A dive into the controversies surrounding this pseudo-virtual rapper.
In the past two years, we have seen companies jump in on various trendy tech products and services. From buying land in the metaverse and hiring virtual influencers to promote their brands to creating NFTs for their products—companies are waiting with bated breath to be the first ones to adopt the latest tech innovations.
Following along with all things virtual, we are now seeing virtual artists’ entry into the music scene. One such artist is the “AI (artificial intelligence) robot rapper” FN Meka (you’ll find out why we used quotation marks soon enough!). FN Meka recently gained significant media attention when it was signed on and almost immediately dropped by the American record label Capitol Records. If you’re wondering who FN Meka is and why it was fired by the record label, here is a look at everything you need to know about this rapper.
Who is FN Meka?
FN Meka was created (or as they describe it, “signed on”) by the virtual record label Factory New and made its social media debut in 2019. While FN Meka has been describing itself as a rapper right from when it first showed up, it actually became popular on TikTok for its over-the-top hypebeast (a person obsessed with acquiring fashionable items) lifestyle. In some of its TikTok videos, you can see his Gucci-wrapped Tesla Cybertruck, PS5 with Starbucks marketing on it as well as other unique products from designer brands, like Off White, Louis Vuitton and Supreme.
As of August this year, FN Meka has a billion views on TikTok and more than 500,000 subscribers on Spotify. It has released four songs so far in its career, including three singles —“Moonwalkin”, “Internet” and “Speed Demon”—and “Florida Water”, its collaboration with rapper Gunna and Fortnite streamer Clix. FN Meka was signed on by Capitol Records on August 14 this year and released “Florida Water” as its first and only song with the label.
FN Meka’s problematic past
The reason the rapper was dropped only a week after making his debut with Capitol Records was because of the use of the n-word on both its 2019 singles “Internet” and “Moonwalkin”. For those who may not know, the origins of the n-word can be traced back to slavery which is why it is considered extremely derogatory towards the Black community. Despite its origins, the word is being reclaimed by the Black community today as a symbol of brotherhood and the mutual struggle against racism.
What makes FN Meka’s use of this word problematic is the fact that the project has only one Black person connected to it. The team behind the project hired Kyle the Hooligan, a Black rapper to voice FN Meka’s songs. However, others that were involved with the project, such as the founder of NFT brand RTFKT Studio Chris Lee and the founders of the rapper’s label Factory New, Anthony Martini and Brandon Le aren’t Black.
What’s more, the release of racially insensitive content didn’t stop with the songs. FN Meka also received criticism from a Black rights non-profit organization, Industry Blackout, for posting photos depicting police brutality. The Black community in the U.S. has been frequently subjected to police brutality, so much so that it led to mass protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. “This digital effigy is a careless abomination and disrespectful to real people who face real consequences in real life,” said the non-profit in an open letter they sent to Capitol Records about FN Meka.
Is FN Meka actually an “AI robot rapper”?
Now that we know FN Meka created such controversial content, it’s important to question how the said content was produced in the first place. Martini, one of the people behind FN Meka, says that it was made by using data from video games and social media. He also added that the company has developed an AI which analyzes popular music and makes recommendations on song composition for FN Meka’s tracks.
Previously, we have written about several AI projects, such as Dall-E mini, Codex and LaMDA. All these AIs have been trained on information from the internet and can create art code or simply have conversations all by themselves. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with FN Meka. Martini has himself come out to say that his statements on AI’s involvement in creating FN Meka may have come across as confusing, clarifying that FN Meka’s songs were written and performed by humans. This clarification has also been confirmed by Kyle the Hooligan who says that he wrote and sang the first three songs by FN Meka—and Kyle hadn’t been paid for his work.
That puts the “AI” part of the equation into question. Let’s tackle the word “robot” next. Robotics involves creating a physical robot that can then perform tasks without further intervention, but—again—this isn’t the case with FN Meka. He doesn’t have a physical presence but rather is a product of computer graphics.
So, what can we learn from this?
“Not to get all philosophical… but what is an ‘artist’ today? Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavors?” Ironically, this quote from Martini best sums up the situation surrounding FN Meka. It was a vessel for a commercial endeavor that went wrong.
For the record, this isn’t Factory New’s only buzzword-friendly musician. The company also launched “crypto rapper” (we’re honestly not even sure what that means) Lil’ Bitcoin in March this year. The fact that FN Meka is neither an AI nor a robot should tell us how easy it is for companies to just use buzzwords as get-rich-quick schemes. For now, all we can hope is that the companies behind these “AI” musicians or artists will use this situation as a lesson to be careful with the kind of content they put out.
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Header image courtesy of FN Meka’s Twitter handle.