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Capitol drops ‘virtual’ rapper FN Meka after claims of racism

By | Published on Wednesday 24 August 2022

FN Meka

Less than two weeks after signing ‘virtual’ rapper FN Meka, Universal’s Capitol Records has announced that it is ending its partnership with the project due to accusations of racism.

“[Capitol] has severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately”, the company said 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”.

This announcement came just hours after a statement was published by activist group Industry Blackout, which called on the Universal label to sever ties with the project and issue an apology.

“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 said. “It is 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”.

“This digital effigy is a careless abomination and disrespectful to real people who face real consequences”, it went on. “For example, Gunna, a black artist who is featured on a song by FN Meka, is currently incarcerated for rapping the same type of lyrics this robot mimics. The difference is, your artificial rapper will not be subjected to federal charges for such”.

Having originally picked up a following on TikTok, FN Meka is actually voiced by a human, but with lyrics and other creative elements generated through AI software. He is represented as an animated character.

Founder of Factory New, the company behind the project, Anthony Martini, insists that the way the FN Meka venture is being framed by critics is incorrect. He claims that the whole thing is actually spearheaded by the human rapper who voices FN Meka, and that his company is more akin to a traditional artist manager.

Which means that FN Meka is the creation of “a black guy … not this malicious plan of white executives”, he tells the New York Times. “It’s literally no different from managing a human artist, except that it’s digital”.

Martini also says that the team behind the project is “actually one of the most diverse teams you can get – I’m the only white person involved”.

He does admit, however, that the initial launch of the project did involve “some trolling”, but he says that they have tried to move away from that, adding: “The question was: How do we break an avatar as if it was a real artist and not a spectacle? It unfortunately turned into a spectacle anyway”.

When announcing that it had signed FN Meka earlier this month, Capitol proclaimed that it was “the world’s first [augmented reality] artist to sign with a major label”. Arguably not true, but I guess it depends how you class other virtual artists. It went on: “Artist, influencer and Web3 resident, all in one, FN Meka blurs the line between humans and computers. With his over-the-top flexing and extravagant sense of style, he has rapidly amassed billions of impressions across the internet”.

At the same time, the label released new single ‘Florida Water’, which features Gunna. That track has now begun disappearing from streaming services.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.