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FN Meka spokesperson Anthony Martini quits project, admits there was less AI involved than claimed

By | Published on Friday 26 August 2022

FN Meka

The man who previously spoke up for the controversial FN Meka project – Anthony Martini – has announced that he is no longer involved with the ‘virtual’ rapper or the company behind it, Factory New.

Following the accusations of racism that were made against the project – which resulted in the rapper being dropped by Universal Music’s Capitol label earlier this week – he says that he “should have done more diligence before joining” the venture, and also admits that there was much less AI involved in the creation of the virtual rapper and it’s musical output than previously claimed.

Although previously named as a co-founder, Martini says that he joined Factory New in 2020, after the release of the first two FN Meka singles, ‘Moonwalkin’ and ‘Internet’.

He also claims that he only learned this week that Kyle The Hooligan, the rapper who voiced those tracks and seemingly wrote their lyrics, had been cut out of the project, insisting that “while I was involved, artists on the project were always compensated fairly and participated in the revenue from their work”.

Capitol announced that it had signed FN Meka earlier this month, releasing the single ‘Florida Water’, featuring Gunna. However, after activist group Industry Blackout accused the project of being “a direct insult to the black community and our culture” and “an amalgamation of gross stereotypes”, the major label said that it would no longer work on FN Meka releases and began removing that one single from streaming services.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Martini defended the whole project, and claimed that it had actually been spearheaded by (the then unnamed) Kyle The Hooligan, and that the company’s role was more akin to that of a traditional artist manager.

Kyle The Hooligan then came forward and said that he had been brought on board to launch the virtual rapper, with promises of being given equity in Factory New and other perks, but that he was then cut out of any financial rewards.

“Everything [was] going good”, said the rapper. “Next thing I know, [they] just ghosted me. Use my voice, use my sound, use the culture and literally just left me high and dry”.

In his new statement, Martini says that he was unaware of Kyle’s story until he spoke about it this week. He added in a subsequent interview with Pitchfork that he has since been in touch with the rapper to try to make things right.

“I joined the team in early 2020 because I am truly passionate about the future of digital media and felt my background could help fulfil Meka’s potential in the music industry”, he says. “It’s become apparent that I should have done more diligence before joining. In the past few days, I’ve learned of Kyle The Hooligan’s experience with Meka which is deeply at odds with my core values. I believe that artists must always be at the centre of the creative process and must be compensated fairly”.

It was notable in Capitol’s original announcement of its signing of FN Meka that it referred to the character as an AR – or augmented reality – rapper. Previously, Factory New had talked about everything being driven by artificial intelligence.

In an interview with Music Business Worldwide in 2021, Martini claimed: “We’ve developed a proprietary AI technology that analyses certain popular songs of a specified genre and generates recommendations for the various elements of song construction: lyrical content, chords, melody, tempo, sounds, etc. We then combine these elements to create the song”.

Now he admits that that was not strictly true, saying in his new statement: “I take full responsibility for the lack of transparency and confusion that my comments about ‘AI’ elements in Meka’s music may have caused. Those quotes were from a 2021 interview and were meant to create intrigue and provide cover for songs at the time which weren’t ready for scrutiny. FN Meka’s vocals have always been written and performed by humans, which in this case, have been black voices – to be clear”.

Speaking to Pitchfork, Martini refused to say who took over voicing FN Meka after Kyle The Hooligan – including on the one single released by Capitol, ‘Florida Water’ – as he had not asked them if they wanted to be publicly named.

Despite all this, Martini says that he still has confidence in the future of virtual performers in the music industry, adding: “There are many lessons to be learned from this experience and I believe we have opened important conversations about entertainment in the digital age, the music industry, the metaverse, and what art in general looks like in the future”.

“Too many artists never realise their dreams because of the labels put on them by society”, he goes on. “The music industry is full of talented singers, rappers and producers who never get a shot because a corporation doesn’t think they have ‘right look’ or [they] are ‘too old’ or not ‘marketable enough’”.

“Whether it’s prejudices they face or simply the artist not feeling comfortable with the body they were born in”, he continues, “virtual characters have the potential to be a true equaliser and the next frontier in representation in the arts”.

“That is how virtual avatars can and should enable more artists to have a platform, not fewer”, he concludes. “Throughout my career, whether as an artist manager, a label head, or an executive, I’ve been consistent in my mission to empower creatives and provide alternatives to unscrupulous norms in the music business. I will continue to do that”.

Martini has previously worked for artist management companies Crush Music and Ferret Music, and was briefly CEO of royalties marketplace Royalty Exchange. He was also frontman of hardcore punk band E.Town Concrete.

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