Jhe minstrel show is back, riding the apocalyptic horses of artificial intelligence, social media and NFTs. FN Meka, an AI-created rapper who gained TikTok fame through short viral music videos, does exist. This fact in itself is regrettable. More unfortunate is that the contrived construct was temporarily signed to Capitol Records. The company dropped FN Meka in response to complaints from industry breakdowna militant organization of black professionals in the entertainment industry, which accused the creators of indulging in racist stereotyping and a modern version of blackface.

The journey to FN Meka and the revival of the minstrel show was slow, but evident. Characters like Russel Hobbs from the Gorillaz are guilty of opening the doors to this form of digital blackface, but FN Meka presents a complete leap into an older tradition. Instead of makeup in black, white owners can now create their own black artists from scratch, built with the inevitable racist biases when artificial intelligence is designed in a white supremacist society.

It’s not hard to see how FN Meka got this far. It should have been obvious to Capitol that there were issues with signing an AI rapper who, despite having a white creator, uses the N-word in his lyrics and exploits black wrestling imagery for his own profit. But Capitol Records exists under capitalism, so all of that was irrelevant — or worth examining — in the face of the potential profit that could be licked off the bottom of the cultural barrel.

In a similar effort to maintain its results, Capitol has now rejected its future cash cow to avoid further backlash against the company, despite only recently force FN Meka on another artist’s song. It all made perfect sense; FN Meka has over 10 million followers on the hottest social media platform on the planet, and the precedent for white artists creating black avatars or imitating black cultural aesthetics has long been set.

Putting aside the long history of white musicians stealing black music to build the base of their own popularity, we can examine more recent steps on the road to the creation of FN Meka. The Gorillaz are the example closest to my heart; I was in a Gorillaz cover band for five glorious days in fifth grade. But the animated group includes a black character, the rapper/drummer Russell Hobbs. While it may seem benign at first glance, there is something unsettling about a black artist completely under the control of white creators. They decided which rappers should voice Russel next, they decided what his voice sounded like, and they decided his origins would involve a drive-by shooting.

Likewise, DJ duo Major Lazer merged different black genres and mixed them with black characters on their artwork and early music videos, although none of the initial creators were black themselves. The music video for their 2009 hit “Pon De Floor”, for example, Features a dancehall style beat, a Jamaican artist singing and black dancers stabbing everywhere. The singer’s name, Adidja Palmer, is nowhere on the track’s title, but is hidden below as a writer’s credit. At least Palmer was probably rewarded for his participation, unlike the black rapper behind the voice of FN Meka – Kyle the Hooligan – who said that he was conned and ghosted by the character creators.

That’s not to say that white creators shouldn’t create black characters at all, but that there’s something particularly heartbreaking about the artificial fabrication of black artists. True black artists are cultural and political icons, and often ambassadors for different black groups. White creators and corporations have long exploited and ridiculed this fact, and this business sounds too much like one of America’s fundamental forms of entertainment, the 19th century. minstrel show. Minstrel shows were stage performances featuring dance, sketches, and music, performed primarily by white people. They played negative caricatures of black people, often awkward around the stage or assuming the role of the happy slave.

Minstrel elements can be seen all over FN Meka. Although the creation is rooted in stealing from black culture, it is unlikely that a black person will actually benefit from Meka’s success. The modern reality of his creation also makes him a singularly unsettling form of ancient lore. FN Meka’s lyrics are AI-generated, using data from the internet to create the nonsense he spouts. There’s more than enough examples of AI programs illustrating the racial biases of their creators, and more for those based on social media data.

While this kind of technology has more obviously terrifying implications for programs created for law enforcement, for example, it still poses a cultural hazard here. Minstrel shows were used to ridicule black people and justify their oppression; FN Meka feels like it’s nurturing something similar. He’s a rapper/influencer straight out of the bogeyman nightmares of white conservatives.

Although Capitol has called off its involvement with FN Meka, that doesn’t take anything away from rapper AI’s millions of followers. This is also unlikely to be the end of such projects; if they make money, companies will chase them away. The only thing that can prevent this seems to be the backlash from fans and organizations like Industry Blackout. Capitalism may have no conscience beyond its digitized, smiling face, but it is responding to threats to its ability to extract all the wealth and soul from the planet.


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