Along with the recent rise of the metaverse, there’s also been a recent surge in the creation of virtual humans — digital persons created using AI. Some are social media influencers; some are designed simply to demo the tech and one, in particular, was even recently signed by Capitol Music Group.
FN Meka is a virtual rapper who recently became Capitol’s first AR artist. However, in just a week, the label dropped the virtual artist due to allegations that the virtual human perpetuates unflattering stereotypes about African Americans.
A human voices the cartoon rapper but otherwise the character is entirely digital, utilizing AI tech to create music. Factory New co-founders Anthony Martini and Brandon Le, neither of whom identifies as black, created the virtual black rapper in 2019. Since then, FN Meka has been active on TikTok, where Factory New posts videos of him singing, dancing and engaging in all kinds of mixed reality exploits.
The backlash was spurred by the virtual human’s use of the N-word in his 2019 song Moonwalkin, as well as an Instagram post featuring FN Meka being beaten by a virtual police officer inside a prison. Along with the image was a message from FN Meka explaining that the officer continuously beats him for refusing to snitch.
Since the backlash, FN Meka’s Instagram account has gone private.
Upon learning FN Meka was signed by Capitol Music, users quickly flocked to social media to voice their dissent.
“The AI rapper is the natural progression of the digital blackface I’ve been talking about for years…” tweeted user @NotLaja.
“Do you know how many ppl had to agree before signing FN MEKA? A lot,” tweeted another user. “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. Capitol Records is under Universal Music Group, btw. Shame!”
Capitol Music Group released a statement last week, apologizing to the black community and officially announcing its decision to drop FN Meka. The decision came after the release of FN Meka’s first song with the label. Florida Water released on August 12 and featured Gunna and gaming influencer Clix. The song is no longer available on any streaming platform.
While FN Meka is surrounded by controversy, other virtual humans have been well received by the public. Virtual human Lil Miquela has over three million followers on Instagram and has been interviewed by multiple publications. Likewise, Krafton Inc recently introduced its new virtual influencer, Ana, launching her YouTube and Instagram accounts.