Cheyenne RoundtreeSat, 3 April 2021, 6:31 am
Rapper FN Meka is certainly a product of his times. He drives a gold-plated Rolls-Royce, a Gucci-print Tesla truck, and a slime green Lamborghini. On TikTok, where he has racked up 9 million followers, he smirks as he sits between a woman’s legs and is hand-fed grapes off a vine as a stack of $100 bills are thrown over him.
FN Meka seems to follow the modus operandi of other outrageous young musicians attempting to break into the music scene: the flashier, the better. The only difference is that FN Meka isn’t technically real; rather, he’s the self-proclaimed first artificial intelligence robot rapper.
He’s already released a handful of semi-successful songs—most recently “Speed Demon,” previously “Internet,” and his most popular song to date, “Moonwalkin’,” which is reminiscent of Tekashi69’s amped-up scream-rap style.
FN Meka is part of an emerging trend of virtual influencers. In terms of a business model, he can best be compared to Miquela Sousa, a popular computer-generated image Instagram influencer who’s partnered with brands such as MINI, landed covers of magazines, “attended” fashion weeks, and also dipped their toe in the music waters.
Of course, there are real people behind FN Meka, including the team at Vydia that provides a platform for his record label Factory New, which only has virtual artists. It can be a bit hard to wrap your head around, but Anthony Martini, co-founder of Factory New, explained to The Daily Beast that the concept of FN Meka is no different than the DJ Marshmello, Gorillaz, or even 50 Cent.
“You look at any great human artist, the more fantastic you are, the more of a character that you are,” Martini said. “Any great artist, you’re buying into some sort of story. This is just the next level of actually doing that. There’s been some precedents in the past, even for pseudo virtual characters. You can look at Gorillaz. You could look at a guy like Marshmello—he’s not real for all intents and purposes either. He could be a digital being too and it wouldn’t make a difference to the fans of the music. We’re trying to blur those lines even more and trying to bring everyone to the future.”
Roy LaManna, co-founder and CEO of Vydia, agrees with Martini, using Tekashi69 as a further example of how larger-than-life artists are basically just caricatures of themselves.
“I think that he’s the epitome of what we’re talking about here. He’s kind of like a meme,” LaManna said. “The music, primarily in the early days, was co-written or ghostwritten by his producer. There’s Daniel Hernandez, who is the real guy and then there’s the Tekashi character, which is almost a cartoon-like character that has people compelled and drawn into his storyline. So, the question is whether or not Daniel Hernandez’s character Tekashi69 could exist in a virtual space, and I think Anthony and his team are proving that the answer is yes.”
LaManna brings up BTS, One Direction, and Britney Spears to question how important the human element is compared to the storyline and content the artist puts out. Using Spears as an example, LaManna said, “It’s a personality. She arguably wasn’t necessarily the best singer; a lot of the music was written by other people. Then it went into a storyline, you know, she dated Justin Timberlake, it was a whole thing that people really got invested in.”
“So, what portion of that is contingent on the human factor?” he asked. “I think it’s less than people realize, and it’s being tested today because the technology has gotten to a certain point in which this is a viable option. I think we’re just seeing the beginning stages of this stuff.”
Martini chimed in to add that most entertainers’ images today are manufactured by a label or a management team. “At least in the beginning, when you’re trying to put a certain narrative out there and you’re building a brand,” he said. “We’re doing the same thing, except we’re not limited to the human world, or the human form. We’re going to take that old idea of building brands and building a storyline behind some of these artists and just take it to the next level.”
There’s definitely still a process of trial and error, Martini admitted, mostly because the anonymous creator behind FN Meka really never intended for him to be a rapper, originally creating the character to help sell his popular virtual items.
“He’s a creative genius that comes from the video game world,” Martini explained. “His background is in making digital skins and virtual items. He was almost selling NFTs before they were NFTs. But he created FN Meka almost as a platform for some of these insane items that he was creating and then it sort of just morphed into FN Meka.”
In the early stages of FN Meka’s music career, the robot artist released other demos, which ended up being taken down to maintain quality control. Martini said if FN Meka is going to be taken seriously, their team needs to make sure his work is of the highest quality. “At the bottom line, if you’re going to be in the music space, we want the music to be able to compete with any artists that are out there, whether they’re human or virtual,” he said.
FN Meka primarily lives on TikTok, where his videos have been watched a billion times and most importantly, users are actively engaging with his content. (He has an Instagram too, but a comparatively smaller following with only 206K followers.) His fans primarily come to gawk at his hypebeast designs, such as a Starbucks-themed espresso-making PS5, a Louis Vuitton baby stroller, an Apple AirPods shotgun, and a Gucci Batmobile.
Both Factory New and Vydia are using FN Meka as a sort of marketing test to gauge audiences’ interest in these types of characters and to see if these virtual personas can turn a profit in the music industry or even in the NFT space.
“FN Meka basically has the ability on TikTok to test-market the virality of songs by releasing small snippets of songs, asking people when he should release it, what he should release, what should be put in as a component of it, whether it’s an NFT, or any other kind of designs that go along to help fuel this,” LaManna said. “Then [we can] really look at the data and say, alright, this is working.”
Martini believes FN Meka has the potential to do so much more besides music, including being an ambassador for various companies. “We’ve been approached by a ton of brands, some pretty prestigious, luxury fashion brands,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in the space for the type of things that we do, but for Meka it’s really about finding things that fit organically with his fanbase, his brand aesthetics.”
That’s why partnering with virtual streetwear brand RTFKT studios to help hawk NFT items was a perfect fit, tying in the sale of the Lamborghini toilet with the release of his latest single on the NFT action site, SuperRare.
But the overall hope, LaManna explained, is that FN Meka won’t just be around for a few years, but for a lifetime: “The character of Batman transcends Adam West, transcends Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, and everyone.”