No, really, who got da props? In a more-than-likely conscious spill, dream hampton revealed on Twitter that Jay Electronica and stic.man of dead prez have ghostwritten the majority of Nas’ Nigger/Untitled album. While the two lyricists would be entirely capable of putting the lyrics and the content of that album together, why would Nas enlist them? Though stic.man is publicly credited as producing tracks like “Louis Farrakhan”, “Untitled”, “Sly Fox” and “You’re not Alone”, the revolutionary artist has more than enough reason to have written some of those verses as well, primarily because it’s everything he stands for. Meanwhile, Jay Electronica is rumored to have written “Queens Get the Money” and employing a rhyme pattern inconsistent to Nas’ flow. With regards to that album, dream stated there are reference tapes “for like, 6 songs”.
While Nas has denied all claims, what damage has this done to Nas’ legacy?
Quite frankly, ghostwriting has become as much a part of the rap culture as the words ‘keeping it real’ has, a fairly ironic notion all considering. The fact is that ghostwriting has been a part of this culture since 1976 and this new ‘revelation’, doesn’t change anything. Yes, perhaps it does raise our eyebrows at Nas and questions his credibility, but given the fact that this isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time a ghostwriter is used, is it even worth arguing?
Let’s take it back to the first commercial rap single ever released: “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugar Hill Gang. After a contrived group was put together (Wonder Mike, Master Gee and Big Bank Hank), the group single-handedly put out the song that put rap music on the map. However, Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” isn’t entirely their words. While Wonder Mike and Master Gee insist that they wrote their own verses, Big Bank Hank stole his rhymes. At the time, Big Bank Hank happened to manage a kid named Grandmaster Caz, a member of the pioneering crew Cold Crush Brothers. While he was managing Caz’ group, he took lines straight from his rhyme book, memorized them and put them on wax. While this is equally an instance of thievery, Caz is the notably the first ghostwriter in hip-hop history.
Let’s make it clear: if their name is in the linear notes, they aren’t a ghostwriter, but a credited co-writer. Which, by all means, is cool…everyone needs a helping hand sometimes. But to take complete credit for words that aren’t yours and at times even rhyme schemes that an artist could never have crafted by themselves is the act of employing a ghostwriter. It’s funny because there are so many questionable delivery patterns and words that come out of some artists’ mouths and you’re like “Wait, you’ve never done this. You’ve never mentioned these ideas. Who wrote your lines, bruh?”
So why don’t we celebrate rap ghostwriters in the way that R&B celebrates theirs, like Ne-Yo? Because rap is supposed to be the most authentic musical genre; it was created for the youth by the youth to depict real life realities and tell their stories. Rap is supposed to be a reflection of who you are, the skills you possess, the power your words have and ultimately is supposed to adhere to the notion of credibility in hip-hop culture.
“We still here, you rockin’ with the best / Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks” – Sean “Diddy” Combs, a man who hasn’t penned any of his hits.
What do you mean don’t worry if you employ ghostwriters, Diddy? Authenticity in hip-hop culture, especially rap music, is as important as breathing – you don’t write your own rhymes, you may as well call your career dead. Well, that’s what we’ve always been taught. “Keep it Trill” and “Tell it 100″ are the sayings blasted in our ears, but the real reality is that ghostwriters are not only behind some of our favorite songs, but also the sales revenue that flows throughout this industry.
Following Caz, the use of ghostwriting became popularized. At a time where kids were playing with words and deliveries, rhythms and flows, the boundaries of co-writing and ghostwriting got crossed. It’s thought that Run-D.M.C. often wrote for the Beastie Boys, which is probably true if you listen to the apparent similarities between the two groups. Big Daddy Kane has admitted to writing for Positive K., all of Biz Markie’s raps, and even Rick James. Kool G Rap is one of the most infamous ghostwriters and is rumored to have had his hands in Nas’ Illmatic.
Some suggest that one of the greatest albums in hip-hop history, The Chronic, was primarily crafted by MF Grimm, Snoop Dogg and the D.O.C. What about Dr. Dre’s “Still Dre” that was written by Jay-Z, the infamous “The Next Episode” penned by Snoop Dogg, Eminem’s handcrafted “Forgot about Dre” and the should-have-been sentimental dedication to his late brother “The Message”, written by Sauce Money and Royce Da 5’9? Man, Dr. Dre has been receiving credit for tracks he had absolutely nothing to do with for years, straight down to Kendrick Lamar recently penning his verse on “The Recipe”.
And then there are the manufactured rhymes from the Puff Daddy era to P.Diddy and all the way to 2012 Diddy. Like Dre, Sauce Money and Royce also penned for the infamous Sean Combs. Heaven knows the scandal that went on with Diddy’s “I’ll be Missing You” and how Sauce Money was paid peanuts (US $1000) for his words…words that should’ve entirely been sentimental and out of Diddy’s mouth, as well. At the end of the day, it’s no secret that Diddy has employed ghostwriters for years, artists including Nas, The Game and Pharoahe Monch.
Lil Kim’s “Queen Bitch” was penned by Notorious B.I.G., Ice Cube wrote the majority of N.W.A.’s material, Will Smith’s smash hits “Getting’ Jiggy With It” and “Just Cruisin’” were written by Nas, and Gillie da Kid has been writing Lil Wayne’s rhymes for years (though I’m sure Wayne enlists other people like Drake these days.) And while never admitting to it, Ludacris has been rumored to be a serious ghostwriter in the game to a few aritsts other than Dr. Dre. Even Jay-Z told Vibe Magazine that he is “paid a lot of money to not tell you who [he] writes for”, though as previously stated he’s written for Dr. Dre, Trina and it’s alledged that he’s even penned some lines for LL Cool J. Let’s be real, I could go on for days.
“So many rhymes to write, so many things to say. / And yo, we still ain’t willies or thugs, can’t concede new thoughts / hip-hop needs some infertility drugs / cause this rap shit supposed to be art…” – Foreign Exchange
The major problem here is asserting a false sense of authenticity. The other major flaw in ghostwriting is that these rhymes are written by another person, with a different flow and different mind state. While in the past, artists have been able to fit the style of the rhymes written for them, it’s become more apparent in recent years when the rhymes don’t fit the artists anymore. We can hear artists drift off the beat, use words they are not usually known to use and employ concepts they vaguely understood. Then again, we’re in an oversaturated era of rap music; an era where authenticity has been discredited and ‘swag’ has been praised. Yes, you must still have talent to spit – regardless of who wrote your rhymes, but it takes more than lyrics to be a ’successful rapper, so does this still matter? We know we’re being sold lies, but we’re continually buying them so who’s really at fault?
While we treasure the persona of an artist as opposed to their actual talent, money will continue to find itself in their pockets. Ghostwriting has been a business years before you heard your first rap song and it will be long after we’re gone. Whether Nasir Jones has used ghostwriters for a couple of songs off a mediocre album is neither here nor there, as it will never take away from the fact that his legacy will be a supporting pillar in pushing hip-hop forward.