As a music journalist, whose practice is stooped in traditional music releases, when NFTs started popping up, it threw me for a loop. But a couple heavy metal NFTs and rock albums didn't really disrupt my workflow. And then something I had both dreaded and anticipated happened: news broke of rap's first NFT track. Okay, now I had questions.
Thanks to Grammy-nominated producer Keyon Christ earlier this week hip hop got its first NFT release. Not only that, but the song titled "Black Skin Machine" was also engineered using Artificial Intelligence trained by AI Death Metal band DADABOTS. Basically, Christ sifted through 12 hours of AI Funk, aka “no soul,” to create a track that is – believe it or not – actually very soulful. The NFT track went on to auction the Foundation platform, and within 24 hours it had sold for 5.00 ETH, or $12,268.
Christ is used to delivering musical excellence, having produced on Rihanna's ANTI album (at only 19 years old!) as well as Kanye's grandiose Life of Pablo. But even for the super-producer, this was a complete detour. The truth is rap just hasn't extended this far until now.
While rap in essence is far from conservative, when it comes to new technologies like NFTs and AI, the genre has been lagging behind. Repurposing records has been the basis of hip-hop for decades, but this rich sampling tradition never migrated beyond its traditional confines – What do you mean you created hip-hop from the discography of an Artificial Intellegence death metal band?
Keyon Christ's "Black Skin Machine" is truly a shock to the rap system. But if you're still computing the significance of this one-track revolution or are simply wondering 'what the hell?' I spoke to Christ about all the ins and outs of creating rap's first NFT and AI-based track, and what it means for the genre.
When and how did the idea for this track come about?
The idea for this track has no beginning or end. The most approximate idea-spawning session to birth the future of AI and rap music came about when DADABOTS' [AI research group] and I decided to team up to display what the future of sampling could be like at Nvidia’s GTC21 conference.
What was the AI-collaborative process like?
Two things. The process was not more difficult than sampling a human song. The process was actually more inspirational being that we had 12 hours of variations on the human element of soul to pull from, there was a continuum of ghostlike waveforms that we could peer into, extract, cut up and make into a coherent ghetto futuristic entanglement.
Is this the next step in hip hop’s sampling tradition?
Yes. From the rap fans’ standpoint: If going into the next decade rap is the most popular genre in the US, then what does that say about the way to create rap? The two need to converge. I’m here (and DADABOTS is here) to see to it that the two create a beautiful and ignorant fusion. Our goal is tribal futurism. Tribal beats meets futuristic technology. I dream of a future that is not cold, one-dimensional, or made of mere ones and zeros but more raw emotion, power, and soul than has ever been conjured into technology before. [It] starts with rap and AI.
Did you experience any difficulties creating a hip-hop track within the AI realm, which historically lacks diversity?
Yes and no. Although my ideas do not lack diversity and the sources of inspiration are non-discriminatory for my mind when I transmute my ideas sometimes they're met with backlash simply because people are traditional and not used to POCs leading the forefront of music technology. Also no. Thanks to DADABOTS and their open-mindedness, we were able to craft this experience from the bottom up to be easily injectable into my tribal futuristic workflow.
What made you decide to release this track as an NFT?
We’re creating the future of high art. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to shed some light on something that’s valuable with or without NFTs. Definitely adds more value as an NFT, though.
What do you hope to accomplish with this sale?
We hope to act as an oracle, prophetic in nature, on how godlike and diverse our future is going to be to the forefront of everyone's mental prototypes.
Why do you think NFTs are such a game-changer for the music industry?
Smart contracts. We need to do another interview for this! I have too much to say.
Do you have any advice for other musicians trying to get into the NFT game?
We’re opening a portal — if you have something unique to offer, jump through the portal and flourish. Our reality is just a dream.
You’re incorporating this technology into a forthcoming album, could you tell us a bit about that?
This album is going to be the first major release of a project in the rap genre that’ll do numbers, change the landscape of the entire music industry by introducing a new sound I’ve created rooted in AI.
After releasing as a one-of-one NFT on April 12, Keyon Christ's "Black Skin Machine" is finally available to stream. Listen to it below.