How Generative AI-Based Art Can Echo Sampling & Remixing of Hip Hop Culture — Afrofuturist Artist Nettrice Gaskins Adds Her Voice to an Open Letter to Congress

Portrait of rapper Kendrick Lamar by Nettrice Gaskins from 2018

Creative Commons recently published an open letter to Congress, calling for artists who use generative AI in their creative works to be part of conversation on the future of the medium, and how it will be regulated:

We see a unique opportunity in this moment to shape generative AI’s development responsibly. The broad concerns around human artistic labor being voiced today cannot be ignored. All too often, major corporations and other powerful entities use technology in ways that exploit artists’ labor and undermine our ability to make a living. If you seek to ensure generative AI’s revolutionary trajectory benefits humanity as a whole, it would be a gross oversight to exclude those in our society who are working within its potential and its limitations.

While signed by dozens of working artists, I was especially excited to see the leading signature, because she's very familiar to longtime New World Notes readers:

Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, who's been using AI in her art practice for about 8 years. Starting in 2016 — long before Midjourney and other generative AI programs even existed — she was experimenting with the Deep Dream neural network to create these amazing Afrofuturist portraits of great Black artists

Creative Commons and Internet activist group Fight for the Future reached out to Nettrice and other artists for their input on the letter. As the author of the book Techno-Vernacular Creativity and Innovation, she makes a uniquely powerful case for the validity of art created with generative AI with this statement:

As a visual artist of over 30 years I often try new tools to push the boundaries of what others say is possible, which I think is the purpose of art… creativity and innovation.

Generative AI opened doors that I didn't know were there and provided opportunities that didn't exist before. The images I make using AI (deep learning) make me feel good and that feeling translates to others. The nature of the tool is to find new styles, new aesthetics in between existing ones, esp. for those of us who create or make images.

Generative AI feels like sampling and remixing, two techniques from hip hop music production that I have some experience with or knowledge of. These techniques were part of a culture that was synonymous with grit, resilience and creativity.

Here she cites hiphop star Rodrigo Venegas'  summation of the spirit driving the whole of hip hop creative culture through the decades: "You want to cut our art programs? We’re going to turn the whole city into a canvas. You want to cut our music programs? We’re going to turn turntables into instruments. You want to silence our communities? Then we’re going to grab these microphones and use our voices." 

For Dr. Gaskins, generative AI is now part of that process:

"For some of us," as she puts it to me, "generative AI is a continuation of these creative practices. Not sure where in the letter this thinking fits but I just wanted to offer it: Generative AI in the hands of artists fosters more art, more creativity, and more innovation, which is in the spirit of human growth as well as global competitiveness."

Read the whole thing here, and see more of Nettrice's work in my 2019 profile here and some more here.

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