The record business expressed regret to “the Black community” for being insensitive in supporting an AI-backed musician whose lyrics, according to detractors, were “slurs interwoven in lyrics” and were “appropriate.”
Capitol Music Group, the organization that owns well-known record labels including Capitol and Blue Note, announced on Tuesday that it was cutting relations with its newest contentious artist, FN Meka, a virtual “robot rapper” with more than 10 million TikTok followers.
The project was originally described by the firm as “just a preview of what’s to come” and the “first augmented reality artist to sign to a major label.” Capitol Records, however, announced that it had “severed connections with the FN Meka project, effective immediately” in response to rising outrage to what skeptics said amounted to digital blackface, including material that seemed to downplay incarceration and police violence.
The company added in a statement: “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.”
A public apology, as well as the contribution of any money spent by Capitol on the project to charity and the budgets of Black musicians on the label, were demanded earlier on Tuesday by the activist organization Industry Blackout, which was founded in 2020 to promote equity in the music industry.
Industry Blackout noted in an open letter shared on social media that they “found fault in the lack of knowledge in how hurtful this caricature is.” “The Black community and our culture are being insulted directly. a collection of offensive stereotypes, appropriative behaviors inspired by Black musicians, and lyrics with racial slurs.
Factory New, a “first of its kind, next-generation music company, specializing in virtual beings,” provided financial support for FN Meka. (The cryptocurrency rapper Lil Bitcoin is also on the roster.) Although FN Meka has a human voice, the “lyrical content, chords, melody, tempo, and noises” of his music were created in part by artificial intelligence, according to an article from the business media outlet Music Business Worldwide last year.
Not to wax philosophical, but what exactly is a “artist” in modern times? Factory New founder Anthony Martini told the newspaper at the time. “Consider the most famous stars in the world. How many of them are merely tools for business purposes?
Asserting that the project exists “at the crossroads of music, technology, and gaming culture,” Ryan Ruden, Capitol’s senior vice president of experiential marketing and business development, made the claim this month.
Martini predicted the agreement will be canceled this week in an interview on Tuesday, blaming “blogs that have latched onto a clickbait headline and built this story.”
He claimed that FN Meka was “not this nasty strategy of white executives,” but rather primarily an anonymous Black human rapper. It is essentially identical to managing a real artist, with the exception that it is digital. I’m the only member of the team who is white, he continued, making FN Meka “really one of the most varied teams you can have.”
Martini said that Capitol did not provide an advance to sign the rapper. The label acknowledged that there was no money owed as part of the agreement.
FN Meka rap generates lots of critics from both Black and White community, even from blogs and media outlets as we can see reactions everywhere on all platforms.
He’s not allowed to say nigga
— bb belt nato (@natenumbereight) August 22, 2022
6ix9ine looking at FN Meka right now… pic.twitter.com/mlSBL3bs3t
— Rob Hodge (@RobHodge_) August 21, 2022
The video game-style persona, who swears, has face tattoos, and wears a half-shaved head of green braids, was introduced with “some teasing initially,” according to Martini, but the use of digital avatars may be liberating for some artists. “How can we make an avatar appear to be a genuine artist rather than a showpiece? Unfortunately, it ended up becoming a spectacle.
In response to a viral photo of FN Meka being assaulted by a prison guard, Martini said, “Some of the early content, now that you pull it out of context, it certainly seems worse or different than it was intended.”
On August 12, the debut single “Florida Water” was made available via Capitol, a unit of Universal Music Group. The rapper Gunna, who is now being jailed without bond in Atlanta after being charged with felony racketeering, was listed as a featured artist on the song along with the professional Fortnite player Clix.
Industry Blackout pointed to Gunna’s status in its statement, saying, “This digital effigy is a reckless monstrosity and disrespectful to real people who face real consequences in real life.”
A real musician named Yung Bleu joined The Shade Room to respond to the information and said,
“S**t was hella lame these people decided to make a fake character and perpetuate every possible known black stereotype for profit and gain. And would have succeeded if we would have been blind to the fact. Had a green haired blue eyed character round here yelling N***a and acting like he getting arrested AND ACTING IGNORANT! THEY JUST SHOWED The world WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT YALL ! They really wish they can have black culture without actual black people.”