A week ago, headlines were abuzz with the news that Capitol Music Group had signed a digital rapper called FN Meka whose lyrics were generated by artificial intelligence. Now, after much backlash and criticism from all over the internet, Capitol Music Group is reversing that decision, instead, axing the rapper with a copious apology for offending people in his decision to platform something. many criticized as an example of “digital blackface”.”
The initial signing was announced with the release of a track called “Florida Water”, which featured hip hop artist Gunna with, oddly enough, a 17-year-old. Fortnite pro Clix. Clix is signed to RG Esports and reportedly earned $162,000 in Fortnite World Cup. When the single was released, however, there was much confusion as to Clix’s actual involvement in the project. After all, if you listen to the song, it never seems to feature Clix’s vocals. However, all promotional material for the songs did not just quote Clix – his name appeared before that of Gunna and FN Meka themselves, the performers.
Clix’s manager tells Kotaku that Clix “selected” the track, meaning he acquired the rights and cleared the copyright after Gunna had already rapped over the song. What is curious here, however, is that Clix’s manager claims that Clix never wanted FN Meka involved in the first place.
“Capitol Records said if they wanted to release Gunna’s song, they had to let them put their artist Fn Meka on it,” he said in an email. “It was never what he wanted and he voiced that opinion, but the label told him that was the only way to go.”
Capitol Records did not respond to a request for comment. After highlighting the song on her social media via pins, Clix seems to have purged it of immediate visibility.
This all follows Capitol Records distancing itself from FN Meka, the New York Times reports. In a statement provided at the time, the company said the following:
We sincerely apologize to the black community for our insensitivity to sign off on this project without asking enough questions about fairness and the creative process behind it. We thank those who provided us with constructive feedback over the past two days – your input was invaluable when we made the decision to end our association with the project.
The backlash is tied to concerns about racism and, like the NYT says it, “digital black face”. The rapper, who has 10.3 million followers on TikTok and was explicitly touted as an act “at the intersection of music, technology and gaming culture” by its creators, appears to be coded black although he’s not, you know, real. But there is a larger question about the artistic control black artists actually have over the entire FN Meka project. The New York Times The article states that while FN Meka is indeed voiced by a black male, elements such as “lyrical content, chords, melody, tempo, sounds” were partially derived from artificial intelligence. At the same time, allegedly only one white man is involved in the act of FN Meka.
Some of the criticisms are brushed aside by the music professionals quoted in the article when implying that modern musicians are often essentially commercially driven puppets who do and say what they are told. So the thought seems to imply, maybe it should be enough that there’s a black artist involved, even if he’s not the real driving force behind rapper AI. But the fact that FN Meka’s production was aimed at gamers and very explicitly uses gaming aesthetics certainly complicates things, especially when it comes to Fortnite.
The battle royale has been criticized in the past for not loop or appropriately compensate the black artists who created the dances which were incorporated into the game as purchasable emotes and helped the shooter explode in popularity. Fortnite has since made efforts to remedy thisbut ultimately it’s just another in a long line of pop culture phenomena that wouldn’t exist the way they do without the unseen contributions of black creators.
Additionally, FN Meka’s attempt to bridge the gap and make digital rap cool depended a lot on the game’s willingness to absorb black culture. When FN Meka brags about its riches, it doesn’t just show off cars and jets that look like they could come right out of a video game. The vehicles are all bridged with custom gaming chairsrather than flexible leather than you might expect from these boasts. Sound effects FN Meka features in his videos get out of games like Solid metal gear. FN Meka will take the time to cut into an Xbox Series X that turns out to be a cake. FN Meka, whose green glow is reminiscent of Razor products, takes the stage to promote his new song by riding a Fortnite battle bus. FN Meka goes fight his enemies with a Halo counterfeit energy sword.
And FN Meka has an AI that orders him to say the n-word, as well as videos where he is shown being beaten by a police officer in prison. These are not unrelated things. They were calculated and they worked. FN Meka’s videos have racked up millions of views.
“Some of the early content, now if you take it out of context, it obviously looks worse or different than you expected,” said Anthony Martini, founder of Factory New, the company behind FN Meka. New York Times.