The Hidden Hand of AI in the Rap Biz

Will would-be MC's look to artificial intelligence to write rhymes?

Welcome to 41st issue of Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday (I know, it's Sunday...) focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links (15-25 of them) to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. You can check out the archive, here, and read more about me, here. If you’re already a BF subscriber, thank you for your continued support. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of a forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. And please share this newsletter with your circle so that they can enjoy it, too; personal referrals are my best path to long-term growth. With that said, let’s get into it….

Front Seat 

This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….

SIX MONTHS AGO, much was made over FN Meka, the artificial intelligence-powered rap avatar that Capital Records signed to their label by way of Factory New, a company that billed itself as specializing in virtual beings. Although FN Meka was voiced by a Black man, the team that constructed FN Meka weren't Black. And critics lashed out at the concept, which they described as digital blackface due to the AI-constructed image and lyrical content. Think a cliched Soundcloud rapper look with over-the-top, gun-toting rhymes. Capital eventually parted ways with the project after Industry Blackout launched a protest. AI isn't going anywhere, though. In fact, ChatGPT has been in the news much of the new year over its potential to write term papers or journalism pieces. It got me to thinking about FN Meka again and wondering what would happen in the formula was tweaked: a real rapper delivering AI-backed (ghostwritten) rhymes. 

Back Seat

Respect my mind or die from lead shower.

If you take the URL from this post and paste it on Twitter or LinkedIn, the image that will populate is A.I. generated via Also, the headline of this newsletter was written with the aid of ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence. After using the technology for both, I’ve similarly reached the same conclusion about it that’s concerned many in recent headlines: It’s not that great in terms of accuracy, it’s ripe for plagiarism and…I can also sense the impending normalness of its use. 

Since the turn of the calendar year, talk of ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence tool has littered my timeline. There were articles about college papers being written using it, cracks that Buzzfeed would use the tech to replace its staff, and music producers using its assistance in songwriting. 

I saw some laughably bad examples of A.I.'s writing, but then I read a piece where A.I. was asked to come up with a Vice article and it was just absurd enough to feel nearly authentic.

What struck me was that there’s a certain motif to what Vice does that the A.I. was able to pick up on—and since rap is nothing if not a certain pattern, could ChatGPT or a similar A.I. outfit be successful in pulling off rhymes?

With that, I thought about rapper’s with distinct bars and punchlines. Big Sean came to mind and I’d use him to lead my experiment. Now, ChatGPT is the hottest A.I. operation on the block and the one generating the majority of the commentary on its threat to the future of education, work, etc. It took me a few days to log on to the platform as a result, due to the servers being overworked and the network too busy to join. But once I got on, I inputted a simple request: Rap like Big Sean.

So, not great, like I mentioned above. Upon closer review, however, you can see some small seeds of success. I'm Big Sean, you can never touch/ I'm the greatest of all time, no need to discuss. 

For my next attempt, I tried another simple request: Rap like Drake. 

I was impressed. Again, not great, but this was better. And I noticed it was more specific; see the king of the six reference? This time I thought about my inputs and decided to ask for a rap like Drake but without saying his name so much in the bars. 

Again, better. There's a Drake song simulator that's floating around the internet that is essentially this same activity I was engaging in, but with more polished algorithm string of inputs. The Drake simulator asks for a song topic on the front end and to enter it in for a generated verse. On the back end, baked into it, are inputs for how Drake flows and how he sounds. Once you hit enter, you get a result that has an artificial intelligence-voiced rap. You can listen to my example (watching the sunset after a first date), here.

For my next attempt with ChatGPT, I wanted to get even more specific: Megan Thee Stallion rapping a guest verse on SZA's "Kill Bill" without saying Big Latto's name (as if it was loaded with subliminal on the late '90s/early 2000s tradition of sneak disses in R&B songs). This is what I got:

Better. And while my first examples for Big Sean and Drake were 14 bars instead of the traditional 16 for a verse, this time I got a nice tidy 8 bars, perfect for a remix. Together, the A.I. and I were progressing in our efforts. 

Now think about our rap commentary. There's a lot of artists out there, who have the look, personality, or it factor, and we say, well, they're just a song or hit away. The meaning behind that is usually indicating that everything else is there in the package.

Practically speaking, if they don't have the pen to deliver such hit, then they've reached a limit to their approach—or, hired assistance can be brought in. Hired assistance has many shapes: a superproducer to lend their sound or a songwriter to help with a bridge, pre-chorus and hook. And the most controversial means of assistance in rap, of course, is the ghostwriter, which isn't always Casper (S. Carter, ghostwriter/ and for the right price I can even make your shit tighter).

Since writing ability is sacrosanct hip-hop and hiding names in the credits is more Madoff than Grainge, you mean to tell me, artificial intelligence isn't appealing on the surface to some? There's no bodies to be buried. We're probably naive to think it's not already happening to some extent. 

Just imagine someone with savvy programming strings that are beyond my rudimentary inputs like rap like Big Sean. It'd be no different than, say, a friend who's never played football a day in their life, but knows all the intricacies of a spread offense and can run an pro-style attack on "Madden" that would make Sean McVay take notice. Enter "rap like Travis Scott on 'Sicko Mode'" with "rap about topics like Playboi Carti" and "punchlines like Flo Milli" (and all the itinerant etceteras) and the output = stardom?

