Words from Harry Hartney
Technological developments over the past 30 years have advanced music rapidly
Music and making it has never been so accessible. Notable growths in the industry include VSTs, the transition from analog to digital recording (and the endless debates about it), and even the streaming services we now take for granted.
However, can these developments stretch to a point of no return? For Capitol Records, the answer is no.
- FN Meka was signed to Capitol Records, making the augmented reality social media star the first AI rapper to get involved with a major label.
- The AI rapper was then later dropped by CMG over issues of racial insensitivity.
- AI has an established presence in the music of the modern world and is used in the conception of a new Nirvana release and in automated mastering.
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The company’s signing (and eventual firing) of AI-generated rapper FN Meka has blossomed into a convoluted saga steeped in political, technological, and creative tension.
Brained out in 2019 by Brandon Le and Anthony Martini of VR company Factory New, FN Meka, an AI rapper, recently became the first augmented reality artist to be signed by a record label.
How it works is quite simple: FN Meka is voiced by a human, Kyle the Hooligan, while its lyrical content and melody are partially created by artificial intelligence using popular songs in selected genres. As for his design, which is the subject of controversy, the AI rapper is a cyborg with light green hair and eyes, tattoos and a golden hand. The rapper’s artificial appearance was compared to that of Tekashi 6ix9ineTrippie Redd and Lil Pump making claims of cultural appropriation and digital blackface.
Have you lost your FN mind? @capitolrecords @capitolmusic pic.twitter.com/TxbqDhJmv0
— Industry Blackout #IndustryBlackout (@industryblkout) August 23, 2022
With its appearance in 2019, FN Meka has amassed over 10 million followers on TikTok as well as 200,000 on Instagram.
Factory New have released four songs under FN Meka, “Internet” and “Moonwalking” which came out in 2019, “Speed Demon” in 2021 and “Florida Water” which was released this year. The latter really was the AI rapper’s big break, with features from Fortnite Twitch streamer Clix and Gunna from Young Stoner Life.
The news that Capitol Records had signed its first AI rapper caused an internet furore, with one of the most influential and powerful record labels in the world calling attention to the potential of AI music.
But a week later, in a height of internet rumblings over the problematic nature of AI engineering, nonprofit organization Industry Blackout penned an open letter to Capitol Records. Industry Blackout focused on FN Meka as an obnoxious caricature of black culture, calling it “a direct insult to the black community and our culture. A fusion of crude stereotypes, appropriating mannerisms stemming from black artists, complete with insults in the lyrics.
Industry Blackout also pointed to the lack of consequences that AI artists face with their lyrical content, unlike many black artists who have been jailed for lines in their songs. A specific example was an artist featured on one of Meka’s own songs, Gunna, who is currently serving a sentence of RICO charges for his association with Atlanta-based record label Young Stoner Life.
The organization’s demands were quite simple: a terminated partnership between Capitol Records and FN Meka, a formal apology, the removal of FN Meka from all platforms, and the allocation of funds spent on this project to nonprofits that support black youth in the arts.
That letter gained traction on social media platforms, eventually prompting a response from Capitol Records itself. In a statement from The New York Times journalist Joe Coscarelli, the company stated that “Effective immediately, CMG is terminating its affiliation with FN Meka- canceled the project”. Capitol Music Group also apologized to the Black community for “insensitivity” and “not asking enough questions.”
Breaking: Capitol Records “has severed ties” with AI rapper FN Meka “effective immediately” after days of backlash over the cartoon
the activist group @industrieblkout requested a formal public apology about two hours ago pic.twitter.com/arkL2OkTjv pic.twitter.com/BjfjLDfpMO
— Joe Coscarelli (@joecoscarelli) August 23, 2022
An official Instagram post, which drew heavy backlash, showing FN Meka being attacked by a police officer in prison has also resurfaced and has since been deleted. The original caption read: “POLICE BRUTALITY?? What should I do?!?! This guard hits me with his baton because I don’t tell. I am not a RAT. Life in prison is so depressing… I wish I could get out so I could start making music again.”
To further fuel the issue, the alleged voice behind artificially created rapper Kyle the Hooligan says the creators of FN Meka “ghosted” him without paying for his singing services.
FN Meka is part of a platform of AI artists under the virtual record label Factory New, with other artists including “Lil Bitcoin”, whose debut single was sold as NFT for 2.3 Ethereum, equivalent to $4,500. There is also FN NXRMAL which was passed off as Mekas “Archrival”.
While FN Meka is the first AI rapper to sign to a major label, he’s certainly not the first of his kind. Google’s Magenta AI made headlines in early 2021 for their “new” Nirvana song titled “Drowned in the sun”. Magenta’s neural network used input data from several of the band’s releases to formulate a melody and chorus, and generated lyrics that were then sung by the lead singer of a Nirvana tribute band.
Additionally, AI-engaged companies such as iZotope, Aiva Technologies and Brain.fm are at the forefront as some of the most important influences in the world of music technology today.
The influence of AI can certainly be felt throughout music, from automated mastering to generating songs for the past and present.
In one of the most bizarre music-related stories to emerge this year, FN Meka represents the impact of an increasingly volatile rise in music technology and the forces of virality.
You can learn more about AI singing here.