Music producer and artist Timbaland shared a sample of his latest song on Instagram this week, featuring a deepfake voice of the Notorious B.I.G. The AI-generated synthetic voice clone of Biggie Smalls adds to the increasingly heated debate over the place of generative AI in media and entertainment, with Timbaland and other proponents facing plenty of skeptical and concerned people in the music industry.
Timbaland begins the video by extolling Biggie Smalls and acknowledging the debate over AI in music. He makes it clear where he falls on the spectrum of opinion, however, and is clearly proud of what he and producer Creatr God have made.
“Alright so I’m sitting here with my brother, Creatr God, and we know that it’s a lot of talk about AI and we know how the feelings of violating certain things,” he said in the clip. “But let me tell you something: I got a solution, I’m working on it. It’s going to be beneficial to everybody,” Timbaland says in the video. “But, in the meantime, I gotta share something I’ve been working on because I always wanted to do this and I never got a chance to. I always wanted to work with Big and I never got a chance to, until today. It came out right! Play!”
Timbaland nods along to the song, letting out cheers throughout the AI rapper’s performance. The voice clone certainly sounds like the deceased rapper on a casual listen. The AI-generated lyrics are, appropriately enough, about other famous rappers murdered while still very young, including Pop Smoke, Young Dolph, and Nipsey Hussle. Hearing Biggie’s baritone mention people who passed away after he did in 1997 is a little jarring, as are some slang phrases that almost certainly became popular in the quarter century since.
Timbaland is a famous and successful music producer, so his enthusiasm for the potential of generative AI is notable, as artists and music work frantically to come up with goals and strategies to deal with the technology. That’s why Universal Music Group has even asked Spotify and other streaming services to prevent AI developers from using the music it owns to train their models. But Timbaland’s engagement with AI only highlights how plenty of anonymous people are going viral with deepfake tunes.
An AI-created song performed by digital facsimiles of Rihanna and Bad Bunny called “Por Qué” is one of the recent social media-fueled hits. It’s the second viral sensation from a creator only known as Ghrostwrider. A previous track called “Heart on My Sleeve” drew 10 million TikTok views from those interested in hearing AI versions of Drake and the Weeknd. French DJ and music producer David Guetta created and played an AI-written and performed Eminem song at some of his recent shows, calling it “Emin-AI-em.” Meanwhile, Aloe Blac deepfaked his own voice to perform a multilingual cover of Wake Me Up last year. Timbaland’s tune arrives in the wake of the singer Grimes announcing that she will offer 50% of the royalties on any AI-generated song that uses her voice, adding that she would like to end the entire royalty system by “killing copyright.” Others are getting ahead o the trend by producing their own AI voices, such as Holly Herndon, who offers a free synthetic version of her voice to make music with called Holly+, and the musical group YACHT, who trained an AI model on their music then had it write an entire album called “Chain Tripping.
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