Technology and hip-hop have begun to intersect more than ever. Rappers like ASAP Rocky, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg have expressed interest in NFTs, legacy acts like The Notorious BIG, Tupac, and A Tribe Called Quest are offering opportunities like collaborations and music ownership with the new technology, and quirky experiments like Travis Bot have shown off ways that machine learning can simulate some of today’s top artists. But some fans felt that tech went too far with FN Meka, a virtual rapper that toed the line of good taste despite being signed to Capitol Records.
The project, founded by music manager Anthony Martini and his startup Factory New, was criticized for depicting a SoundCloud rapper who looked like Lil Pump, Tekashi 69, and a Fortnite character got tossed into a blender. Evidently, that was also how the machine learning program ostensibly behind FN Meka’s lyrics wrote its songs, a borderline nonsensical mashup of violent, tough-talking rap cliches peppered with heavy usage of the word “nigga.” And while the raps themselves were performed by a Black rapper tapped specifically for that purpose, even he revealed he was unhappy about the project recently. But who is he and why is he so upset?
It turns out the voice behind FN Meka’s first three singles, “Moonwalkin’,” “Speed Demon,” and “Internet,” was a Texas-based rapper named Kyle The Hooligan. In a video posted on his Instagram, he detailed how he was invited to participate in the project with a pitch that included equity in the company. However, he says after turning in his contributions, the company ghosted him; he found out about FN Meka’s record deal the same way everyone else did: when it was reported by Music Business Worldwide earlier this month. He says he wasn’t paid for either the initial songs or for the recording contract with Capitol (which later confirmed it never gave an advance to Factory New).
In an interview with Vice, Kyle gave more information while denouncing the company behind FN Meka for “using” him for his connection to hip-hop culture. “They wanted me involved in every ‘cultural’ or ‘cool’ aspect of it,” he said. “They wanted me to tell them if something was cool and when something was not… They got that pass because I was involved. Them cutting me out of it was like they basically used me for the culture. I didn’t know about none of this Capitol stuff going on, the deals, or anything. This was all news to me because I thought it was over with.”
He also revealed that there was no machine-learning involved; he wrote all three of the original FN Meka songs himself, then changed the pitch of his voice to sound different. He has also taken away an important lesson: “This showed me that just my voice alone can make something that’s not even real pop,” he said. “Once people are really tuned into who Kyle The Hooligan is as an artist, then they’ll really know my story.” Meanwhile, FN Meka was dropped by Capitol after the backlash online.