Hip-Hop is a lot less fun when you know the rappers aren’t writing their own lyrics. In this current Hip-Hop space where Cardi B publicly gets major writing help from members of the Migos and other rap artists at Atlantic, and where Drake was exposed in 2015 by Meek Mill for not writing his verse on “RICO“, it seems that not writing your own lyrics, as a rapper, is becoming commonplace in Hip-Hop. Hell, some would even argue that the practice has been commonplace, dating back to the 1980s and how Big Daddy Kane used to write for Biz Markie.
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But, for me, there’s a difference.
What is Ghostwriting in Hip-Hop?
Ghostwriting and not consistently writing your own flows/lyrics, matters TO ME. You might say: “Well what about R&B artists? Many R&B greats such as Michael Jackson had songwriters“
True, but that’s R&B not Hip-Hop. In R&B, singing skills are required to perform songs. And not every R&B songwriter can sing the song they wrote, due to pitch and other vocal restraints. But in Hip-Hop, the allure of a rapper is his/her ability with words: their wit, word association, cleverness, slant rhyming, syllable count, flow and cadence, etc. These are all literary factors that make rappers great lyricists.
Are Ghostwriters bad?
As a rapper, this is where your skill lies – in bending language. For example: when a rapper executes a double entendre we sit back in awe “DAMN you hear what Lupe just said? Rewind that!” When Rap listeners praise bars, they are essentially praising WIT. If YOU, as the rapper, are NOT writing your own raps, then please point us to WHO we should ACTUALLY be praising! If you’re a rapper with a ghostwriter, LET THE FANS KNOW! This way we can praise the correct people for the wit and cunning behind the bars. As a Hip-Hop head, if I’m hearing BAR AFTER BAR that I like, then I need to know who’s behind the bars & mine their music immediately! Like the Drake-IYRTITL Quentin Miller situation where many OVO-loyalists began questioning – “Does Drake have ghostwriters?“.
History of Ghostwriting
Ghostwriting in Rap is different than having writers in other music genres, because in Rap the skill and praise lies in what’s written and HOW it’s written. Imagine finding out your favorite Jimmy Hendrix guitar-riff was ghost-played by some unknown guitarist. Yeah, exactly. You’d feel a bit cheated. This is different from R&B ghostwriters because R&B praise is largely for the vocal delivery of the song. When we praise Jazmine Sullivan, we are noting her vocal ability. In rap, we are noting your literary devices, cunning, and wit. If YOU are not writing, then what exactly are you doing?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s common for rappers to trade/share bars in studio sessions and get help with rhymes. Getting writing help is completely normal. I think we saw this with Raekwon and Ghostface Killah on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 1 and between Wiz & Curren$y on KushxOJ. That’s different than having your entire image and flow scripted for you, right down to your lingo, adlibs, and vocabulary. That’s lame as hell. You’re not even a musician at that point – you’re a model. You are modeling someone else’s lyrics and swag.
A valid counterargument is: “some rappers have voices and deliveries that can help a ghostwritten song pop and reach it’s fullest potential”, but if vocally monotone rappers like MF DOOM, Kendrick, and Evidence have taught us anything, it’s that there’s no number 1 best way to deliver a rhyme. If your pen and wit are sharp & you’re on beat, your record will be accepted.
That’s the beautiful thing about Hip-Hop. Black Americans have created a culture that does not discriminate. As long as you are authentic to self, can rhyme, and flow on beat you can join the circle: gay, woman, etc – So miss me with the hot ghostwriting takes. WE WANT AUTHENTICITY!
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