Here’s What Happens When Artificial Intelligence Designs Cover Art and A&Rs Dream Collaborative LPs

The dawn of a new era is here - one where artificial intelligence creative directs collab albums from Carlos Santana and Young Thug, 'Madvillainy 2,' Odd Future's reunion LP & more.
By    August 4, 2022

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

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Will Hagle‘s nap during Hamilton live cost him $3 per minute.

“Artificial intelligence” is an irritating tech buzz-phrase but also an undeniable aspect of an imminent technological revolution. Those most passionate about implementing A.I. are annoying human-gnats, eager to suck the last lingering lifeblood of our crumbling civilization under the guise of progress. They are unavoidable, and unstoppable. Laugh them off or ignore them, but they are right: A.I. is going to transform society like Spielberg’s 2001 film A.I. did cinema.

At this rate, it will not be long before our most commercially celebrated painters, writers, and musicians are computers with varying degrees of questionable sentience. A.I. will soon surpass the physical limitations of individual creativity, and become capable of generating society’s most marketable paintings, songs, books, and movies. In our coming dystopia, Jay-Z will finally be proven wrong. Auto-tune was just the start, and he couldn’t kill it. Future-art will be auto-everything. The robots will be like DJ Khaled: somehow crafting hits with minimal effort. Sci-fi works in which humans triumph are all wrong: all the androids do is win, win, win, no matter what.

We are almost there.

An A.I. model called Dall-E Mini recently experienced a level of viral fame to which every Twitter addict aspires, catching on with a wide audience for its simplistic yet entertaining use case. (Note: In a respectable cash grab, Dall-E Mini has been rebranded as craiyon) Enter any text prompt, and the computer generates a unique image. An easy premise, with endless repeatability. “Weird Dall-E Mini Generations” — an account posting the model’s best and funniest creations—now has 1M followers. Other models like Midjourney and Disco Diffusion also allow users to generate images by inputting prompts that dictate content, style, or a variety of other specifics. Like actual artists, each of these A.I. models have their own distinct look and capabilities. DALL-E, given its namesake, has surrealist taste. Midjourney is more capable of adhering to the prompt “photorealistic.”

At this stage, A.I. is another tool that helps translate the human imagination into an artistic medium, like a pen or paintbrush. The difference is that A.I. models remove barriers of entry like artistic training, practice, and knowledge. Whereas a producer proficient in Ableton uses a computer to construct beats they’d be incapable of replicating with analogue instruments, an “artist” using a music-generating tool like AIVA just has to type in an idea of what they’re hoping for. Then the computer spits out something else. The fundamental philosophical questions are still being tested: who, if anyone, “created” a piece of A.I. art? Who, then, owns it and can monetize it?

As an example of how A.I. will impact writing, I will auto-generate this next paragraph by running the preceding paragraph through Inferkit, a program that elaborates upon source text, modeling linguistic structure and building upon the initial ideas: It’s hard to believe that a time before self-expression was possible would ever come, as for most of human existence human beings operated in very constricted environments. However, as human beings gained access to more and more creative tools, we developed a powerful force that served to drive our collective imagination to new heights. For better or worse, it also helped to destroy ourselves.

If those sentences don’t terrify you, perhaps this image generated in Midjourney via the prompt “AI self portrait: wasting my life generating art” will:

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

As annoying as A.I. evangelists can be, and as ominous as the tech’s potential power may seem, messing around with these still-relatively-primitive tools can be as fun as it was back in my day to sext with SmarterChild on AIM. Using Midjourney’s quick image-generating capabilities, and Inferkit’s text-generating skills, “I” created the following list of dream musical collaborative LPs. Hopefully they will provide a nice soundtrack to accompany a Jet Li-in-Hero-style barrage of bullets when those gun-toting robot dogs take aim at us.

Carlos Santana & Young Thug  – Supernatural Connection

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

Carlos Santana and Young Thug are two artists who push the base functionality of their primary instruments to the limit with casual effortlessness in order to, like A.I., achieve an unexpected output that’s more evocative than what the most technically adept produce. Santana’s searing, meandering guitar solos are akin to Young Thug’s melodic vocal explorations. Both are shamans who use different tools not just to access the same universal ephemeral spiritual realm from which all music derives, but to exemplify its sanctity. If Rob Thomas could give Santana a later-career hit, Young Thug could make a smoother one.

Supernatural Connection, the A.I.-suggested album title, is spot-on. These two artists may never shake hands or fuse limbs in this lifetime, but their respective bodies of work have an eternal spiritual link. To generate the cover, I used the prompt: “album cover, Carlos Santana & Young Thug, album called ‘Spiritual Connection,’ style of Mati Klarwein.”

