Racism, AI Rapper FN Meka, and the Search for a Dark Space in the Metaverse

I watched the kerfuffle around Capitol Records, and his signature of the world’s first artificial intelligence hip-hop artist, FN Meka,...



I watched the kerfuffle around Capitol Records, and his signature of the world’s first artificial intelligence hip-hop artist, FN Meka, with particular interest. Decades ago I was the editor of Rap Sheet, a West Coast hip-hop newspaper. And since the 1990s, I had tracked how corporate record labels maximized the exploitation of black culture, while enriching hip-hop artists like Jay-Z and Diddy to billionaire or near-billionaire status. I found that appalling.

However, to be clear, none of this is new, as this kind of cultural and artistic exploitation is essential to capitalism, black or not. From race records to rock and roll and hip-hop, capitalism in the music industry, like water, seeks its own level ― it must find new cultural horizons to exploit and feed the maw of consumerism.

It’s the feature, not the defect.

When Capitol Records worked with a non-black-owned artificial intelligence music company, Factory New, to create FN Meka, a virtual rapper with more than 10 million followers – and whose “lyrical content, chords, melody, tempo, sounds” was derived from part of the artificial intelligence, according to the publication The music industry around the worldincluding dropping a few well-placed “N***a” bombs in the lyrics – well, you could predict the reaction from the black community, especially the black arts community, would be loud and boisterous.

The charges of “digital blackface”, “erasure” and “cultural appropriation” have rightly been thrown at Capitol Records.

“This is a direct insult to the black community and our culture. An amalgamation of crude stereotyping, appropriative ways that derive from black artists, with slurs infused into the lyrics,” Industry Blackout, a music industry equity group, said in an open letter.

Faced with this collective smoke, Capitol Records dropped FN Meka faster than Nick Cannon impregnates women. As a request, Industry Blackout asked Capitol Records to distribute all funds earned by the FN Meka character to charities and black artists on the label.

And that’s where I stopped.

Of course, all of that was true about the issues with FN Meka, but for this transgression, that was the question? Throw a few coins at the problem? To me, this call to action lacked vision when it comes to artificial intelligence, the metaverse, and what black people should demand from entities that intend to exploit blackness. I have another point of view.

As in all societal transformations, and this AI and metaverse is a societal transformation, power tends to expand and contract. Revolutionary change means there is variability that threatens our sense of inevitability, in terms of who holds the power in the end.

Kings and queens rule with absolute power in a feudal society for thousands of years…until they accept a representative society or lose their minds. Slavocrisies die in fiery and destructive civil wars and former slaves are considered human. Colonialism is deconstructed through peaceful and less peaceful means, and subjects rule themselves instead of being ruled.

Inevitability is an illusion that forces the powerful and less powerful to agree that the structure of society is unchangeable, except at the margins. It is the stability that allows us to sleep at night, even if that sleep is on a sidewalk under a freeway overpass. Yes, even the less powerful often choose inevitability over variability, because revolution is scary. But revolutions change lives, especially in a digital world.

Apple took IBM. Facebook destroyed MySpace. Google has killed all other search engines. Today, each is considered inevitable, until they too are relegated to the dustbin of history.

So what happens when you build new alternate worlds and you’re black? Are we reproducing the real world with its racism, sexism and homophobia, or are we storming the Bastille and building guillotines for entities like Capitol Records as we envision something different, something under our own control?

For black people, there is an opportunity to enter this alternative world not at the margins, but at the center through a global transformation of how we see an AI world and manifestations of AI in this world, that whether it’s AI hip-hop artists or AI religious figures. But be aware that even new worlds come with caveats.

New worlds can go left, just like in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic, “A Clockwork Orange,” where human beings live in a dystopian world of antisocial violence that seems eerily close to life in 2022.

Or maybe it can go straight, like Blackety-black Wakanda, where blackness isn’t just affirmed, its essence unstained by the deep wound of slavery or the trauma of colonialism. It’s a utopian vision that holds a place in black hearts, even though it’s backed by the staunchly white Walt Disney Company, worth more than $200 billion.

Capitalism goes capitalism. Kanye shrugs in Yeezy slides.

Either way, black people need new black-centric philosophies that break away from the old real world and accommodate the Brave New World while deconstructing the powerful entities trying to dictate their future in the alternate world. black.

For pessimists, especially Afropessimists (and before you Afropessimist theorists know that’s not a direct analogy, but follow me on that), FN Meka represented the ultimate “black social death”, a view that says the idea of ​​blackness in this world is a result of our collective history of slavery and an anti-black society that uses violence to strip black people of their humanity. Blackness is less about cultural identity and more about something to be brutalized by poverty, poor education and housing, police brutality and the entertainment industry.

So, in their opinion, what is less human and more brutal than an AI digital “black” hip-hop artist who has no darkness in the entity, but still has the potential to make a lot of money through capitalism? Soulless, its black essence has been reduced to an algorithm of negative stereotypical black tropes born out of the dysfunction of a marginalized black person in an oppressive white world.

On the other hand, Afrofuturists have always viewed a fully human black identity as part of futuristic science fiction, which for them was less fiction and more science needing to catch up with the Gloryhallastoid theory of the universe. And as part of the future, the intentional black space designed to foster and nurture black musical expression was just as important, if not more so, than the music itself.

The late and great writer Greg Tate, currently on sabbatical from Earth and now starring with Sun Ra and Octavia Butler in the Andromeda Nebula, spoke about the importance of open spaces for free expression in a 2015 interview with Capital Bop.

“People are constantly creating what we call ‘brown spaces’ ― free communities, free platforms for thought and expression. I think it’s just in the DNA of Black Atlantic culture… There’s always the imperative to emancipated space, and music is, of course, a place where you can activate that…”

For me, the answer lies more in Afrofuturism than in Afropessimists. And if I ask Capitol Records, it’s not for a few silver coins. For me, my request to Capitol Records is simple and clear.

I don’t want anything from them or want to participate in their capitalist game of black cultural exploitation. I would rather use my own resources to build these “brown spaces” envisioned by Tate and create a new economic system that sees humanity in blackness, black expression, and black music.

I say nothing because I would leave empty, digital, worthless, algorithmic versions of corporate-filtered, pathology-based “Blackness” at Capitol Records. The gears of their capitalist machine aren’t inevitable, it’s just powerful, and there is a difference.

And in the short term, Capitol Records will be fine. Because FN Meka may be the first digital AI hip-hop artist, but by far not the last. And as they polish the code for their next release, I feel safe knowing that a little black girl is weaponizing her own code to create a truly free, truly black, culture-honest hip-hop artist. And this new AI hip-hop artist will live in a metaverse that is inherently free.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Racism, AI Rapper FN Meka, and the Search for a Dark Space in the Metaverse
Racism, AI Rapper FN Meka, and the Search for a Dark Space in the Metaverse
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