Earlier this month, a few unreleased songs from Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD went viral on Twitter.
At first glance, this seemed fairly normal. Rap songs leak all the time, after all. But this time, something was different. These songs weren’t entirely human: They were created with the help of artificial intelligence. Fans had taken low-quality snippets they found on the internet and used AI technology to turn them into full songs with much higher audio quality.
Naturally, the internet is divided about this. The comments under these videos range from “this sounds amazing” to “this feels wrong” to “delete this.”
There’s a lot of excitement about the possibilities of AI, and some fans are elated to get high-quality versions of snippets that they thought they’d never actually hear. But at what cost? Is AI technology progressing too fast? Is this a fun fan project, or are we heading toward a scary, dystopian future where robot music becomes indecipherable from human creativity? Well, in reality, all of these things might be true.
For the people behind these AI tracks, it all started from a place of fandom. “I just really like Juice WRLD,” says Sable, a 17-year-old computer science major who makes AI remasters with Ridoraki. “I had been going through his whole catalog, like, ‘Oh I can listen to a new song every single day and never run out.’ And then I actually did run out, and I was like, ‘Oh shit, what am I going to do now?’”
According to Sable, his intentions are straightforward. “We just want to hear these songs in full,” he says. “This is a fun project. We’re not trying to make any money off of it. We literally just want to make these and share them with the world.” Another AI creator named Shadow AI Remasters echoes, “I mainly enjoy using this AI purely because of the fact I can create higher quality versions of these songs that I’ve wanted to hear for a long time, and allow others to hear them, at least until the actual song is made available.”
AI versions of popular rap songs have been popping up in various forms for the past couple of years. In the Juice WRLD fan community, an influential YouTube account named Swiper has been making AI covers since 2021, and lots of fans have used the site Uberduck.ai to create AI voices for their favorite rappers. But more recently, the technology has advanced even further. “The community has found this model called Singing Voice Conversion (SVC), where you sing and then it masks the artist’s voice over it,” Sable reveals. “So that allows us to do much better things.”
Three of the people behind these AI remasters—Sable, Shadow, and 999Scythe—spoke with Complex and explained how this all works.
Basically, they start with a snippet that already exists online. Oftentimes, it’s a blown-out clip that was recorded by the artist on a phone in very low quality and previewed on Instagram Live or Snapchat. From there, they get someone to sing or rap a cover of the vocals in the snippet. Shadow AI Remasters, for example, uses Lil Uzi Vert covers sung by Uziclone, and the Ridoraki team has their own crew of vocalists who sing Juice WRLD covers from scratch.
Once the cover vocal is recorded, it’s run through an AI model that has been trained to replicate the voice of a specific artist. To create “Right With Me,” for example, an AI replica of Lil Uzi Vert’s voice was masked over a cover sung by Uziclone.
At this point, the cover sounds nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, and it’s placed over a remade beat of the snippet (often found on a Discord server called Creative Hub). And voila! The AI remaster is complete.
So, how do they get the AI voices to be so accurate in the first place? It’s pretty simple: the most realistic AI models are the ones that have been trained on many hours of clean vocals from an artist. As 999Scythe, a 17-year-old fan who says he uses a model called DiffSVC, explains, “It depends on how many samples you have if it will sound good. If you have a ton of samples like I do, then it will sound good.” According to Sable, Ridoraki’s model is trained “on 70 Juice WRLD studio studio sessions, but that is way overboard,” adding, “You can probably do it with less than five.”
In some cases, the AI remasters are simply higher-quality versions of lo-fi snippets, and no additional lyrics are added. In these situations, Sable says he believes what they’re doing is “completely ethical” because they’re simply “re-creating songs that Juice WRLD has already sung before, and we just want to try and make it a higher quality.”
In other instances, which are much more controversial, they come up with new lyrics in order to flesh out short snippets. When this happens, the cover singers write (or freestyle) new verses in the style of the artist.
