An Argument For Why Ghostwriting Is Good Starting With Exhibit D-R-E (Video)
The biggest MCs in Hip-Hop are talking about ghostwriting more than ever right now. Sixteen years after Puff Daddy proudly proclaimed, “Don’t ask me if I write rhymes, I write checks,” authorship in Rap verses is not something that anybody takes lightly.
Since Meek Mill outed Drake’s involvement of emerging Atlanta, Georgia-based rapper Quentin Miller on collaboration “R.I.C.O.” and some If You’re Reading This Now It’s Too Late songs (and leaked reference tracks), nothing was the same. Kendrick Lamar has used it to assert his place at the top, and seemingly discredit anybody who can’t say the same.
In this week’s TBD, host Justin “The Company Man” Hunte looks at ghostwriters (a bit of a contradictory term in of itself) in Hip-Hop. There are presumably albums in any Heads’ stack of CDs, albums, or downloads that are held in high regard, that used writers, and there’s more to it than meets the eye or the liner notes.
Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and 2001 are two arguably classic albums that list writers right in the credits. Since his days in N.W.A. picking the brains of Ice Cube, MC Ren and The D.O.C. for bars, the doctor has consulted for referral lyrics from JAY-Z, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar. It’s in the credits and publishing. That’s not ghost—anything. Also, Dre has proven that he can pen a mean verse for other rappers, according to one of his longest collaborators, Ren. Meanwhile, King T stated that Ice Cube—a man who penned many classic verses for N.W.A., swapped verses with his cousin Del The Funky Homosapien at a time when he was at the top.
TBD spoke with Warner Music A&R Norva Denton (as well as CyHi The Prynce and Lil Flip). “A lot of times cats got people in their camp that’s been rocking with them for a long time, and they polish records up for them, or they go back and forth with ideas for motivation and inspiration,” Denton says, based on experience. That input leads to credit, and in turn a revenue split. RZA has said that Method Man was the hook-master within the Wu-Tang Clan. Presumably, Meth’ did not lend his vocals to all of those iconic choruses.
Norva also says that some writers are brought in to make things more commercial. Perhaps that’s why D-R-E tapped Jay for “Still D.R.E.” His Chronic sequel needed that guarantee. In 1999, who was more effective at reaching radio, writing lines into the pop culture lexicon than Shawn Carter? After all, Dre has rarely—if at all—claimed to be a great rapper. However, his track record is undeniable in four different decades.
Denton’s third and final illustration is something that has existed in music for centuries. “You have the third option of having someone waiting in the wings, coming up with whole records for you sometimes and they call those references. That’s where you get into the whole Drake thing where there’s a slew of beats,” he says. “The label might have writing camps where you don’t even meet the [writer]. They come up with the records. They record them. You listen to them, and it’s like, ‘Oh sh*t, I like that one. Who did that?’” He says that labels and publishing companies also set up these workshops and submissions. Names like Skillz, Royce 5’9, Obie Trice, Sauce Money, Freddie Foxxx and others are storied (and careers are sustained) from this infrastructure.
CyHi describes something he’s played party to and may apply to Drake (as the OVO founder has acknowledged). “A lot of people think when you see all those names on [Kanye West’s] songs, you think everybody just sat there and wrote every lyric. It ain’t like that. It’s people who help get the thought across, and that can be from all different angles,” CyHi The Prynce tells TBD, on the verge of his own long-awaited debut. “That’s how I look at it with music and just writing in general. Just kind of figuring out what message they want to convey.” CyHi worked on a number of ‘Ye and G.O.O.D. Music efforts, including the groundbreaking 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy LP. He clarifies, “We don’t just do music for the base level of music. The music inspires other things like fashion, political views. Different things like that. So, when we have people in the room, it’s not just writers in the room.” Together, the ensemble works for the common goal: the ultimate product.
The debate about ghostwriting and authorship is a murky one. The commercial Rap boom began with a ghostwriter: Grandmaster Caz’s contributions to “Rapper’s Delight.” If we take that record away on the basis of authorship, let alone The Chronic, M.B.T.D.F., or Death Certificate, are we even left with any satisfaction?