On Aug. 12, AI-powered rapper FN Meka signed a record deal with Capitol Records, becoming the first digital artist to sign with a major label. Eleven days later, the deal was terminated amidst calls that the character promoted “gross stereotypes” of Black culture, as reported by the New York Times.
The voice behind the character has also come forward to say to XXL that he has never been paid for his involvement in the project.
The virtual rapper has a large digital presence, with 10.3 million TikTok followers and 222,000 Instagram followers. He was created by media company Factory New, which is cofounded by Anthony Martini and Brandon Le. The two men told Music Business News last year that FN Meka was created by “using thousands of data points compiled from video games and social media.” They also say that while the character’s voice comes from a real human, his lyrics and all other elements of his rapping are generated by AI.
Since the digital rapper’s recent online attention, FN Meka has received negative criticism for his mannerisms and online presence. Many took issue with the character using the N-word in his lyrics, and others called out depictions of police brutality on the rapper’s social media.
After being signed by Capitol Records, FN Meka dropped a debut song titled “Florida Water,” featuring Gunna and gaming streamer Clix. On Aug. 23, activist group Industry Blackout released a statement calling for Capitol Records to sever ties with the AI rapper, citing the character to be “a direct insult to the Black community and our culture.”
The statement also directly criticizes FN Meka’s collaboration with Gunna on the debut song, stating “This digital effigy is a careless abomination and disrespectful to real people who face real consequences in real life. For example, Gunna, a Black artist who is featured on a song with FN Meka, is currently incarcerated for rapping the same type of lyrics this robot mimics. The difference is, your artificial rapper will not be subject to federal charges for such.” Gunna is currently indicted on racketeering charges for his involvement with the YSL gang.
Hours after Industry Blackout’s statement, Capitol Records announced it would be severing ties with FN Meka, effective immediately. In the label’s statement, it offered an apology to the Black community for the initial signing, stating, “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.”
Later that same day, real human rapper Kyle the Hooligan took to social media to further condemn FN Meka and Factory New. Kyle provided his voice for FN Meka’s creation, and claims that Factory New never compensated him for his work despite promises of equity in the company. Instead, Kyle says that the FN Meka team “ghosted” him once the project took off.
The entire saga is yet another chapter in how AI frequently parrots racist stereotypes as an excuse for language learning, as well as an illustration of how Black culture is so often stolen for clout and financial gain without proper compensation and credit. While the development of digital music and digital artists remains an exciting frontier, FN Meka demonstrates a much needed examination into how AI and AR characters should be created, and who needs to be consulted during the process.