Mati Klarwein is the designer behind Santana’s 1970 sophomore album Abraxas, which the guy who works at Timewarp Records once told me “freaked me the fuck out as a kid, man.” Santana needed no visual accompaniment to accentuate his psychedelica. During his infamous Woodstock set, an accidental dosage courtesy of Jerry Garcia caused the neck of his guitar to shapeshift into slithering snakes, but he never lost his calm control. Abraxas’ bright collage cover—comparable in style to Klarwein’s other album artwork, like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Earth Wind & Fire’s Last Days and Times, among several others—enhanced listeners’ interpretation and appreciation of the otherworldly sounds contained within the LP. Midjourney’s generated album art incorporates a similar psychedelic style, and although its facial recreations of the titular artists lack specific detail, it conveys the significance of this irresistible amalgamation.

With Young Thug incarcerated and Carlos Santana nearing the end of his earthly journey—a recent on-stage collapse and cancellation forced family and fans to reckon with his looming expiration date—this collaboration has a low probability of occurring. A mash-up wouldn’t do it justice. Maybe someday A.I. will be powerful enough to generate an approximation of what the pairing would sound like, but it won’t replicate the potential that they could have channeled in the studio together.

A.I.-generated Tracklist:
1. “Come Through And Chill”
2. “Savanna”
3. “Trust & Believe”
4. “Sunflower”
5. “Coming Home”
6. “Real Love” feat. Gwen Stefani
7. “Who Are You?”
8. “Coastal Highway”
9. “Kilometros”
10. “Intro”

Freddie Gibbs & John Cale  – John Gibbs

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

Gibbs can rap criminal tales over anything. Cale is criminally underrated. Two of Gibbs’ career-defining albums had one producer behind every beat. Cale’s experimental musicality and avant-garde tendencies mirror Madlib’s, and his instrumental contributions to The Velvet Underground enhanced Lou Reed’s lyrics the way The Alchemist does most capable MCs.

As the Spiritual Connection cover demonstrated, Midjourney is not great at replicating realistic renditions of existing human faces. Its approximations of Cale and Gibbs are semi-offensive, but the side-by-side half closeup suggests they would be equal contributors.

Cale came up in the late 1960s scene alongside experimental composers like John Cage and La Monte Young. When he joined the Velvet Underground, he played a crucial role in pushing at the edges of rock ‘n roll, to create the band’s unclassifiable and unique, influential sound. Gibbs, who like Lou Reed has endless charisma and stage presence, plus a natural sensibility for pop-minded hooks, would be the perfect pairing for Cale’s late-career foray into hip-hop. Their clashing personalities in the studio could create the same type of internal tension The Velvet Underground had, which when pulled tight enough will explode into something beautiful.

A.I.-generated tracklist:
1. “Arrival”
2. “Gibbsland”
3. “Cale’s Lament”
4. “The Struggle”
5. “Gibbs’ Groove”
6. “Departure”

MF DOOM & Madlib  – Madvillainy 2

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

Madvillainy 2 is the fabled follow-up collaboration between MF DOOM and Madlib. By most accounts, the album is finished. As of this writing, it hasn’t come out. The murmurs and grumbles of artists and industry members involved with the first incarnation imply that the release is being held back due to some unknowable combination of political and financial disputes. It’s also impossible that the sequel could live up to the original, which has remained timeless enough for almost two decades. The inevitable Luminary-exclusive release will be as villainously underwhelming as Black Star’s.

And yet, Madvillainy 2 remains a dream collaboration. Like Carlos Santana and Young Thug, DOOM and Madlib proved with the first LP that their connection transcended physical limitations. The two recorded separately, from a distance, like The Postal Service without calling out the gimmick. When they were together, they barely spoke because they didn’t need to. Their back-and-forth on the music was a more productive conversation.

In honor of the first album’s iconic artwork, the prompt I gave Midjourney was “album cover for ‘Madvillainy 2’ by Madvillainy, photograph by Eric Coleman, style of Jeff Jank.” Coleman captured the legendary image of DOOM’s eyes wide behind his mask, and Stones Throw artistic director Jeff Jank tinkered with it to form it into the finished product. Midjourney went wild with its interpretation, forming DOOM into some sort of devil luchador in a bolo tie. Which is perhaps the most logical evolution of the character now that Dumile has transitioned out of this realm, and into the ephemeral one where Santana and Young Thug are eternally shaking hands.

Inferkit also went nuts with the tracklist, apparently convinced that Bombay Bicycle Club member turned indie rapper Mr Jukes will play a significant role. We can only pray to our robot overlords that that will not be true.

A.I.-generated tracklist:
1. “Sir Jukes & Mr Jukes”
2. “Bullet Lizards”
3. “I’m Even Worried About You” (ft. Mr Jukes)
4. “Full Auto”
5. “Paul in Residence”
6. “Hidatsa”
7. “Shotgun Writer”
8. “Fish & Peas”
9. “Sizzler 3”
10. “Mr Jukes”

DJ Screw & Soul Glo  – Soul Glo in Slo Mo

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

Soul Glo and DJ Screw are both genre-defying, and defining, innovators. Soul Glo draws from hardcore punk and hip-hop like the interconnected historical traditions they are, rap-screaming on “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?),” incorporating Mother Maryrose’s verse on “Driponomics,” and deadpan triggering airhorns and samples to kick off a pulverizing wall of guitar-and-vocal-driven shrieks during live sets. DJ Screw manipulated the pitch and tempo of Houston rap tracks, pioneering a distinct sound that has permeated throughout the world long beyond his 2000 passing.

