Capital Records has dropped computer-generated rapper FN Meka after coming under fire for music from its’ non-Black creators, which perpetuated Black stereotypes and included repeated use of the N-word.
Beyond the obvious and important issues of race and cultural hijacking, this incident offers broader lessons to all creators working in VR, AR, and artificial intelligence.
Have you lost your FN minds?
“Have you lost your FN minds?” Industry Blackout wrote in an open letter to Capitol Records on Twitter. “While we applaud innovation in tech… we find a fault in the lack of awareness of how offensive this caricature is. 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, complete with slurs infused in lyrics. This digital effigy is a careless abomination and disrespectful to real people who face real consequences in real life.”
Capital Records decidedly responded.
“CMG has severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately,” Capital said in a statement. “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.”
In a world where most norms are under attack or ignored, even in the virtual world, a few remain.
Just because a character or context is computer generated or moved from IRL to VR or AR does not mean that the governing rules acceptable behavior and behavior have changed.
VR Lizzo could become a superhero on Roblox, but if she had been cruel or culturally inappropriate, she would have faced the same backlash as an IRL Lizzo would (and should) have.
That the team behind a black robot rapper was non-Black should have been a red flag for Capital. It’s a lesson Hollywood learned casting actors of different ethnicities or with different gender preferences than the original character. It’s not impossible but it’s risky and really, really difficult to get right.
These worlds are new, but what’s right and wrong has not changed at all.
Bruce Houghton is Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank and serves as a Senior Advisor to Bandsintown which acquired both publications in 2019. He is the Founder and President of the Skyline Artists Agency and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.