“S. Carter, Ghostwriter, and for the right price, I can even make your sh*t tighter” – Jay-Z “Ride or Die”
Ghostwriting in Hip Hop has been around since the inception of the genre. Skillz (formally Mad Skillz) has made a career (and a song) by writing for other artists. Heck, even Sugar Hill Gang member and manager Big Bank Hank took Grandmaster Caz’s verse on Rapper’s Delight. “I’m the C-A-S-A, the N-O-V-A, and the rest is F-L-Y” which was rapped by Hank definitely spells out Caz’s moniker Casanova Fly. Everyone from Will Smith to P Diddy has had ghostwriters, but none of them were ever considered to be “lyricists”. When it comes to Young Money Artist and oVo CEO Drake, who is considered to be one of the top rappers in the new generation, the accusation of using a ghostwriter can be a game changer. So let’s look into how this all began.
When it comes to controversial topics, Twitter has become the go to social media platform to air out differences or to vent about whatever pisses you off at the moment. So on July 21st, while hip hop critics took to Twitter to casts their views (mostly dislikes for Meek Mill’s new album “Dreams Worth More Than Money”, Meek took the opportunity to respond to his critics. Meek demanded that fans stop comparing him to Drake and accused the Toronto rapper of using a ghostwriter to pen his verse on their collaboration “R.I.C.O.” Meek tweeted “Stop comparing drake to me too…. He don’t write his own raps! That’s why he ain’t tweet my album because we found out! ”. The official track listing for the album list the credits as follows: Robert Williams, Aubrey Graham, Anderson Hernandez, K. Gomringer and Quentin Miller. For those that have no clue, Aubrey Graham is Drake’s real name. The ghostwriter mentioned by Meek is the last name on the credits, Quentin Miller, who is a rapper out of Atlanta, GA. Drake did not publically respond to Meek’s claims, however through a DM to Battle Rapper Hitman Holla, Drake responded with “I signed up for greatness, this comes with it”.
Suddenly, Quentin Miller became thrusted into the spotlight, and everyone wanted to know what else Quentin wrote for Drake. Upon further review, it appears that Mr. Miller co-wrote several songs on “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late” including one of the hits from the album “10 Bands”. On July 22nd, Funkmaster Flex joined the beef by playing Quentin Miller’s version of 10 Bands which sounds 95.6% similar to the finished version performed by Drake. There are a few lines that are changed but for the most part, it’s the same song. Drake’s longtime producer Noah “40” Shebib publically tweeted in support of Drake writing and the fact that he’s wrote for other people. Then 2 days later, Quentin broke his silence by showing support for his “idol” and his songwriting abilities.
So what exactly is the difference between ghostwriting and co-writing. According to Wikipedia, “A ghostwriter is a writer who authors books, manuscripts, screenplays, scripts, articles, blog posts, stories, reports, whitepapers, or other texts that are officially credited to another person. In music, ghostwriters are often used for writing songs and lyrics.” It goes on to mention that “In hip-hop music, the increasing use of ghostwriters by high-profile hip-hop stars has led to controversy. Critics view the increasing use of hip-hop ghostwriters as the “perversion of hip-hop by commerce.” This is an interesting point since ghostwriting in other genres is not met with the same criticism. For example, Frank Ocean started his career as a ghostwriter for artists such as Justin Bieber, Damienn Jones, John Legend and Brandy. Others such as Ne-Yo and Tank have developed quite a career and substantial amount of wealth by writing for others. Co-writing, or Collaborative Writing, according to Wikipedia, is writing done by more than one person; they may discuss what they are going to write before they start, and discuss what they have written after they finish each draft they write. So if we look at the Drake situation, it appears to be more of a Collaborative Writing than Ghostwriting since both artist are credited with publishing rights.
So how important is lyric writing when it comes to hip hop? Does a person lose credibility if they seek help on a song? Well that depends on if the individual is attempting to commit a Milli Vanilli (all my old heads know what’s up) or not. For example, let’s use Diddy as an example again. When the Notorious B.I.G. met his untimely death, Diddy came out with a song called “We’ll Be Missing You”. The song, which went on to earn a Grammy, was so personal, you actually thought Diddy penned the lyrics himself. Upon further review, it was Todd Gaither (also known as rapper Sauce Money) who actually penned the classic song. Does that take away from the song? Nope, because no one thinks of Diddy as a lyricist. The same goes for Jay-Z writing “Still D.R.E.” for Dr. Dre’s “Chronic 2001” and Biggie writing all of Little Cease lyrics including the smash hit “Crush on You”. However, when it comes to Drake, you expect someone that is looked upon as being in Rap’s New Elite, would not need the assistance of other rappers.
Recently, Drake dropped a single which most claim to be a diss track to Meek Mill called “Charged Up”. The song had some clever lines such as “I see ya’ll n—as having trouble goin’ gold/ Turning into some so and sos that no one knows”. He continued by even adding a reference to Meek’s girlfriend Nicki Minaj with, “No woman ever had me star struck/ Or was able to tell me to get my bars up/ I’m charged up,” he raps before delivering: “Rumor has it I either f–ked her or I never could/ But rumor has it has never done you n—as any good.” Apparently Meek wasn’t that impressed with song by tweeting, “Baby lotion soft……I can tell he wrote that 1 tho……”. Baby lotion soft is an interesting phrase, since I would use that to describe this entire beef. No one is going to compare this to BIG vs Pac, Jay vs Nas, LL vs Canibus. Shit, this beef isn’t even close to Lil Bow Wow vs Lil Romeo. We had a better time listening to Lauryn Hill air Wyclef out on “Lost Ones”. But in the era of Happy Go Lucky, feature friendly Hip Hop, it’s refreshing to see rappers calling each other’s shenanigans out. In terms of whether to write or not to write, I believe Diddy said it best “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks”.