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May 10, 2023

Meek Mill befuddled by AI-generated song about his dad, who was killed during the rapper's childhood

Streaming platforms like Spotify are cracking down on music made using artificial intelligence. Some artists have embraced it

The infancy of artificial intelligence in the hands of the public has led to some interesting multimedia experiments — some of them impressive, some perplexing and others downright bad.

Early Wednesday morning, rapper Meek Mill tweeted a video of a rap song, "Back From The Grave," that he said was generated by artificial intelligence. The song's bars are spoken from the perspective of his father, called Big Robbie in the video, who was shot to death when Meek Mill was 5 years old

It's unclear whether Meek Mill or someone else prompted an AI program to make this song, or if the photo in the video is of Meek Mill's late dad, Robert Parker, but the rapper appears to have been thrown for a loop by the lyrics. 

"I'm Big Robbie and I'm back with a plan. I'm comin' back to life to see my fam," the glitchy AI voice raps. "My soul's come alive. I'm gonna' make it right. Back from the grave, I'm gonna' fight the fight."

Meek Mill, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, rapped about his dad's death on the song "Traumatized" from his 2012 breakout album "Dreams & Nightmares." The lyrics touch on his feelings of vengeance toward his dad's killer and the way that losing his father tore his family apart.

In the years before AI entered the mainstream, some artists used it as a tool to enhance their songwriting. English ambient music legend Brian Eno released a generative AI version of his album "Reflection," which plays infinitely and changes depending on the time of day. On the other end of the spectrum, composer Holly Herndon used a machine learning platform called Spawn to create a haunting barrage of sounds called "Godmother." She wanted the song to display the way AI can bring chaos into some semblance of order, without more deliberate refinement.

"I find something hopeful about the roughness of this piece of music," Herndon said in 2018 of the track. "Amidst a lot of misleading AI hype, it communicates something honest about the state of this technology; it is still a baby. It is important to be cautious that we are not raising a monster."

Other AI music projects have pursued a more accessible pop vein, like Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou's fictional Instagram model Miquela, who's been releasing songs as a "virtual musician" since 2017. The character debuted a music video at Lollapalooza and was named one of Time's most influential "people" on the internet in 2018.

Alongside the promise and perils of AI-generated music, there's also the prospect of song-making technology being exploited for easy money. Spotify has pulled thousands of AI-generated songs over concerns about the latest method of "artificial streaming," which uses bots to inflate stream counts and earn royalties.

Although record companies like Universal Music Group are worried about copyright infringements, Spotify's recent crackdown is particularly geared toward AI-generated music made on Boomy. The two-year-old platform can put together original songs in seconds, allowing users to crudely mix their tracks and select sounds that fit a wide range of genres.

Boomy promotes the fact that its users can submit their AI-generated songs to streaming platforms and make money off of them with relative ease, at least compared to artists whose work isn't ready-made. The company's website says its users have made some 14.5 million songs, accounting for just under 14% of the world's music.

In April, Spotify CEO Daniel Elk acknowledged the creative potential of AI-generated music, but said it shouldn't impinge on the artists who use the platform.

"We're working with our partners on trying to establish a position where we both allow innovation but, at the same time, protect all of the creators that we have on our platform," he said.

That tension surfaced last month when an AI-generated song that cloned the voices of Drake and The Weeknd popped up on streaming platforms and TikTok. The streamers removed it after it went viral, but the incident resurfaced longstanding complaints about deepfakes gaining traction on the platforms. The rapid growth in AI's capabilities continues to fuel anxiety over what the future holds for artists and the broader creative industry.

It doesn't sound as though Meek Mill got his rap gifts from his robot dad Big Robbie. He's probably filing this AI-generated song under the "nightmares" category.