If it's successful...we'd never really know. 

Trunk (Music)

Music, news, reads, podcasts and videos that I’m checking for this week.

Girl gang gang! Flo Milli recruits Lola Brooke and Maiya The Don for the “Conceited” remix; the original already went but the new edition sings (#wordplay). Lola has been having a hell of a run lately, which includes Lil Kim bringing her out at the Apollo on Friday night. [Listen]

EST Gee isn’t suffering from a holiday hangover; he released two tracks, including “If I Stop Now,” which is an absolutely banger and an ode to getting it and “Blow Up,” a white-knuckled grind. [Listen] [Listen]

Don Tolliver is tapped by Zack Bia for the latter’s debut single (he’s a DJ and the exec behind Yeat) and on “Hardcore” the former puts on a melodic show, careening his vocals around a few twists and turns. [Listen

Bas is back with a melancholy (a lot of laid back raps this week) take on dream chasing in Diamonds. [Listen]

I’m really enjoying Rae Sremmurd’s slow motion return. It hasn’t been fussy or overwrought, just a song here and a track there. This one, “Sucka Or Sum,” is the best of the new batch so far, if you ask me. [Listen

Lil Yatchy is back with a new project that takes its direction from alt rock. I’m not Chuck Klosterman, but I think Lil Boat caught a wave on Let’s Start Here. [Listen]

Congratulations: Erika Montes is named prez of Rostrum Records and Whitney-Gayle Benta joins JKBX as its Chief Music Office. [Info] [Info] Also: Tunecore names Papoose their new Head of Hip-Hop. [Info] Related (because Whit, Joseph and myself all worked together): The Onyx Collection announced Questlove’s Sly Stone film is coming to Hulu and the doc’s producer, Joseph Patel, has a new first-look deal with the company. [Info

Rock The Bells announces the lineup for their Hip-Hop 50 cruise, featuring Rick Ross, Ghostface Killah, DJ Jazzy Jeff and more.  [Info

TikTok admits their employees can press the gas themselves to create virality in a way the company hadn’t previously disclosed. [Info]

Paid in full: Flo Rida wins a mult-million dollar lawsuit against an energy drink he once endorsed. [Info

Complex named their Best Rapper Alive for 2022….21 Savage. While I don’t agree with the pick (I think it was Kendrick), I identify with the idea of 21 with momentum versus a K.Dot that is at a plateau. You? [Read]

I love the idea of this project and I’m still unpacking it to make a final call after a first listen, but I’m certain this interview with SkyZoo (by William Ketchum) about his Snowfall-inspired album (Mind of Saint) is a winner. [Read]

GQ is looking under the hood of Sound 42 and proclaiming that Drake and his team are re-inventing radio. The Apollo concert was just step one. [Read]

New Memphis royalty, GloRilla, visits Harlem as a part of this feature-ette in Pitchfork. [Read]

RollingStone’s Andre Gee: The Courts Screwed Gunna, Now He’s Being Shunned by His Peers. [Read]

Billboard with a report about Latin and World Music’s growth being more than merely Bad Bunny’s dominance; inside, there’s also a good paragraph or two about hip-hop's health: “the sky isn’t falling just yet.” [Read]

The RapCaviar Podcast is back from its holiday hiatus and we got a banger: Cole Bennett, Calmatic and Director X talk about the state of music videos and revisit their career highlights. [Listen

All podcast eythang. Drink Champs connect with Math Hoffa’s My Expert Opinion crew for the latest episode. [Listen]

TDE’s post-Kendrick operation started with its vets, SZA and Ab-Soul, but I’m really interested in how their next gen artists carry the label. We’ll get our first look with Lance Skiiiwalker, who has a new album next month, in which we have our first preview, “Beantown,” a jazzy number with a breezy video to match. [Watch

There’s a lot of Polo G “Pop Out” flow in SleazyWorld Go’s “Robbers and Villains” and while the two artists don’t normally share a delivery, there is a similarity in their laid back approaches and after being named an Artist to Watch by Spotify’s Most Necessary brand, things are looking to go up for Sleazy this year. [Watch]

Quando Rondo delivered a twin set with “Long Live Pabb” and “Speeding,” both full of his trademark weary ruminations on loyalty and life. [Watch] [Watch]

Papa-to-be Cordae returns with “Two Tens” featuring Anderson .Paak and in the clip the two trade verses about the highs and lows of club night and its aftermath. [Watch]

I overlooked this track on release, but A$AP Rocky’s “Same Problems,” which he put out on Yams Day, is a somber look at the loss of life and his performance of it during Amazon Live was especially moving, punctuated by images of all those we recently lost. [Watch]

Finesse2Tymes drops the visual to "Finesse Duh P" and this some real Memphis shit right here. [Watch]

Ice Spice got a hero’s welcome when she sat down with Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning for an interview on her come-up. [Watch] Related: Ice Spice's "in ha mood" video. [Watch]

Joey Bada$$ went down under where he sang a rendition of “Umi Says” for Like a Version. [Watch]

Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by me, Jayson Rodriguez, for Smarty Art. If you have any comments, feedback or questions, feel free to email me: [email protected]. If you would like to discuss sponsoring an issue of the newsletter, contact: holler@ and check out the rates, here. And follow me elsewhere:

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