Emcee AI: The Robot Rapper Takeover


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Technology and music have always had a complicated relationship—live shows to recorded music, instruments to beat machines…. The advancements that allow two artists to record the same song from different studio locations to save money and time might come at the expense of the in-person chemistry of a shared studio session. Now, with the emergence of A.I. (artificial intelligence), computers can create a song ‘by’ one’s favorite rapper—dead or alive, and it begs the question: Is this an early-stage cancer to the Hip Hop art form?

Legendary producer Timbaland delivered a what-if scenario nobody asked for when he posted a video from his Instagram with an AI-generated Notorious BIG song. “I always wanted to work with BIG, and I never got a chance to, until today,” said Timbaland, “It came out right!!” To a Xennial generation, the BIG vocals sound less like the late Brooklyn Don and more like Siri doing a racist “Black people talk like this”impression.

G-Unit member Tony Yayo expressed the same eerie feeling on Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson after playing 50 Cent’s classic “Many Men” only to be performed by Biggie AND the late Tupac Shukar. After BIG sings the hook, and Pac passionately recites the lines, Yayo and Tyson bop their heads in shock and enjoyment. [TL1] “That’s 2Pac right there, bro!” Tony yells, “That’s where the future’s going!” However, the future is now because AI-generated music isn’t only for deceased legends, it’s for contemporary pop stars, too. Take the AI version of The Weeknd and Drake’s song, “Heart on My Sleeve.” Unfortunately, despite being fake, it’s also good. Not “music geek” good, but “Friday night at the club after a few rounds good”—which is terrifying.

The man-versus-machine theory has been a Matrix fear since the invention of the wheel. The concern that AI-generated music is harmful to artistry and humankind has been expressed by many from the music and technology industries. Grammy-award winner and audio engineer Young Guru expressed concern on his Instagram, “You can literally create a song or an album in the voice of your favorite musician. And this is just music. The ability to create a Manchurian Candidate scares me. Think about that in every industry.” Never one to hold his tongue, Ice Cube called AI-generated music “demonic.” The West-Coast rap pioneer said on The Full Send podcast, “I think artists need to go back to using their real voice and making sure people know this is authentic and not made from a computer.”

Dr. Geoffrey Hinton, a computer scientist nicknamed The Godfather of A.I., has the highest regard for the mere existence of Artificial Intelligence. Yet his own fear of the growing technology he worked on for 50-plus years caused him to step down from a position with Google. “These things could get more intelligent than us and could decide to take over,” said Hinton, “and we need to worry now about how we prevent that happening.”Bringing a real meaning to the phrase “consider the source.”

The rise of AI-generated music in Hip Hop is not a typical Old School vs. New School argument of the genre’s finest eras. It is a threat to the authentic creativity of the artists. Unfortunately, the value of art itself increases when an artist is no longer present to create more. For deceased MCs and rappers such as 2pac and Biggie, their legacy is the beauty of hearing a 1990’s perspective throughout generations. When Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West creatively align, it’s potentially magic. But when it’s computer-generated, it’s robotic trash. Hip Hop is a voice of the people whose lived experiences breathe life into the culture; anything less, or merely manufactured, threatens its existence.

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