Is controversial ‘robot rapper’ FN Meka the end of pop music as we know it?

The computer-generated avatar was recently dropped by music label Capitol Records after its debut song was accused of racism

Digital rapper FN Meka has more than 10.3 million followers on TikTok, but has been axed over concerns 'he' is racist. Photo: Capital Records
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The music business can be unforgiving to new artists in the real world. And, it seems the metaverse is no different.

Merely one week since signing “robot rapper” rapper FN Meka, major US record label Capitol Records announced it is severing ties with the virtual MC after an online backlash surrounding the act’s racially tinged imagery and content.

FN Meka, created by online content company Factory New, has been a hit on TikTok with more than 10.3 million followers. His videos, ranging from playing basketball to cooking in the metaverse, have already amassed more than a billion views.

The impressive figures were enough for Capitol Music Group — the parent company to labels with pop stars such as Paul McCartney, Katy Perry and Sam Smith — to sign FN Meka to its subsidiary Capitol Records, reportedly making the avatar the world's first augmented reality artist under contract to a major music label.

@fnmeka

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♬ original sound - FNMeka

The move was followed with the release of FN Meka's debut single, Florida Water, earlier this month, which featured rapper Gunna and Clix, a popular player of the game Fortnite.

Instead of a hit, the collaboration was slammed for its caricature of African American culture.

With FN Meka not declaring himself to be an African American and his appearance — with light brown skin, gilded left hand, green eyes and braids — being racially ambiguous, critics lambasted his use of racial epithets in the song.

Capitol Music Group acknowledged the song's problematic content. “CMG has severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately," it said.

“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.”

Who is the team behind FN Meka?

@fnmeka

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The avatar is created by Factory New, dubbed a "next-generation music company, specialising in virtual beings".

In an interview with trade publication Music Business Weekly, company co-founder Anthony Martini explained FN Meka is voiced by a human whose music is based on artificial intelligence. In another interview with The New York Times, Martini went on to stress FN Meka is voiced by a "black guy".

"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," he said.

"As of now, a human voice performs the vocals, but we are working towards the ability to have a computer come up with and perform its own words — and even collaborate with other computers as 'co-writers'."

If that’s not enough to send a chill up the spine of traditional music consumers, Martini’s reasoning behind the future growth of virtual artists poses real concerns about the state of pop music today.

“Not to get all philosophical. But what is an ‘artist’ today? Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavours?” he said.

While FN Meka's controversial song can still be found on YouTube, it has been deleted from major music streaming platform Spotify.

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Updated: August 25, 2022, 6:56 AM
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