A “virtual” rapper with a record deal? That was the case — until Capitol Music Group nixed its “first AR artist” FN Meka from its label after the partnership spurred backlash.
The music label, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, announced in a press release earlier this month that it signed FN Meka, the technological creation of company Factory New.
But that changed when controversy ensued after people said FN Meka, which Capitol originally described as a signee that “blends the line between humans and computers,” was a “caricature” instead of a cultural touchpoint.
Capitol Music Group announced it would be dropping the virtual rapper from its label Tuesday, sending its “deepest apologies to the Black community for our insensitivity” in a statement after social media users disapproved of the technology’s fictional Black appearance. FN Meka was created in 2019 by Brandon Le and Anthony Martini, according to The New York Times and The Guardian.
Here’s everything we know about the former digital signee.
Who is FN Meka?
FN Meka is not a real person. Rather, the cartoon rapper uses AI technology to create music. Martini and Le developed the concept as the founders of media company, Factory New.
“He was created using thousands of data points compiled from video games and social media,” Martini said in an April 2021 interview with Music Business Worldwide. Martini added that the “old model of finding talent” is “inefficient and unreliable.”
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“Now we can literally custom-create artists using elements proven to work, greatly increasing the odds of success.”
FN Meka was Factory New’s first signee, posting its first TikTok in 2019. The videos often feature the Black rapper with green braids and blue eyes enjoying a virtual life of luxury which includes digital chain necklaces, virtual Lamborghinis and augmented reality sea turtles with Gucci- labeled shells.
“Florida Water,” FN Meka’s first song with the label featuring Gunna and video game influencer Clix, was released Aug. 12, though it’s no longer available on music streaming platforms.
Why was FN Meka’s Capitol record controversial deal?
After FN Meka’s contract with Capitol Records made headlines, social media users sounded off about the virtual artist’s depiction, calling it a “digital minstrel show,” given that the founders and creators of FN Meka were not Black.
“Do you know how many ppl had to agree before signing FN MEKA? A lot. They all thought it was a great idea. They all saw dollar signs & felt innovative without any regard to the culture they’re actively exploiting daily,” one user tweeted.
Another user tweeted: “Y’all not calling out this digital minstrel show enough for me.”
Industry Blackout, an organization of entertainment industry professionals aimed at “changing the community,” co-founded by rapper and producer D-Dot, issued an open letter to Capitol Records condemning the partnership with FN Meka.
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“While we applaud innovation in tech that connects listeners to music and enhances the experience, we find a fault in the lack of awareness of how offensive this caricature is,” Industry Blackout said in a statement on Instagram Tuesday. “It is a direct insult to the Black community and our culture. An amalgamation of gross stereotypes, and appropriative mannerisms that derive from Black artists.”
What has New Factory said about the backlash?
New Factory founder Martini told The New York Times on Tuesday that the backlash was a result of “clickbait” that created a “narrative” around FN Meka.
“He’s a Black guy,” Martini said. “(He’s) not this malicious plan of white executives. It’s literally no different from managing a human artist, except that it’s digital.”
FN Meka’s Instagram account has been changed to private settings. The most recent TikTok from the virtual rapper was posted six days ago.
“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,” Capitol Records said in its Tuesday.