In my last article, I briefly mentioned AI rapper FN Meka. Since then, a lot of controversy has sprung up around the digital rapper, but before we delve into that, let’s start at the beginning and dig into how the AI artist came to be.
FN Meka was created by Anthony Martini and Brandon Le, both co-founders of a company called Factory New. The executives proceeded to contact rapper Kyle The Hooligan to voice the IA rapper. Since then, the virtual artist has gained millions of followers on social media platforms and even gained enough traction to sign a deal with Capitol Records a few weeks ago. Just to recap, a racially ambiguous virtual artist dressed as a black stereotype was created by two non-black men, but voiced by a black man. Stay with me, it gets worse.
After signing the agreement with Capitol, FN Meka’s dark past resurfaced because, as we all know, nothing can really be erased once it has been published on the Internet. One of those skeletons included an old Instagram post, in which the virtual rapper was seen being beaten by police. The post was captioned, “POLICE BRUTALITY? That I have to do?!?! This guard keeps hitting me [with] his BATON because I’m not going to give away. I am not a RAT. Life in prison is so depressing… I wish I could get out so I could start doing [fire] music again.” Many consumers were taken aback by the post, as it seemed to make fun of the issue of police brutality we currently face in this country. Not to mention, a virtual artist created by two non-black men who perpetuate a stereotype of black culture. This caused consumers to glance at the virtual rapper out of the corner of their eyes, but little did they know that there was more to come.
Shortly after that post was rediscovered, a song the virtual rapper posted to SoundCloud in 2019 also resurfaced. The song featured lyrics in which FN Meka repeatedly used the N-word (remember the people who created the rapper). Consumers were outraged and took to social media to express not only that they disagreed with the artist using derogatory language, but also that they were surprised that Capitol Records signed him. There was already skepticism about creating AI rappers as there are plenty of talented rappers in real life who deserve recognition and shine, but the fact that this creation was trying to cash in on a stereotypical image of a black male is where we got the line.
CMG has since released an official statement that read: “CMG has severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately. We offer our deepest apologies to the black community for our insensitivity in signing off on this project without asking enough questions about fairness and the creative process behind it. We are grateful to those who have reached out to us with constructive feedback over the last few days – your input was invaluable when we made the decision to end our association with the project.”
Now, would the record label have severed ties if there wasn’t a social media buzz surrounding the lyrics? We don’t know… but a quick Google search would bring up all the previous music from the virtual artists if anyone wanted to do some real research before signing with Meka (just saying).
CMG is not the only party deflecting responsibility for racist lyrics. Co-founder Martini released a statement saying that he is not only severing ties with FN Meka, but that he was never a creator of the virtual artist. He claimed that he discovered the IA rapper a year after the resurfaced music and Instagram post were originally posted online. He stated that he didn’t join the team until early 2020 and that he had no idea what happened before then, but he takes responsibility for not doing his due diligence regarding FN Meka. Now, are you telling me that you discovered the rapper online but didn’t see the music he posted? One plus one doesn’t equal two here, but that’s none of my business. If the constant deflection of responsibility isn’t bad enough, the voice of virtual rapper Kyle The Hooligan took to Instagram to spill the tea behind his deal with Factory New.
In an exclusive interview with REVOLT, Kyle explains that the company promised him a partnership with equity, but that was far from the case. After Kyle recorded vocals for songs like “Moonwalkin,” “Cowboy,” and “Internet,” the Factory New co-founders quickly brushed him off. He had no say in what the character would look like even though they originally agreed on a partnership. He also mentioned that he hasn’t received a dime from IA’s voice work from him and found out about the deal with Capitol Records online like everyone else.
Just to recap, because this is a lot: Factory New created a stereotypical AI rapper, who tried to profit from police brutality and used racist lyrics, and then didn’t pay the black man who voiced the artist? I don’t know if this sounds more like a Tyler Perry movie or a Jordan Peele movie. Not only was this idea wrong from the start, but there are many parties that were negatively affected by a lack of due diligence and a lack of common sense. There were many hands that touched the creation of the AI before it was released, so how come NO ONE saw anything wrong with it? I think they did, but they didn’t care as long as they could profit from it.
While I’m an advocate for emerging technology, especially in the Web3 space, I disagree with companies trying to cash in on my culture and stereotypical images. It further delays the mass adoption of this new technology which, if used correctly, could be an incredible asset to artists and their consumers. I hope this is a lesson for future developers, who need to be much more cautious about creating new projects and who need to ask themselves, “Is this technology groundbreaking or, as Tameka Bazile would say, just digital blackface?”