesty and bold sound, auto-tune persisted in the hip-hop world. And then came Future, the Dungeon Family-affiliated hook-master from Atlanta who unabashedly broke through to hip-hop stardom by mangling his vocals to such a degree that the phrase "unintelligible Future verse" was celebrated as something positive rather than cringe-worthy. It was Future, as well as the persistence of Kanye and Wayne, who pulled the effect back from the dead, paving the way for the Kirko Bangzes, Rich Homie Quans and Young Thugs—not to mention T-Pain's pseudo-comeback—that we have on our hands today.
Auto-Tune may have started out with a bad rap, but since Hov tried to kill it five years ago, hip-hop has seen plenty of great songs that lean on the effect. XXL has put together 30 of those to commemorate the anniversary of auto-tune's "death." Turn up. —Christopher Harris, Marvin Jules and XXL Staff
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Future featuring Drake
Why It's Dope: It seems like trap production and auto-tune are a match made in heaven. Future's auto-tuned crooning, and a feature verse from Drizzy make for an automatic club banger.
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"All I Do Is Win"
DJ Khaled featuring Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross and T-Pain
Why It's Dope: As with almost every Khaled single, this song is jam packed with features, but "the straw that stirs the drink," so to speak, is T-Pain. His auto-tuned hook is what makes the song memorable.
autotune doa dj khaled i'm on one
YC featuring Future
Why It's Dope: This song, Young Chris's biggest hit to date, was arguably the song of the summer back in 2011. Future continues to showcase his hit-making hook skills on this song, making for a banger.
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Why It's Dope: This was the song that introduced most of the world to the sensation known as Young Thug. Thug’s unique style is showcased on this track, from the buzzing auto-tuned hook, to his erratic rhyme style on verses.
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“Zan Wit That Lean”
Why It's Dope: The carefree feel of this song, paired with the repetitive, albeit catchy hook, makes for a banger. You almost forget that the song is actually about Xanax and Codeine...almost.
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Why It's Dope: For one, this video is a throwback to when Durk had dreads, which is dope in and of itself. As for the song, this is a by-the-book Chicago Drill anthem; chant-like auto-tuned hooks, booming trap production, and dark content about street life. Durk hit a home run with this one, and got himself in with the Coke Boys with the French Montana-assisted remix.
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T-Pain featuring Mack Maine & Snoop Dogg
Why It's Dope: The auto-tune king T-Pain himself delivers another banger with a memorable hook, and he even raps on the first verse. Add verses from Gs Mack Maine and Snoop Dogg, and you have a list of commandments you better follow.
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Why It's Dope: Keef delivers yet another hit on this track. What makes this track dope though, is that it is a far cry from some of his other popular hits as it pertains to production. Opting for a more melodic type of beat worked well on this track, allowing Keef to shine with his patented “sing rap” style.
autotune doa chief keef hold my liquor
rich homie quan
“Some Type Of Way”
Rich Homie Quan
Why It's Dope: Almost everybody felt some type of way when this track dropped, and that feeling was overwhelmingly positive. It’s hard to deny the dopeness of this song, aided by the auto-tuned vocals of Rich Home Quan, and the undeniably catchy hook from the XXL 2014 Freshman.
autotune doa rich homie quan
Why It's Dope: The almost ethereal production of this song makes the listener feel as if they are being transported to another world. The robotic-like, auto-tuned vocals add to the otherworldly feeling of this song. Adding a verse from Biggie to set the song off is never a bad idea, though the fact that Diddy does it again and again can make it lose its novelty.
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Why It's Dope: If we’re going to be honest, this track is one of Future’s best. From the bumping trap production, to Future’s catchy hook, this song is surely one that almost everyone can bump to. And as with any great hook, "I'm just bein' honest" became a catchphrase in the hip-hop lexicon, standing tall alongside the likes of "Started from the bottom" and "I woke up in a new Bugatti."
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French Montana featuring Rick Ross, Diddy, Chinx, Lil Durk, and Jadakiss
Why It's Dope: Didn’t we say before that trap production and auto-tune were a match made in heaven? This star-studded, auto-tune heavy record is a great example of that. With verses from some of the top rappers in the game right now, there was no way this song wouldn’t be dope.
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kanye west runaway
Kanye West featuring Pusha T
Why It's Dope: Similar to many of the tracks on his previous album 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye’s heartfelt “toast to the douchebags” depicted a more emotional side of him. Instead of using auto-tune throughout the entire song, West reserves the effect for the closing four minutes, distorting his voice so much that the lyrics become indecipherable. While the track received rave reviews and landed atop many publications’ year-end lists, it was not awarded.
autotune doa kanye west runaway
"Dancin' On Me”
DJ Webstar and Jim Jones featuring Juelz Santana
Why It's Dope: This timeless tune is still being played in clubs across the country. DJ Webstar’s production and auto-tune heavy hook helped turn the track into a widespread dance record. With Jim Jones and Juelz spewing carefree lyrics, you couldn’t help but bust a move to the beat, even if it meant failing miserably.
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"I’m On One"
DJ Khaled featuring Drake, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross
Why It's Dope: Most hip-hop fans can remember the time and place when they first heard “I’m On One.” DJ Khaled rounded up the genre’s heavy hitters, Drake, Lil Wayne, and Rick Ross to create one of the most infectious anthems of the year. While each rapper held their own during their respective verses, Drake used auto-tune to assist him on the hook. Grammy voters felt “I’m On One” was worthy of a nomination but Kanye’s “All Of The Lights” took home the award for Best Rap Collaboration instead.
