Hey! Hope you enjoyed your weekend. Now that The Last Dance is over, I’ll need to find something else to do on Sunday nights.
It was a great week for Canadian rapper Nav, who gamed his way to the top of the Billboard charts. Here’s a great thread from Gary Suarez on how Nav gamed his way to #1 on Billboard charts.
The Ludacris-Nelly Verzuz battle was fun. I expected Luda to win, but Nelly had a fighter’s chance if he chose the right songs! I expected to hear “Batter Up” and “#1,” but oh well. The St. Louis rapper had the time of his life despite his internet struggles, and that’s what matters. He and Luda made Hip-Hop’s Class of 2000 proud.
Today’s update is on Jay Z’s attempt to take down his “deepfakes” and why it’s a waste of his time.
Jay Z Wants His Deepfakes Taken Down
For the past few weeks, Jay Z and Roc Nation have been in an uphill battle to remove “deepfakes” from the internet. Clips of him reciting Hamlet “To Be or Not to Be” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” have made their way to YouTube.
From The Verge:
Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z has become an unlikely source of inspiration within the budding community of artificial intelligence-powered impersonation, known colloquially as deepfakes, and the rap icon’s record label has taken notice and issued copyright strikes to shut some of it down.
It’s not that Jay-Z is being maligned without his consent, as a majority of deepfakes tend to do by pasting the head of female celebrities and other women onto the bodies of adult film actresses. Rather, this is the world of safe-for-work, audio-only deepfakes that dabble mostly in parody, as well as putting on display the awe-inspiring technical sophistication the field has produced in just a few short years time.
For context, the 50-year-old rapper isn’t alone. This Pitchfork article adds more context:
The JAY-Z clips are hosted on a YouTube channel called Voice Synthesis, which is full of famous voices delivering unexpected material. All posted over the past several months, these Reddit-friendly pairings include Bob Dylan covering Britney Spears, Frank Sinatra crooning “Dancing Queen,” and various presidents reciting rap lyrics—even the particularly believable George W. Bush take on 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.”
On April 26, in a new video posted to the channel, the simulated voices of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, JFK, and FDR claimed that YouTube had taken down two JAY-Z clips at the request of his company Roc Nation. Two days later, both of those videos—the JAY-Z-ified snippets from Hamlet and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”—were back in place. A YouTube spokesperson told us that the takedown requests were found to be “incomplete,” but did not specify who filed them. The spokesperson said the videos have been “temporarily reinstated” pending more information from whoever filed the claims. The ball now seems to be in JAY-Z’s court. A spokesperson for the rapper has not responded to Pitchfork’s requests for comment.
Let’s cut to the chase. Jay Z won’t win this, and Roc Nation should put its energy elsewhere.
Roc Nation’s request to YouTube said that “This content unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our client’s voice.” But using AI to impersonate a voice isn’t unlawful. First, there’s no copyright ownership over a vocal style. If that were possible, Drake could sue half the rappers on SoundCloud. Second, these are parody video labels labeled as deepfakes. Technically, it’s no different than SNL’s Kate McKinnon impersonating U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Even if Roc Nation pursued legal battle directly against Voice Synthesis, the outcome would be similar. The anonymous creator of the YouTube page (and its active subreddit) expect more takedown requests since AI has improved. Voice Synthesis plans to ramp up its videos that include fakes on The Notorious B.I.G., U.S. Presidents, and countless others.
An AI-inspired metaverse
That said, Jay Z’s concern is understandable. His “voice” can be wrongly used to make controversial statements, start beef with other rappers, or drop guest verses for artists he doesn’t know. At this point, Watch The Throne 2 may come from an AI bot before it actually comes from Jay or Kanye West.
The fake news potential is high, but it’s still a far cry from the Voice Synthesis videos. As AI improves though, a clearer line will need to be drawn. Roc Nation wants to set the precedent now, but it should hold its chips for if (or when) AI infringes upon his copyright in a harmful way.
Despite the fears surrounding the future of AI, there’s a silver lining here. Between TravisBott and Jay Z’s Hamlet soliloquy, fans are using technology to create experiences of popular artists. This is another example of the “fanfiction” I wrote about last week on Playboi Carti. His fans used his leaked vocals to make a new track. He quickly took it down. But there’s a world where fans are empowered to use an artist’s AI vocals to create their own music. These metaverse opportunities exist today in Roblox and Fortnite. A hip-hop version would have a lucrative opportunity if done right.
From last week’s update:
This is one of the reasons why gaming is so popular. In the Metaverse, players can create their own worlds. Those worlds are never as perfect as the professionally developed ones, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all about personalization and flexibility. It attracts hobbyists, amateurs, and budding professionals. It’s the same reason why fan fiction, homemade brewing, and other DIY activities are popular. Technology makes it easier than ever.
Today’s biggest artists have brands that are just as powerful as established companies. Their business ventures span as wide as a conglomerate. The next step is to become a “platform” that fans can build experiences on. TikTok, Vine, and other social media networks have opened the doors to what’s possible from a UGC perspective. The next level is to expand opportunities within music itself. it requires more work than a TikTok meme, but the rewards can be even greater.
In the future, fans can use AI to recreate music from their favorite artist. That music can be shared in fan communities or some other platform that the artist can monetize. The challenge is that most artists don’t own a platform built for a Metaverse experience. But what if gamers in a Fortnite Party Royale can use a Steve Aoki mix, fuse it with TravisBott lyrics, and create their own music? It may only attract a niche amount of users, and probably won’t sound as good as an actual, but that’s not the point. Fans are willing to pay for the interactive experience. If it can be monetized on a platform that the artist controls, even better.
We’re still in the early days. There will be more legal disputes on the way, but that may lead to more clarity in the long run.
As a reminder, there will be no Trapital Update on Friday 5/22 or Monday 5/25. Friday’s my day off and Monday’s a holiday in the U.S. This Wednesday, I’ll re-share one of my more popular articles. Talk soon!