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FN Meka Exec Leaves Project, Says ‘There Are Many Lessons to Be Learned’ From Backlash

Anthony Martini still stands by virtual artists, however, calling them "the next frontier in representation in the arts."

Music executive Anthony Martini is now distancing himself from virtual artist FN Meka, following a public uproar claiming the AR (augmented reality) rapper perpetuated racist stereotypes. The controversy led Capitol Records to drop the project earlier this week.

Martini is a former artist manager who helped develop artists like Lil Dicky and MadeinTYO and was also CEO of Royalty Exchange from 2021 until earlier this year. Until early June, he was chief music officer for royalty-free music library Slip.stream.

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In 2020, after Martini’s teenage daughter showed him FN Meka’s Instagram profile, he partnered with the green-haired hypebeast-styled rapper’s designer, Brandon Le, to launch the Factory New record label for similar virtual artists. FN Meka now has over 10 million TikTok followers and millions of song streams. “We’re taking cues from a company like Marvel as opposed to a record label,” Martini told Billboard last year. “There’s a way to enable a much longer career if you build a franchise, and we’re going to start creating a universe of music characters.”

Anthony Martini
Anthony Martini Nabil Miftahi

On Aug. 12, Capitol Records announced it was signing FN Meka, “the world’s biggest A.R. rapper,” in a first of its kind deal. The announcement came with a new song called “Florida Water,” featuring Gunna and Clix. In the days that followed, critics started pointing out the avatar’s use of the N-word and took aim at several online posts, including one that showed the rapper falling victim to police violence, accusing FN Meka’s creators of cultural appropriation and leaning into offensive stereotypes. On Tuesday, Capitol announced it had “severed ties” with the project “effective immediately.”

One day later, rapper Kyle the Hooligan claimed the FN Meka creators had made promises to him in order to use his voice for the project, and then “ghosted” him and failed to fulfill any of those commitments.

“After much consideration, I have decided to sever ties with FN Meka and Factory New effective immediately,” Martini said in a statement on Thursday (Aug. 25) “I joined the team in early 2020 because I am truly passionate about the future of digital media and felt my background could help fulfill Meka’s potential in the music industry. It’s become apparent that I should have done more diligence before joining. In the past few days, I’ve learned of Kyle The Hooligan’s experience with Meka which is deeply at odds with my core values. I believe that artists must always be at the center of the creative process and must be compensated fairly.”

Martini spoke with The New York Times on Tuesday, saying he had expected the Capitol deal to get canceled, due to the bad press surrounding it. He also clarified that FN Meka is mostly a human rapper, hence the AR distinction rather than AI (artificial intelligence). The distinction is important, because an AI rapper would have terms programmed for use, such as the N-word. In this case, FN Meka’s voice is “a Black guy,” Martini said, “not this malicious plan of white executives. It’s literally no different from managing a human artist, except that it’s digital.” He also said that the team behind FN Meka was “actually one of the most diverse teams you can get,” saying, “I’m the only white person involved.”

Billboard had requested to speak with the rapper or other Black creatives involved with FN Meka, but Martini said they wished to remain anonymous. Le did not respond to Billboard’s requests for comment.

In Martini’s statement on Thursday, he clarified his role in the FN Meka project to make it clear he did not create the rapper and joined the team after songs “Moonwalkin” and “Internet” were released on SoundCloud and that the Instagram post depicting police brutality against the virtual rapper was already made. “I take responsibility for diving into a project without comprehensively examining its history,” he said.”

He continued, “As a manager, my role has always been to create opportunities while the artists on our team lead creative. I’ll always defer to the talent when it comes to how they choose to express themselves and will back them in their vision. I can’t speak for what happened before me, but while I was involved, artists on the project were always compensated fairly and participated in the revenue from their work.”

While Martini did say he was separating himself from the FN Meka project, his statement also continued to advocate for more virtual artists in the future.

“Too many artists never realize their dreams because of the labels put on them by society,” he said. “The music industry is full of talented singers, rappers and producers who never get a shot because a corporation doesn’t think they have ‘right look’ ‘ are ‘too old’ or not ‘marketable enough’. Whether it’s prejudices they face or simply the artist not feeling comfortable with the body they were born in, virtual characters have the potential to be a true equalizer and the next frontier in representation in the arts.

“That is how virtual avatars can and should enable MORE artists to have a platform, not fewer. Throughout my career, whether as an artist manager, a label head, or an executive, I’ve been consistent in my mission to empower creatives and provide alternatives to unscrupulous norms in the music business. I will continue to do that.”

 

Read his full statement here:

After much consideration, I have decided to sever ties with FN Meka and Factory New effective immediately.

I joined the team in early 2020 because I am truly passionate about the future of digital media and felt my background could help fulfill Meka’s potential in the music industry. It’s become apparent that I should have done more diligence before joining. In the past few days, I’ve learned of Kyle The Hooligan’s experience with Meka which is deeply at odds with my core values. I believe that artists must always be at the center of the creative process and must be compensated fairly.

I debated making a statement at all, but felt there is some basic info that should be available to clarify the record: I did not create FN Meka, nor did I ever claim to. I discovered Meka online almost a year after “Moonwalkin” and “Internet” were released on Soundcloud and after the police brutality Instagram post was already made. I joined the team in early 2020 and was named co-founder with my specific focus being business development and artist management. I take responsibility for diving into a project without comprehensively examining its history.

As a manager, my role has always been to create opportunities while the artists on our team lead creative. I’ll always defer to the talent when it comes to how they choose to express themselves and will back them in their vision. I can’t speak for what happened before me, but while I was involved, artists on the project were always compensated fairly and participated in the revenue from their work.

I also take full responsibility for the lack of transparency and confusion that my comments about “A.I.” elements in Meka’s music may have caused. Those quotes were from a 2021 interview and were meant to create intrigue and provide cover for songs at the time which weren’t ready for scrutiny. FN Meka’s vocals have always been written and performed by humans, which in this case, have been black voices – to be clear.

There are many lessons to be learned from this experience and I believe we have opened important conversations about entertainment in the digital age, the music industry, the metaverse, and what art in general looks like in the future.

Too many artists never realize their dreams because of the labels put on them by society. The music industry is full of talented singers, rappers and producers who never get a shot because a corporation doesn’t think they have “right look” or are “too old” or not “marketable enough”. Whether it’s prejudices they face or simply the artist not feeling comfortable with the body they were born in, virtual characters have the potential to be a true equalizer and the next frontier in representation in the arts.

That is how virtual avatars can and should enable MORE artists to have a platform, not fewer. Throughout my career, whether as an artist manager, a label head, or an executive, I’ve been consistent in my mission to empower creatives and provide alternatives to unscrupulous norms in the music business. I will continue to do that.

– Anthony Martini

 

Additional reporting from Jewel Wicker.