Capitol Records Cancels Deal With Synthetic Rapper FN Meka Two Weeks After Signing
Capitol Records canceled its record deal with synthetic rapper FN Meka just a couple of weeks after signing the so-called augmented reality artist and its more than 10 million TikTok followers to the label. Controversies immediately erupted over what some called a stereotypical and offensive look and backstory to the AI performer, compounded by complaints about the rightful origin and ownership of the tracks attributed to FN Meka. Capitol Records’ parent company Capitol Music Group soon pulled the plug, leaving a cautionary tale for future synthetic media stars and 10 million followers of a TikTok account with no videos to watch.
FN Meka Meltdown
FN Meka was created by and named for AI record label Factory New, founded by Brandon Le. Singer Anthony Martini, who co-created FN Meka, quit Factory New in the wake of the record deal cancellation. last week. The rapper, seen above, performed songs allegedly generated at least partly through AI. However, the record deal signing prompted rapper Kyle the Hooligan to issue a counter-claim that he both wrote and performed the first three FN Meka songs and helped craft the background persona in exchange for equity that he never received. But, Factory New wouldn’t be off the hook even if it can disprove that claim in court. The company faced a simultaneous campaign from activists and groups like Industry Blackout, calling FN Meka a crude stereotype in look and concept. The digital rapper mentions a stay in prison and uses the N-word, while its overall aesthetic hearkens evokes what the activists call a kind of “digital blackface.”
“CMG has severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately. 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,” Capitol explained in announcing the end of the arrangement. “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.”
The spectacular and sudden collapse of FN Meka doesn’t spell the end for future synthetic media stars. Kyle the Hooligan hasn’t claimed credit for all of the digital artist’s songs, which may indeed turn out to be written by an AI engine like the one built by LyricStudio. The visual avatar is certainly synthetic, regardless of the offense it causes. Garnering 10 million followers on TikTok is no easy feat, and the fact the company didn’t take down the account, just deleted the videos, might mean it doesn’t want to lose that audience. That’s why TikTok quickly replaced its AI voice after getting sued last year for allegedly employing a voice actor’s artificial voice without proper contracts and payment. Those debates need to be resolved by the industry before the next FN Meka can actually release an album with a major label, but it won’t happen overnight or without many arguments.
“Custody of synthetic beings of all sorts is likely to become a more contentious issue,” Voicebot founder Bret Kinsella explained on his new Synthedia Substack. “Even when the rights are clear, there is the question of culpability when things go wrong.”