There is nothing wrong with the speed at which Soul Glo plays. It is the ideal tempo for the cathartic release of aggression that comes from flailing around in circles, jabbing forearms into the ribcages of willing sweaty strangers. But what if DJ Screw had access to their stems? Would the intricacies of their compositions—which can blur into pulverizing noise when delivered from each simultaneous instrument cranked maximum—reveal themselves? Would Screw slowing down vocalist Jordan Pierce’s controlled chaotic yells accentuate his lyricism the way his signature codeine-assisted audio-anesthetization did for Lil Keke, Lil Flip, et. al?

The prompt for this album cover was “Soul Glo In Slo Mo (DJ Screw mixtape), 1996 Houston mixtape cover style.” The result indicates that A$AP Rocky may have been a humanoid, generating approximations of a sound that can never be replicated with exact accuracy. Everything is indeed, purple. I don’t know if A.I. will be capable of recording onto cassettes, but a chopped n screwed version of Soul Glo would be like Khraungbin’s dub album: a reworking that we don’t know we need until we hear it.

A.I.-generated tracklist:
1. “Bucolic Storm”
2. “Get Free,” Blue Magic & DJ Screw, feat. Hypnotic Minds
3. “In A Sad Mood,” Original Mike Nifong, feat. Kilo Ali, Luther Ingram & Cut Chemist
4. “I’ll Always Love You,” DJ Screw

Odd Future  – The Seductive Confessions of Gordon Gekko

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

Odd Future was never meant to have one definitive album. They have put out five collaborative projects, but none as cohesive or aligned in vision as 36 Chambers. Odd Future has never been Wu-Tang, despite the obvious comparisons that could be drawn. They recorded separately, and in splintered groups and pairings, with one producer/rapper orchestrating the bigger vision, but they were not meant to be a singular band. Despite dismantling the established conventions of their 2010s hip-hop contemporaries simply by being something no one had ever seen before, Odd Future’s ill-defined structure also harkened back to a throwback time. They were a classic crew: individuals who contributed to each other’s art in crossover mediums, tied loosely together only by their genuine bond, shared perspective, and tattooable acronym.

Aside from “Oldie,” the other 17 tracks on The OF Tape Vol. 2 are among the most forgettable in the OF-iverse’s extensive catalog. They did make projects together during their 2010s ascent, but none has had a lasting impact the way their solo projects have. Now that their careers have reached individualized heights—Tyler’s steady evolution and Grammys, Earl’s underground classics, Frank Ocean’s royal anointment, Jasper’s Jackass casting, and so on—it’s hard not to pine for an example of what they’d sound like together with their combined newfound perspectives.

Inferkit believes their reunion LP should be called The Seductive Confessions Of Gordon Gekko, which doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. Gekko is all about greed, and what else would a forced new Odd Future LP represent?

I tried to generate an album cover based on the Gekko title in Midjourney but then I got this response – “The word seductive is banned. Circumventing this filter to violate our rules may result in your access being revoked.” Midjourney has a lengthy list of censored words sure to trigger the Big Tech-wary free speech militants of America, who are somehow worse than the A.I. evangelists.

So I put in the prompt “an odd future album with every member, style of eric white (the guy who designed Tyler, The Creator’s pleasant Flower Boy cover)” and got the above image. The A.I. must’ve interpreted the prompt as a request for a facemash of every Odd Future member, which is only slightly less terrifying than those memes that blended the faces of Congresspeople and Supreme (pun-intended) Court Justices.

When I removed “seductive” from the Gekko-referencing title, Midjourney generated the below image, which does encapsulate Odd Future and Eric White’s style. It would not be surprising if, by the time the next Odd Future LP comes out, Lucas Vercetti looks identical to Michael Douglas:

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

Buddy Guy featuring Lil Boosie  – Don’t Be Knocking

Image via Will Hagle/ Craiyon/ Midjourney

‘Boosie Blues Café’ already proved the obvious hypothesis that Lil Boosie is, like Buddy Guy, among earth’s most underappreciated living blues artists. ‘Don’t Be Knocking’ could push that hypothesis to the brink.

As my colleague Dave R. says:

It’s a hilarious, energetic live show full of passion and wit. ‘Boosie Blues Café’ is music you can enjoy without ever knowing anything about Lil Boosie.

It’s always dangerous to make judgements about a song by a cover version, and I can’t say this one will make me want to listen to Lil Boosie’s entire catalog, but at the very least it’s undeniably great fun and a pretty damn fine musical job.

(Yeah, IDK, the A.I. wrote this blurb.)

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