When Capitol Records signed so-called robot rapper FN Meka earlier this month, it billed the move as a new frontier in the music industry.
But just weeks after the Black male cyborg debuted its first single under the major label, Capitol Records shelved the effort over criticism from Black music industry professionals who said the virtual character was fashioned out of reductive stereotypes. The company announced on Tuesday that it 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 Music Group said in a statement shared with CNN. “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.”
FN Meka hit SoundCloud and social media in 2019, with the songs “Internet” and “Moonwalkin’” and videos featuring a virtual Black character with a partly shaved head and green braids. The avatar amassed more than 10 million followers on TikTok, and sold an NFT of a “super toilet.”
Eventually, it was revealed that FN Meka was a project of Factory New, a label founded by music industry veteran Anthony Martini and video game artist Brandon Le. FN Meka, generated partly by artificial intelligence but voiced by a real human, was the first in what Factory New hoped would be a roster of virtual musical artists.
“Not to get all philosophical, but what is an ‘artist’ today?” Martini said in an interview last year with Music Business Worldwide. “Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavors?”
FN Meka’s recent signing to Capitol Records, however, prompted scrutiny. One of the character’s early singles “Moonwalkin’” featured the N-word in its lyrics, while a screenshot from FN Meka’s now-private Instagram account showed a post from 2019 depicting the character being beaten by a White police officer in prison.
The nonprofit activist group Industry Blackout posted an open letter to Capitol Records on Tuesday, calling on the label to drop FN Meka and remove the character from all platforms.
“While we applaud innovation in tech that connects listeners to music and enhances the experience, we find fault in the lack of awareness in how offensive this caricature is,” the letter read. “It is a direct insult to the Black community and our culture. An amalgamation of gross stereotypes, appropriative mannerism that derive from Black artists, complete with slurs infused in lyrics.”
The group also demanded that Capitol Records and Factory New direct all funds spent on FN Meka toward causes that support young Black artists.
Martini has defended the virtual character, telling The New York Times that the people behind its creation were “actually one of the most diverse teams you can get — I’m the only White person involved.”