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Delray Beach artist's viral song is removed by Spotify, raising questions over AI music

Delray Beach artist King Willonius, whose AI-assisted track 'BBL Drizzy' went viral on the back of Kendrick Lamar and Drake's 2024 feud but was then taken down by Spotify.
courtesy of Willonius Hatcher
The AI-generated artwork for the AI-generated song, "BBL Drizzy," by Delray Beach native Willonius Hatcher. The catchy track went viral amidst a hip hop/rap battle between giants Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

A Delray Beach artist's song that went viral amidst a rap battle between industry greats Kendrick Lamar and Drake is now at the center of an artificial intelligence debate — after it was banned by Spotify.

Over the last two weeks, the ’70s-style R&B parody song "BBL Drizzy" has been racking up tens of millions of listens and drawing reactions across the globe. Joyous and creative takes are all over social media — from nuns on TikTok twirling around on beat, to an Indian classical Kuchipudi dancer participating in a viral singing and dance challenge.

The AI-generated artwork for the AI-generated song, "BBL Drizzy," by Delray Beach native Willonius Hatcher, an AI storyteller, comedian and songwriter, whose original catchy track drew international attention after going viral amidst a Hip Hop rap battle between Pulizer-prize winning artist Kendrick Lamar and Grammy-award winning artist Drake.
Willonius Hatcher
The AI-generated artwork for the AI-generated song, "BBL Drizzy," by Delray Beach native Willonius Hatcher, aka King Willonius.

It was inspired by the very public feud between hip hop artists Drake and Lamar, who have been releasing songs attacking each other for weeks. The song's title and lyrics are based on an insult once hurled at Drake by Miami-based rapper Rick Ross.

The track is the creation of Palm Beach County native Willonius Hatcher. Well, kind of — and there's the rub. The audiovisual comedian and storyteller, who goes by King Willonius, wrote the lyrics but the music was composed by an artificial intelligence software.

Over the years Willonius has achieved moderate success by tapping into popular culture. Stars Will Smith and Amanda Seales have even shared songs in which he incorporated them using the power of AI. But none of his releases have generated this kind of buzz — or debate.

"It's really impacting people in a positive way,” Willonius told WLRN. "As a creator the fact that you can make something that impacts people and make their day better to me just feels like a win.”

It is apparently not a win for Spotify, though. The momentum of arguably the most popular AI-generated song in hip hop and R&B history may have come to an end on the music streaming platform. Spotify has taken down the original "BBL Drizzy" from its app, after it had received more than 2.6 million listens.

King Willonius
King Willonius turned Will Smith's "Miami " song into a classic, 1960s Motown-era bop.

Willonius only found out about the platform removing his song during a music video shoot. He said he’s “upset because the impact of my song is huge.”

"I don't know why it got taken down,” Willonius said. "It's just wrong that it can't thrive on Spotify."

At the same time, many remixed and sampled versions of the song from around the world remain on their music streaming service. That includes a popular instrumental from renowned hip-hop producer Metro Boomin, which has led to people creating even more remixes with their own lyrics. Spotify did not respond to WLRN's request for comment.

The hype around the song raises questions about the power and use of AI-generated music in an industry grappling with how to implement guardrails.

A murky legal framework

From YouTube to Apple Music, determining what constitutes as authentic art or true intellectual property is on a case-by-case basis. There isn't a go-to legal framework.

Spotify does allow some AI-generated music, but it all depends on how the tool is being used — improving music production through auto-tune or streamlining the editing process is acceptable, for example. Cloning or impersonating an artist, not so much. Spotify earlier this year removed two tracks that used AI to clone artists The Weeknd and Drake.

And the streaming service does not allow AI to train its own algorithm through Spotify's large amount of music data.

READ MORE: 'I am me': New art exhibit in Delray Beach explores multi-racial 'Hapa' identities

But what about fully composed AI music that is merely inspired or influenced by existing artists or era? That murky island is where it gets “tricky,” said Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek, in an interview with BBC.

Ek said AI-generated music won’t be banned on the streaming platform but finding a middle ground about AI-generated music influenced by human beings in any era remains unclear.

For Willonius the technology was essential for an artist like him to capture the zeitgeist.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar appears at the MTV Video Music Awards, on Aug. 27, 2017, in Inglewood, Calif., left, and Canadian rapper Drake appears at the premiere of the series "Euphoria," in Los Angeles on June 4, 2019.
Rapper Kendrick Lamarat the MTV Video Music Awards, on Aug. 27, 2017, in Inglewood, Calif., left, and Canadian rapper at the premiere of the series "Euphoria," in Los Angeles on June 4, 2019.

As the battle between Drake and Lamar unfolded, he decided to get into the musical ring with the slur — a combination of Drake's nickname and the shorthand for a Brazilian butt lift — as inspiration.

He input the lyrics and a series of prompts into an AI software, which helped him to quickly arrange the singing, musical composition and production.

“The speed that I was able to put it out at without AI, you know, I would have had to go to the studio. I would have missed, completely missed that whole moment,” he said. “I think that's essentially what they are. They're just tools to enhance what we're already doing."

The song is part of a series of AI-generated films and music he has released online. Willonius told WLRN he’s planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign for an AI studio.

And while the rap battle is over, putting an end to a cultural moment that has divided the internet, the questions surrounding the use of AI-generated music linger.

Experts say that a legal ruling later this year may decide if copyright will deny protection for songs and works generated by AI or if it can attribute authorship of such works to the program's creator.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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