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“Turn On The Lights”
Why It's Dope: After pumping out three solid singles for the streets (“Tony Montana,” “Magic,” “Same Damn Time”) Future switched things up with his fourth single, “Turn On The Lights.” This time around, he chose to address the ladies, crooning a catchy chorus in search of a special someone. The song eventually became the most successful release from Future’s debut album Pluto, reaching gold status, but it's best remembered for the slightly desperate, semi-triumphant energy of the hook.
autotune doa future turn on the lights
“Young And Gettin’ It”
Meek Mill featuring Kirko Bangz
Why It's Dope: Some fans disliked Meek Mill’s decision to use auto-tune on “Young And Gettin’ It,” his collaborative turn-up track featuring Kirko Bangz, but both rappers used the effect well over a Jahlil Beats-laced production.
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K. Camp featuring Kwony Cash
Why It's Dope: ”Money Baby” helped introduce the world to K Camp, a young rapper from hip-hop’s Atlanta hotbed. The song struck a chord in strip clubs across the country and even landed on national radio stations and paved the way for his deal with Interscope. The best part? Camp told XXL in December that he freestyled the entire song.
autotune doa k camp money baby
“We Dem Boyz”
Why It's Dope: Hol’ up, Wiz Khalifa has another anthem on his hands. The lead single off his upcoming Blacc Hollywood album features Trap Wiz calling shots with a hint of auto-tune on his vocals. Although the record is fairly new, it sure sounds like it will get spins for years to come.
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Future featuring Kanye West
Why It's Dope: Let’s be honest, Kanye and Future have two of the hottest wives in the entertainment industry. They hit the jackpot. So the fellas decided to dedicate a song to their trophy wives and rejoice over their victory. Here, Future leans on the auto-tune (as usual), to hit the high notes for his honey.
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Ace Hood featuring Future
Why It's Dope: Ace Hood and Future teamed up over a hard-hitting Mike WiLL Made It beat to create one of the biggest hits of 2013. Future’s fierce auto-tune-infused vocals on the chorus, somehow made everybody feel worthy enough to find themselves in a new Bugatti in the morning. Ironically, both rappers have admitted to not actually owning the sports car.
autotune doa ace hood
T-Pain featuring B.O.B
Why It's Dope: This is arguably the song that brought T-Pain back into the limelight as a solo artist, and for good reason. The DJ Mustard-produced record is an absolute banger of a track that allows T-Pain to fully showcase his auto-tuned vocal skills. A slick verse from B.O.B solidifies the song.
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“Dis Ain’t What You Want”
Why It's Dope: This song showcases a more refined Durk; one that sings his own hooks, and whose rhymes are much more pointed and concise. This track had the streets in Chicago on fire when Signed To The Streets first dropped.
autotune doa lil durk dis ain't what you want
“Karate Chop (Remix)"
Future featuring Lil Wayne
Why It's Dope: Future and Lil Wayne trade verses filled with syrupy slick talk using a stuttered staccato delivery. The track garnered a bit of controversy due to Lil Wayne’s "Emmett Till” lyric, and although Wayne apologized to the Till family, Mountain Dew decided to revoke his lucrative endorsement deal. The Metro Boomin banger also inspired an official remix featuring Rick Ross, French Montana, and Birdman. None of them chose to use auto-tune.
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“How To Love”
Why It's Dope: “How to Love” showed fans a different side of Lil Wayne. The self-proclaimed “best rapper alive” took a break from churning out hardcore hits to sing an entire song about love, with the help of auto-tune. Hate it or love it, the track went 4x platinum and it’s one of Lil Wayne’s biggest singles on Billboard charts.
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“Blood On The Leaves”
Why It's Dope: Kanye flipped Nina Simone’s 1960s ballad “Strange Fruit” to create “Blood on the Leaves,” the third single off his polarizing sixth studio album, Yeezus. Ye’ uses the auto-tune to emphasize his anguish throughout the track, as he clears his mind of a failed relationship.
kanye west autotune doa blood on the leaves
“Drank In My Cup”
Why It's Dope: Kirko Bangz burst onto the scene in 2011 with his mega-hit “Drank In My Cup.” The young Houston rapper catered to the ladies on the track but didn’t forget to acknowledge his drank, fixing up his vocals to acknowledge it properly.
autotune doa kirko bangz drank
Rich Gang featuring Future
Why It's Dope: YMCMB supergroup Rich Gang joined forces on “Tapout” to craft a certified club banger. Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Birdman, and Mack Maine make up the nucleus of the Young Money Cash Money militia, so it’s always entertaining to see them come together to trade verses on a track. Recruiting Future to croon over the chorus proved to be the perfect added ingredient for the gang’s winning recipe, even if his "All I want to do is touch it" section of the hook took about 75 listens to really understand.
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Pusha T featuring Kanye West and Rick Ross
Why It's Dope: Kanye produced and appeared alongside Rick Ross and Pusha T on “Hold On.” While Push and Ross boast about their dope dealing accomplishments and lament the issues that come with it, Kanye hums throughout the song in auto-tune, giving the gritty track a melodic feel to it. His riffs sound effortless, as if he has finally mastered the voice enhancing tool.
autotune doa pusha t rick ross
"Hold My Liquor"
Kanye West featuring Chief Keef
Why It's Dope: On an album with minimal features, it was cool to see Kanye commissioning one of the Windy City's brightest stars, Chief Keef, to join him on this track. Keef's auto-tuned vocals do a great job of setting the somber and semi-desperate tone for the rest of the song.