Capitol Music Group, the corporate that houses major record labels including Capitol and Blue Note, said on Tuesday that it was severing ties with its latest controversial artist: FN Meka, a virtual “robot rapper” powered partly by artificial intelligence, who boasts greater than 10 million followers on TikTok.
The corporate had previously teased the project — the primary augmented reality artist to sign to a serious label, it said — as “only a preview of what’s to come back.” Yet after growing backlash to what skeptical observers said amounted to digital blackface — including content that looked as if it would trivialize incarceration and police brutality — Capitol said it had “severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately.”
The corporate added in a press release: “We provide our deepest apologies to the Black community for our insensitivity in signing this project without asking enough questions on equity and the creative process behind it. We thank those that have reached out to us with constructive feedback previously couple of days — your input was invaluable as we got here to the choice to finish our association with the project.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the activist nonprofit referred to as Industry Blackout, which formed in 2020 to pursue equity within the music business, had called for a public apology, in addition to the donation of any funds spent by Capitol on the project to charity and the budgets of Black artists on the label.
“We discover fault within the lack of understanding in how offensive this caricature is,” Industry Blackout wrote in an open letter posted to social media. “It’s a direct insult to the Black community and our culture. An amalgamation of gross stereotypes, appropriative mannerisms that derive from Black artists, complete with slurs infused in lyrics.”
FN Meka was backed by the corporate Factory Recent, which described itself as a “first of its kind, next-generation music company, specializing in virtual beings.” (Also on the roster: the crypto-rapper Lil Bitcoin.) Though voiced by a human, FN Meka and his music — “lyrical content, chords, melody, tempo, sounds” — was derived partly from artificial intelligence, the industry publication Music Business Worldwide reported last 12 months.
“To not get all philosophical, but what’s an ‘artist’ today?” Anthony Martini, a Factory Recent founder, told the publication on the time. “Take into consideration the largest stars on this planet. How lots of them are only vessels for business endeavors?”
Ryan Ruden, the chief vice chairman of experiential marketing and business development at Capitol, plugged the project this month as living “on the intersection of music, technology and gaming culture.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Martini said he anticipated the deal’s cancellation coming this week, citing “blogs which have latched onto a clickbait headline and created this narrative.”
He said that FN Meka was, actually, primarily an anonymous human rapper — “he’s a Black guy” — and “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 probably the most diverse teams you may get — I’m the one white person involved.”
Capitol didn’t pay an advance to sign the rapper, Martini said. The label confirmed that there was no money to be paid back within the deal.
Martini noted that while there was “some trolling initially” in rolling out the video game-style character — who curses, has face tattoos and sports a half-shaved head of green braids — the usage of digital avatars might be freeing for some artists. “The query was: How can we break an avatar as if it was an actual artist and never a spectacle? It unfortunately was a spectacle anyway.”
Responding to a picture that made its way around social media, showing FN Meka being beaten by a police officer in prison, Martini added, “A number of the early content, now if you happen to take it out of context, it obviously looks worse or different than it was intended.”
A debut single, “Florida Water,” was released via Capitol, a division of Universal Music Group, on Aug. 12. The track was credited as featuring the skilled Fortnite gamer Clix, together with the Atlanta rapper Gunna, who’s currently being held without bond in Atlanta, where he’s facing a felony racketeering charge.
“This digital effigy is a careless abomination and disrespectful to real individuals who face real consequences in real life,” Industry Blackout said in its statement, pointing to Gunna’s case.