Hip-hop changed pop culture almost exactly 50 years ago, and as it celebrates half a century it suddenly looks old enough to interrupt itself. It’s an art form that’s famously based on preexisting material, as the earliest rappers would rhyme pastiches on vinyl records with certain breaks repeated in a loop. The emergence of generative AI is to create songs based on unauthorized reproductions of famous artists’ voices and musical styles. Sound familiar? For Ice Cube, the Compton-born rapper who is one of the forefathers of modern hip-hop, it’s a “demon.” He didn’t want to hear that the two scenarios were the same.
The development of creative artificial intelligence is beginning to threaten musicians and artists, who find themselves in the crossfire of machines that can produce text, sound, and images. Drake and The Weeknd only a few of the rappers have had to listen to amazing replicas of their voices created by AI, and even if computers haven’t yet created a viral fake of his voice, Ice Cube already has a say in the age of AI in rap. . .
“I think AI is demonic,” he said on Full Send podcast in an interview published last week. “I think there is a backlash because of AI. I think people want things that are organic and not artificial.”
AI has become all the rage in the past six months, and scammers are taking full advantage. Synthesizing another person’s voice used to be a difficult technological hurdle, but modern AI systems only need a few audio samples to create a voice clone of anyone, even celebrities. It provides a series of music deepfakes, which even famous artists like Rihanna find their vocals used on a song they didn’t record.
This was a common sampling practice in the golden age of hip-hop in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Sampling is a common practice in the music industry, when an artist completes their work using a digital piece of another sound recording, or a sample, made by another artist.
The sampling is foundation especially in hip-hop, because it allows artists who may not know how to play an instrument but have an ear for a good beat to create a hit song. The first hip-hop artists created the genre by combining samples from jazz, rock, and funk songs. New York City’s Beastie Boys, working with master-samplers the Dust Brothers, released their second album in 1989, Paul’s Boutique, an enduring cult classic that is 95% samplesaccording to Rolling Stone. The album would have been probably costing millions under the current sampling rules, and the trouble with lawsuits it creates has deterred other artists from using sampling extensively.
Ice Cube is no stranger to sampling, as is his hip-hop group NWA especially sample several old funk and soul songs on its debut album Straight Outta Compton. Sampling rules have become stricter over the past few decades following numerous lawsuits accusing artists of violating copyright laws. The Beastie Boys used to be target of the Beatles alleging unauthorized use of samples in their work. In the 90s, even Ice Cube was involved in a surprise legal battle on his debut solo album with none other than Mister Rogers, who admitted that one of Ice Cube’s songs, A Gangsta’s Fairytaleused without permission in a sample of educational children’s shows Mister Rogers neighborhoodopen it.
Sampling, AI and their intersection with law is a live issue. A Supreme Court decision this month ruled that artist Andy Warhol violated copyright laws when he reworked a photo of the late musician Prince, a precedent experts said could more difficult for artists to borrow others’ work in the future.
But many samples are still taken with permission from copyright holders, while even many instances where short samples are taken without permission are considered Receive under fair use laws. In his podcast interview, Ice Cube perhaps surprisingly revealed himself as a supporter of the litigation of unauthorized sampling, and applied it to AI
“It’s like a sample. That means someone can’t take your original voice and manipulate it without having to pay,” he said. “If I don’t pay for it, it’s theft.”
Ice Cube said that if he were to be investigated by an AI voice replicant, he would not hesitate to sue whoever programmed the AI and whoever played his illicitly borrowed voice. Some artists are getting on board with AI-generated content using their voice—as long as they get paid for it. Pop musician Grimes tweeted last month that he supports “killing copyright” and invites AI to use his voice with impunity, setting terms for “50% royalties on any successful song created by AI that uses my voice. “
But even a royalty windfall might not be enough to get Ice Cube on board in the music industry with technology, as he took the time in his interview to criticize artists who increasingly use digital crutches in their work.
“Artists lost Autotune, and now they have AI,” he said. “I don’t think people want a computerized rapper anymore. They want their voice to be heard. I don’t hear any rappers in their voice anymore.