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Mask Off

by Future

Future’s best-selling single to date, this track has been hanging around in the upper reaches of Billboard’s Hot 100 for 15 weeks at time of writing, and with good reason. Not only is its sparse combination of drum machine and flute-adorned sample ear-catchingly moody and atmospheric, but it’s also extraordinarily efficient in production terms. Both the kick and the rap are left all but free from competition as far as masking is concerned, and can effectively have all the mix real-estate they like.

In the case of the kick, it sounds like the producer’s filled this space by going to town with compression and saturation on an 808 sample, generating so much sustain and mid-range harmonic content from the fundamental pitch that it operates simultaneously as a bass note — and has then pitch-shifted that note to create a bass line that fits the music. Not a bad way to get around the perennial “How do I fit my kick with my bass?” mixing conundrum! I think the openness of the arrangement also serves Future’s rapping style well, because it allows the lyrics to remain intelligible without resorting to heavy compression that would likely have weakened the emotional impact of the drawling, super-laidback vocal delivery. In other words, there’s so little going on that he can afford to swallow weaker syllables in his characteristic way without us losing track of his meaning.

But what also really caught my ear in this track is that the rap is covered in what sound like the gently warbling artifacts of fast-release automatic pitch-correction — check out “boosting my adrenaline” at 1:15 for a particularly striking example. Now clearly this can’t be anything to do with tuning discrepancies, as Future’s rapping, for all its other qualities, is not what anyone would instinctively classify as a ‘pitched’ sound. So I’m assuming this is just another of the litany of Auto-Tune effects that hip-hop producers are using to enhance the texture and personality of a rapper’s performance. But despite the obvious stylistic precedent for this kind of thing, it just sounds too much like there’s some joker drumming their fingers on his Adam’s Apple for me to take it entirely seriously…