Capitol Records drops AI rapper FN Meka following accusations of racism
“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.”
Image: Virtual Humans
Virtual rapper FN Meka has made history as the “world’s first AR artist” to be signed and dropped by a major record label. Capitol Records announced Tuesday (23 August) that it has “severed ties” with FN Meka following accusations that the project was perpetuating racist stereotypes and appropriating Black culture.
“CMG has severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately,” Capitol Music Group said in a statement (via Billboard). “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.”
Launched in 2019 by Anthony Martini and Brandon Le of the virtual record label Factory New, FN Meka bears the appearance of a black male cyborg, and was said to be designed “using thousands of data points compiled from video games and social media.”
While the robot rapper and his songs are ‘technically’ voiced by a human, said Martini in an interview with Music Business News, “everything else about him – from his lyrics to the chords and tempo underpinning his music – is based on AI.” A press release from FN Meka’s publicist in 2021 also described Meka as an “AI powered robot rapper.”
As ‘artificial’ as FN Meka may be, the project soon came under real scrutiny for its liberal use of the N-word in songs, and for the way its character has been depicted as a victim of police brutality on social media.
An AI rapper that says the n-word fabricating police brutality… literally every single thing about this is so off-key pic.twitter.com/9bC7odudlZ
— mitch (@limitedmitch) August 23, 2022
Hours before Capitol axed the project, artist activist group Industry Blackout tweeted an open letter demanding the label cut ties with Meka, calling the character “an amalgamation of gross stereotypes, appropriative mannerisms that derive from Black artists, complete with slurs infused in lyrics.”
“While we applaud innovation in tech that connects listeners to music and enhances the experience, we find fault in the lack of awareness in how offensive this caricature is. It is a direct insult to the Black community and our culture,” the statement reads. “This digital effigy is a careless abomination and disrespectful to real people who face real consequences in real life.”
— Industry Blackout #IndustryBlackout (@industryblkout) August 23, 2022
The group also notes that rapper Gunna, who featured on the FN Meka track Florida Water, “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.”
The letter concludes with a request for a public apology and for FN Meka to be removed from all platforms. Capitol Records and Factory New are also called on to donate all profits generated from FN Meka to charities supporting Black youth in the arts and to Black musicians signed by Capitol.
On 14 August, Capitol Records announced that it had signed FN Meka, touting the deal as “the world’s first AR artist to sign with a major label”.
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