“For the most part, we’ve been just re-creating what has already been made, but for ‘Drive Me Crazy,’ we wrote a second verse for it,” Sable says. “And for ‘No Jumper,’ there was the intro and we added a few bars. For ‘Sippin’ Red,’ we completely finished that song. We just have our cover artists kind of freestyle over it. That’s how Juice did it in the sessions. So to try and keep it authentic, we’re trying to freestyle it, too, and usually it turns out pretty good.”
This is where the ethical dilemma intensifies. When these AI tracks with made-up lyrics are clearly labeled as “artificial intelligence remasters” and passed around the friendly confines of fan Discord servers, some argue that they’re relatively harmless. They think of them like fan-fiction, but more realistic. However, Sable and 999Scythe both admit that the technology can be used for harm when it’s in the wrong hands.
“I heard about a ‘Juice WRLD’s last moments before seizure’ video that went viral on TikTok, where they used an AI thing to say something and people believed it, and I thought that was really messed up,” Sable says. “I don’t like it when people make him say things that he wouldn’t say. Someone asked me to deep fake their Ally Lotti diss track for them and it breaks my heart.”
Scammers have also infiltrated the AI remaster world, attempting to sell these tracks as if they were authentic songs. “My homie got scammed over $2,000 off of an AI,” 999Scythe reveals. “So basically, the guy sent snippets and shit, and my homie got scammed over that shit. He thought it was a real leak. Don’t worry, though. I got his money back for him.”
Of course, there are also ethical concerns about using AI technology to create new Juice WRLD verses that he didn’t actually write while he was alive—a fact that Sable wrestles with. “With the whole adding verses and stuff, I can see how people don’t like that,” he says, before repeating that he views this as a “fun fan project” and arguing that his team avoids any lyrical topics that Juice WRLD didn’t actually rap about. Then he adds, “If we do end up getting any monetization from this, we’re going to try to donate at least a portion of it to the Live Free 999 charity that Juice’s mom started.”
I can’t help but ask what each of these fans think about artificial intelligence in general, and if they’re nervous about the potential downsides of the technology as it continues to improve.
“When people get into AI, they think it’s going to be 100 percent correct and take over the whole world, but we’re not even close to that yet,” 999Scythe argues. “You can tell which one’s AI and which one’s not.” Pausing to consider a reality where AI is indecipherable from reality, he adds, “But if mine actually go to that point, I’m deleting it, because that’s scary as fuck. It’s scary sometimes, low-key. I make AI and I’m even scared of it sometimes.”
Sable has similarly conflicted thoughts about the future of AI as it continues to get more technologically advanced. “GPT-4 is coming out and I’m kind of scared, but I also feel like the creators of it are going to do a good enough job limiting what people can do with it so that they won’t end up ruining a lot of topics,” he predicts. “I’m just excited to see where it goes. I don’t think it’s going to take over the world or anything. After all, it’s just an algorithm. It’s a very, very complicated algorithm. It’s not actual intelligence.”
In the immediate future, the biggest concern is that AI technology will create a scenario where it’ll be nearly impossible to believe anything you see on the internet—whether it’s a photo, audio, or video. When I bring this up, Sable says, “Yeah, you’re not going to be able to believe anything.”
He’s much less worried about fears that AI will become sentient, though. “A lot of people think that the AI thinks consciously like a human, but all of these models just take an input and they output something based on what they’ve been fed,” he says. “They’re not consciously thinking about topics and problem-solving. They’re just working based on what they have seen in the past, whether that be the dataset of the entire internet or just Juice WRLD’s studio sessions.”
999Scythe, who recently released a remaster of Juice WRLD’s “Both Ways” and will continue working on more, sees artificial intelligence as a jumping off point for a longer future in music that will include non-AI productions (a sentiment he shares with Shadow AI Remasters). “I would like to do music production—anything that involves music,” Scythe says. “I love music. It’s my life.”
Asked how he would react if he woke up one day to see that the music world had been fully taken over by AI, he responds with a laugh, “I would say kill AI. Because I want some real rappers, bro. Not some AI motherfuckers.”