At this point in human history, no musician should be forced to defend autotune. The digital tool was originally developed to fix minor vocal mistakes made during the recording process, but its late-aught rise to the mainstream courtesy of about a million rappers—most notably T-Pain—drew ire from purists (ugh, purists) to the point that Usher told T-Pain in 2013 that its use “ruined music.” Those comments reportedly sent T-Pain into a depression; perhaps in parallel, autotune became more rarified, but as digital collaboration in the hip-hop sphere becomes more and more commonplace, and as Soundcloud rappers interact and write together across borders, autotune is making a strong comeback.
Even Santa Fe plays host to a burgeoning scene.
“Autotune is...wow, how do I say this?” queries Hezekiah Farrell, a local MC, producer, dancer and circus artist. “OK, couple things: Autotune is inhumanly beautiful. The things you can do, the way you’re able to make melodies—you can do the craziest things with autotune.”
Farrell goes by Love Doctor on his new mixtape, Pressure Vol. 1, a 12-track collaboration featuring nine MCs, producers and engineers—all from Santa Fe and all interested in challenging the notions of music and beat production, lyricism and autotune’s place in the hip-hop pantheon. Farrell’s the only MC you’ll find on every song, and his flow feels both very much contemporary but with old-school soulful flavors. Pressure Vol. 1 hit Soundcloud on July 1, but it all started during an unassuming trip to Philadelphia in February.
“My girlfriend and I were in the house a while for the quarantine, so we went to Philly just for a change, and it was so dope,” Farrell recalls. “Art everywhere, murals everywhere, music...it was very inspirational, and I was trying to get with these [Santa Fe] guys idowhatvr and ChapterMillion before I went out there—that didn’t happen, but I made a song while I was there and sent it to them, and homies sent it back in 30 minutes. When I got that kind of response, I immediately sent out seven other songs to seven other people.”
That first song is called “Aphrodisiac” and appears on the new mixtape. A smooth and sexual autotune bonanza, Farrell says he culled from his reality and his desires when writing; music production and lyricism are nothing new to Farrell. He grew up in a house devoted to hip-hop. His father, from whom he says he’s estranged, was a hip-hop artist and signed with a label in his 20s; his mother, the writer Oriana Lee, also spits verse.
“There was always music and beat machines around the house. Hip-hop is very ingrained in my family, almost like a religion,” Farrell explains. “[My siblings and I] have always been around that, and because my parents rap, we even rapped for school. I was, like, 11 when I started freestyling.”
Later, as a teen, Farrell would produce nearly 500 songs—only to erase them all.
“I didn’t think they were good enough,” he posits with a laugh.
That was when he was 18; he’s 22 now, and has been producing constantly in those four years. Part of it is the hip-hop love, part of it was falling in love with sound. Farrell has worked freelance for numerous musicians and rappers and designed sound and foley for the Santa Fe Playhouse. He balks at the concept of claiming the self-taught mantle, but points to YouTube tutorials, books about audio and home experimentation as his main teachers.
“I’m my own coach, if that makes sense,” he says.
Call it what you like, Pressure Vol. 1 has a studio quality sound, even if creating hip-hop is far more accessible than other genres according to Farrell.
“Everything is so digital now, but 20, 30 years ago everything was all hardware,” he points out. “Everything now is in Logic or whatever software you use—you could have a studio just by spen-ding money for the computer. You don’t even need speakers, just headphones.”
Another blow for purists, perhaps, but another step in the democratization of releasing music. With Love Doctor, Farrell not only pushes Santa Fe hip-hop forward, he’s got the beginnings of something excellent.
“We’re just trying to make fun shit,” he says.