FN Meka FN Meka

Capitol Records has cut ties with FN Meka, an “AI-generated virtual rapper,” after the project came under fire from groups accusing the character of appropriating Black culture, repeatedly used the n-word, and mocking police brutality, among other complaints.

Who/what is FN Meka? FN Meka is described as an AI-generated hip-hop character whose native habitat is Tiktok, where it has more than 10.3 million followers. Its profile reads: “Robot rapper not accepted by this world.” The character quickly became a sensation on the platform, earning commercial deals with the likes of Amazon and Xbox. Just last week, Meka released its first single, “Florida Water,” under a new, highly publicized deal with Capitol Music Group.

Ok, but who/what is FN Meka really? AI technology isn’t close to sophisticated enough to write songs, rap, animate videos, run social media accounts, and interact with fans without a tremendous amount of input from real people. FN Meka is actually the brainchild of Factory New founder Anthony Martini (chief music officer and partner at Slip.stream) and brothers Chris (co-founder and creative director at Nike-owned digital design studio RTFKT) and Brandon Le (concept and visual development artist). It’s worth noting here: Martini is white and his partners are of Asian decent. Meka is a human-made animated character brought to life using a mix of motion capture gear, key-framed animation, and virtual production. FN Meka is definitely not an AI robot rapper, despite any claims to the contrary.

How much of the character is AI then? Very little, it seems. The Meka animation is all done by humans and, according to Martini, despite the way the character is marketed, “a human voice performs the vocals.” He does say that Factory New is working towards having a computer come up with and perform its own words, and perhaps even collaborate with other computers as “co-writers” in the future. For now though, the only “AI” involved in the FN Meka character seems to be the current “writing process,” in which Meka’s creative team feeds popular song lyrics into a software program which regurgitates something “new” based on the input data.

@fnmeka Is this a good idea? I think it’s genius 🌽 #cornonthecob #corn #vegetarian ♬ Uughharhhghhhhhhahhh – FNMeka

Why is there backlash now? Although FN Meka has been popular on Tiktok for some time now, last week’s Capitol contract and the release of “Florida Water,” made with real human rapper Gunna, really stirred up the online community. With increased attention came increased scrutiny, and people began to question whether an “AI” rapper should be using the n-word so liberally and rapping about themes that real Black artists deal with every day. As public opinion began to turn on the character, an old Instagram post in which the “rapper” mocked police brutality started circulating, adding to the growing outrage.

Where did the complaints come from? Activist group Industry Blackout led the call to action against Capitol and released a statement, which is posted below. The non-profit accused those behind the FN Meka project of using culturally insensitive and stereotypical themes in the creation and use of the character. They also called for a public apology by Capitol for signing the character and the donation of any money associated with the campaign to be redirected to charity. The organizaiton was hardly the only source of criticism however, and FN Meka began trending across social media with many others accusing the character of cultural appropriation.

Blackout FN Meka

Many artists have also expressed frustration about the use of their work, often without credit or consent, in creating the FN Meka character. That’s not unique to the musical world either; just check the comments section on our recent piece about AI-generated comics to see how visual artists are discussing AI encroachment into art.

Anthony Martini
Anthony Martini (personal photo via Linkedin)

What is Factory New saying? On Tuesday, Martini spoke with The New York Times, saying he anticipated the deal’s cancellation this week and blaming “blogs that have latched onto a clickbait headline and created this narrative.” He defended the anonymous human rapper who voices the character Meka, saying “he’s a Black guy.” He also said that the Meka is “not this malicious plan of white executives. It’s literally no different from managing a human artist, except that it’s digital.” He added that the team behind FN Meka was “actually one of the most diverse teams you can get — I’m the only white person involved.” About the police brutality Instagram post, Martini said, “Some of the early content, now if you take it out of context, it obviously looks worse or different than it was intended.”

What is Capitol saying about this? In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, Capitol Music Group 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.”

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