In my last article, I briefly touched on AI rapper FN Meka. Since then, much controversy has transpired around the digital artist but before we dig into that, let’s start from the beginning and dive into how it came about.
FN Meka was created by Brandon Le, who founded a company called Factory New. Le proceeded to reach out to emcee Kyle The Hooligan to voice the AI rapper. Since then, the virtual artist has gained millions of followers across 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 a non-Black man but then voiced by a Black man. Stay with me — it gets worse.
After signing the deal with Capitol, FN Meka’s dark past resurfaced — because as we all know, nothing can ever truly be deleted once it has been posted 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?? What Should I Do?!?! This Guard keeps beating me [with] his BATON because I won’t snitch. I ain’t no RAT. Life in prison is so depressing … I wish I could get out so I could start making [fire] music again.” Many consumers were taken aback by the post, as it seemed to mock the police brutality issue that we are currently facing in this country. Not to mention, a virtual artist created by a non-Black man perpetuating a stereotype of Black culture. This had consumers side-eyeing the virtual rapper, but little did they know, there was more to come.
Shortly after that post was rediscovered, a song that was published on SoundCloud by the virtual rapper back in 2019 resurfaced as well. The song included lyrics in which FN Meka repeatedly used the N-word (remember the man who created the rapper). Consumers were outraged and took to social media to not only voice that they weren’t OK with the artist using the derogatory language, but that they were also shocked Capitol Records signed off on it. There was already skepticism about AI rappers being created, as there are plenty of real-life talented rappers who deserve recognition and shine, but the fact that this creation was trying to profit off of a stereotypical image of a Black man is where everyone drew the line.
Since then, CMG put out an official statement that said, “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 this project without asking enough questions about equity and the creative process behind it. We thank those who have reached out to us with constructive feedback in the past couple of days — your input was invaluable as we came to the decision to end our association with the project.”
Now, would the record label have cut ties if there was not a social media uproar surrounding the lyrics? We don’t know … but a quick Google search would show all of the virtual artist’s previous music if someone wanted to do actual research before signing Meka (just saying).
Meka’s manager Anthony Martini also released a statement. Martini said that not only is he severing ties with FN Meka, he also had no hand in creating the virtual artist. The manager said he discovered the AI rapper a year after the resurfaced music and Instagram post were originally published online. Martini didn’t join the team until early 2020 and insisted he had no idea what took place before then, but takes responsibility for not doing his due diligence regarding FN Meka. The voice of the virtual rapper, Kyle The Hooligan, also spoke out to spill the tea behind his deal with Factory New.
In an exclusive interview for REVOLT, Kyle explains that the company promised him a partnership with equity included, but that was far from the case. After Kyle recorded vocals for songs such as “Moonwalkin,” “Cowboy,” and “Internet,” the founder of Factory New quickly ghosted him. He mentioned that he hasn’t received a dime from his AI voice work and found out about the Capitol Records deal online like everybody else.
Just to recap, because this is a lot: Factory New created a stereotypical AI rapper, who tried to profit off of police brutality and use racist lyrics, and then didn’t pay the Black man who voiced the artist? I don’t know if this is sounding more like a Tyler Perry or Jordan Peele movie. Not only was this idea wrong from the start, but there were so many parties that were negatively affected by the lack of due diligence and the lack of common sense. There were a lot of hands that touched the AI creation before it went viral, so how did NO ONE see anything wrong with it? I believe they did but didn’t care as long as they were able to profit from it.
While I am an advocate for emerging technology, especially in the Web3 space, I am not OK with companies trying to profit off of my culture and off of stereotypical images. It further delays the mass adoption of this new technology, which, if used correctly, could be an amazing asset to artists and their consumers. I hope this is a lesson for future developers, who need to be a lot more cautious with building out new projects and who need to ask themselves, “Is this innovative technology or, as Tameka Bazile would put it, just digital Blackface?”