In one of the most spectacular and rapid rises and falls in recent music history, the rapper FN Meka has been discontinued by his label less than two weeks after Capitol Music Group first announced the deal, citing a gruesome online paper trail of racist, offensive and culturally insensitive content. FN Meka has gained a massive social media presence since debuting in 2019, amassing over 220,000 Instagram followers and another 10.3 million on TikTok, but it only took a few days of viral backlash for the artist to drop digital grace.
[Related: How artificial intelligence exploded over the past decade.]
FN Meka is not “real”, as he is a sensitive person. AI generated rap avatar created by Anthony Martini and Brandon Le in 2019 which draws on proprietary music technology from an industry development company called Vydia to generate rhythms, melodies and even the lyrics “created using thousands of data points compiled from video games and social media” which are then rapped by an anonymous human to real songs. Singles like “Walk on the moon” and “Florida water,” the latest of which even has a music video with guest spots from real human rappers, has garnered millions of plays.
But while FN Meka’s data points derive from human emotions and experiences, the end result has long been an uncomfortable, socially deaf project whose avatar raps about and posts on social media about his “experiences” with the complex. prison industry, police brutality, and racism. Following Capitol’s announcement earlier this month, one of FN Meka’s Instagram entries in particular has gone viral due to its absurdly insensitive content clearly crafted to explicitly reference the true trauma of black men.
industry breakdowna nonprofit dedicated to pursuing racial equity in the music industry, called Capitol’s decision to partner with Martini and Le’s Factory New Imprint via social networks earlier today. “While we applaud innovation in technology that connects listeners to music and enhances the experience, we find fault with the lack of awareness of the offensiveness of this cartoon,” the band said in a statement. “This is a direct insult to the black community and our culture. An amalgamation of crude stereotypes, appropriative ways that derive from black artists, with insults infused into the lyrics.
Talk with The New York Times Yesterday, Martini still chose to defend his creation but anticipated Capitol backtracking, blaming “the blogs that hung on to a clickbait headline and created this narrative.” He also cited FN Meka’s human voice as belonging to a black man and praised the people behind the project as “actually one of the most diverse teams you can get – I’m the only white person involved”.
[Related: This new AI tool from Google could change the way we search online.]
Capitol, for its part, strikes a more apologetic tone during the fallout. “We sincerely apologize to the black community for our insensitivity to signing off on this project without asking enough questions about fairness and the creative process behind it,” the company said in a statement. “We thank those who provided us with constructive feedback over the past two days. Your input was invaluable when we made the decision to end our association with the project.”
It is unclear what will happen to FN Meka in the future, as well as the technology behind it. Even stripped of its problematic underpinnings and foundations of cultural appropriation, the creation of a completely artificial artist and brand has enormous implications for both the entertainment industry and creative work in general. The discussions surrounding the integrity, originality, and innate humanity within AI-derived art are as endless as its possibilities to go horribly and uncomfortably awry.
“The question was: how to break an avatar as if it was a real artist and not a show? It unfortunately turned into a show anyway,” Martini said during his chat with The New York Times. “…Some of the early content, now if you take it out of context, it obviously looks worse or different than expected.”