Record Companies Are Replacing Corny Rappers With Cornier Virtual Ones
Capitol Records has announced the signing of a Rap artist named FN Meka this month. However, this signing is noteworthy because FN Meka is a virtual artist who, using artificial intelligence, has made songs that have gone viral on TikTok, where Meka has over 10 million followers.
Ryan Ruden, Capitol Music Group’s Executive Vice President of Experiential Marketing & Business Development, tells Music Business Worldwide‘s Murray Strassen that the label’s newest artist “meets at the intersection of music, technology and gaming culture,” adding that this deal “is just a preview of what’s to come.” For a record company known for putting out product by The Beatles and Beastie Boys, as well as MC Hammer and Chingy, the move is bold but rather disturbing.
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As a bot, FN Meka leans into caricature and stereotypes. Green hair, a nose ring, braids, and face tattoos, while an appearance not unlike an XXXTentacion, 6ix9ine, or Lil Pump, takes cultural appropriation to the virtual world. In the opinions of creators and an 80-year-old record label, this is what a Rap artist looks like.
Anthony Martini is one of the people behind FN Meka. He served as the co-founder of Factory New, the virtual record label Meka partnered with before Capitol joined the fold. Martini shared plans with Music Business Worldwide. “As of now, a human voice performs the vocals, but we are working towards the ability to have a computer come up with and perform its own words – and even collaborate with other computers as ‘co-writers.'” Anthony also shared that his company “developed proprietary AI technology that analyzes certain popular songs of a specified genre and generates recommendations for the various elements of song construction: lyrical content, chords, melody, tempo, sounds, etc.” These elements are combined and taken into consideration to create a song.
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However, longtime fans of Rap music made by humans may disagree with the merits of FN Meka’s talent. Capitol’s first release with Meka is “Florida Water,” a song that also features multi-platinum YSL/300 artist Gunna and gaming influencer Clix—a personality who found notoriety on Twitch. The song has over 1 million Spotify streams since its release, and does not allow user comments on YouTube. Gunna is currently awaiting trial alongside his mentor, Young Thug, in a highly-publicized and controversial arrest and RICO charge.
DJ Drama, a DJ and executive known for a strong hand in the careers of artists ranging from Lil Wayne and Jeezy to Lil Uzi Vert and Jack Harlow, introduces the song where a virtual rapper begins his verse: “Too many ones in those / Thumbin’ through these racks my system overload” and “Give me that Patek, need that AP, need that zaza / You know I flex, the disrespect, to me that’s not down / Artifact on my feet, see the agua / Tesla, Gucci, Cybertruck, I reck that sh*t, don’t give a f*ck / Like oh, just put in my tab / I don’t see the prices, throw it in my bag / Always in a foreign when I dash.” Even a robot appears motivated by name-brand luxuries in its road to the riches.
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Earlier this month, Facebook/Meta’s BlenderBot 3 artificial intelligence chat-bot was in the news for making remarks rooted in anti-Semetic conspiracies and false claims related to the 2020 election, according to Mashable. Last year, a Google bot was accused of showing sexist and racist biases. Six years ago, a Microsoft bot was shut down within 48 hours of launch—after reportedly praising Adolf Hitler.
At a time when robots are already replacing humans in the traditional workforce, AI artists take it one step further. As independent artistry is competing with major labels on the charts and award shows, this development may be more way to reduce costs and make music rooted in Black and Brown art—without having to pay a real artist of any race—while artificially generating the desired features. While there have been virtually-themed acts before, such as The Gorillaz, there was real art and talent behind it. For now, FN Meka occupies on a spot on a Capitol roster that includes multi-faceted artists such as Masego, where these two entities may compete for resources.
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A Tribe Called Quest’s 1996 song “Phony Rappers” may have been more prophetic than Hip-Hop Heads once thought.
#BonusBeat: Find plenty of dope Hip-Hop songs made by actual humans on the “art-official” Ambrosia For Heads playlist: