I, Rapper: Imagining a Hip-Hop Future With A.I.
Artificial intelligence is one of the most fascinating yet terrifying concepts in human history. Its prevalence is also inevitable at this point, as we see more iterations of the technology every day across every industry.
What makes AI so scary is the fact that, while created by humans, it’s distinctly inhuman. For now, AI operates within the parameters set by its human creator, but many have envisioned a near-future where AI works sovereignly and quickly surpasses the intelligence of those that birthed it. Skynet, I, Robot—there’s no shortage of doomsday scenarios in Hollywood revolving around superhuman intelligence that mutates beyond our control.
Until AI (maybe actually) takes over, however, its current manifestation is one of great assistance, using algorithms to perform tasks that would take humans exponentially longer. AI has already begun to simplify financial institutions, healthcare systems, transportation infrastructures and more.
But as the technology becomes more accessible to the public, its many uses are becoming more commonplace and widespread—AI is now in the music realm. Many of you probably saw the recent story about the 17-year-old from West Virginia who created an AI bot that raps using Kanye West lyrics, but what if this is just the beginning of an AI takeover of our beloved culture?
Think about it. Music and math go hand in hand. Rhythm, scales, harmonies—these are all mathematically representable occurrences that can and have been duplicated by computers. Just as MPCs are able to create instrumental loops with minimal input, what if AI came to replace ghostwriters as a secret hit-crafting mechanism?
For those that think I’m entirely too high and this is a total reach, allow me to present some evidence that might scare the shit out of you. Sony has already built one of these programs, and although it hasn’t yet set its sights on hip-hop, it makes the possibility of AI’s participation in music creation a reality.
Even the Kanye West bot built by the kid in West Virginia is currently capable of writing original lines. The quality of the material is debatable, but we’re currently in the Stone Age of AI on a grand scale, so the scenario I’m proposing is neither outside the realm of possibility—or that far removed from current day—for that matter.
Imagine a major label (like Sony Music, for example) gets their hands on a more developed version of this technology. Now, rather than scour SoundCloud and YouTube for the next viral smash, an AI bot is programmed with an extensive library of the most used or “buzzworthy” terms in present-day hip-hop. This vocabulary is then cross-referenced with streaming analytics, chart positions and record sales, and after some guy in a suit clicks “Start,” voila, a song is created—lyrics and all—that is statistically crafted to succeed.
Of course, computers can’t account for every aspect of what makes a song popular—there are absolutely intangible, incalculable factors at play that make certain songs resonate with us. But, a properly programmed AI system could sure as hell make it even easier to lock down a hit.
Even on an individual level, artists have never been more tech savvy than they are right now. The assistance of AI could help a struggling SoundCloud rapper become a lyrical genius with the click of a button. Think the landscape is crowded now? Wait until 15 year-olds across the country are programming AI bots with Kendrick, Eminem and Rakim lyrics.
How will we be able to discern what’s human-made and what isn’t? Will there even be room for talk of authenticity in hip-hop culture once AI is secretly responsible for half of XXL’s Freshman Class? What happens when Draketron-5000 is releasing tracks that are mathematically structured to be stuck in your head for days?
These are questions for a future I’m frankly not prepared for, and hopefully, it’s still a ways off. Make no mistake though, AI is here to stay, and no facet of human life is safe from its grasp—not even the supremely human art of hip-hop.