Hip-Hop’s Ghostwriting Concerns
Hip-Hop is a culture, which is what sets this wonderful thing we call Hip-Hop apart from any other genre in music. For the last thirty years Hip-Hop has been centered around the emcee. Once Rakim ripped the door down with “Eric B Is President” in 1986 a new lyrical standard had been set in the culture of Hip-Hop and there was no turning back. Simplistic emcees were mentally set in a category of their own where the heavyweight emcees of the day (Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, etc.) were placed in another mental category. There was never a rule set in Hip-Hop that “One Must Write Their Own Rhymes” but when an artist is making music that represents the culture one would expect for them to be telling their story and their story alone. Many of us Hip-Hop fans listen to Hip-Hop to hear a certain individual’s perspective on life. It has always been remarkable to me how many of the great emcees early in their careers could express themselves much more fluidly through a lyrical flow and through music than they could actually sitting down speaking to someone in an interviewing setting. Those are magic moments in the careers of a young artist where their pen game told you everything you needed to know about that individual. Their writing ability, creativity, and personal stories made you a fan of the artist and their works. This is why you as a Hip-Hop fan felt connected to this artist because you felt in some way this individual is speaking to you in your language. This type of admiration wouldn’t be the same if you found out that this individual was actually not the one speaking to you. We live in a day in age where many things that were not ok 10 to 20 years ago is not necessarily a problem today but regardless of what era you come from you are disqualified from being a top flight emcee in the culture of Hip-Hop if you don’t write your own rhymes.
I think it is important to note what actually classifies as “songwriting” or “writer’s credit” as it concerns to music industry standards. If an artist’s composition is sampled on your track than they get writer’s credit. Depending on the situation the producer of an emcee’s track can receive writer’s credit. If someone comes up with the chorus of the emcee’s song they can receive writer’s credit. These are not the instances that people think of when they think about Ghostwriters in Hip-Hop. What disqualifies you from being a top emcee in the culture of Hip-Hop is if bars for bar you are consistently spitting a verse that someone else wrote for you. There are many artist that we all love and that we all know have made classic Hip-Hop songs that have consistently used Ghostwriters throughout their careers. As great of a career that they may have had considering them to be a top emcee in the culture of Hip-Hop would be inaccurate. It’s always funny for people to compare and correlate Ghostwriting in Hip-Hop with the songwriting that is done in other genres as justification for Ghostwriting in Hip-Hop. It was acceptable for Whitney Houston to have songwriters because she had a singing voice that was an instrument for great songwriters. She was able to sing notes that songwriters only dreamed that someone could sing for their songs. Listening to how Whitney Houston’s totally enhanced Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” (which was also written by Parton) is proof of this concept. Rap verses don’t normally require notes, key signatures, or vocal range so when someone needs another emcee to write their verses consistently one would conclude that the person that is not writing has no pen game and if you have no pen game you are not an emcee.
Some people may ask “well, what about the artist that sing and rap?”. This is when the lines become a bit blurred. Then the question starts to be asked is this person more of a singer or a rapper? I think Cee-lo Green may be the best example when this question is being presented. Cee-lo the rapper/emcee doesn’t have rap verses written for him by others to spit. But Cee-lo the singer may have a few songs written for him from time to time. The songs that have been written for Cee-lo to sing have no effect on him as an emcee because he writes his own BARS even if the singing portion of his song was written by someone else. Drake has come unto fire as of late as an artist that benefits from having a Ghostwriter. Meek Mill’s plan of attack was to point out that Drake has a ghostwriter as plans to shed away at Drake’s credibility as an emcee in the Hip-Hop culture. To Meek’s surprise the public in today’s generation didn’t care if Drake was writing his material or not. The public only cared if the songs that Drake was putting out were dope or not. Honestly unless we are ready to put Drake into a conversation with the all-time great elite emcees how important is it really if Drakes writes all his rhymes or not? Bar for bar is Drake a top 30 lyricist of all-time in Hip-Hop? Every generation has their own list and who they feel deserve those spots on an all-time greatest emcees list. If Drake is a top 30 emcee to you than you should have problem with these Ghostwriter claims if not then honestly it’s not a big deal.
The bar of writing in the Hip-Hop has been set too high from too many all-time greats for us to say that we just don’t care at all if someone is writing their own material or not. Remember that Hip-Hop is your voice and your story and if you are an up and coming emcee please don’t allow yourself to be forced into a situation where a record company is forcing you to let someone tell your story.