Rhyme Pays: Hip Hop's Value Of Writing, Freestyling And Lyricism

If fewer people buy the product, maybe Hip Hop's philosophy of telling emcees to aspire to lyrical greatness no longer matches up with the realities of our economy.

The issue of Nas possibly having ghostwriters on at least four tracks on his untitled 2008 album spawned so much discussion in various Hip Hop circles that I thought it warranted a two-part editorial. In part one of this series, we looked at ghostwriting and how it specifically factored in with Hip Hop's premium on an artificial construct of authenticity and people’s preconceived notions about Nas, stic.man of dead prez and Jay Electronica. But as I mentioned in part one, ghostwriting has literally been happening since the inception of what is widely regarded as the first commercial Hip Hop song—“Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. Here, I want to look at the cultural and associated monetary value we place upon lyrics—written, ghostwritten and freestyled.

Hip Hop seems to be one of the few genres where we expect the performing artist to come up with lyrics by themselves. In turn, fans clutch their collective pearls and act as if some high treason against Hip Hop culture has been committed when they learn that a rapper such as Nas may have had some help penning some or all of their rhymes. It’s as if no one knew about Big Bank Hank and Grandmaster Caz, or Big Daddy Kane pushing the pen for Roxanne Shanté. It’s more or less common knowledge that Dr. Dre probably hasn’t written an original rhyme since Eazy-E was rocking a jheri curl under his Los Angeles Kings fitted. And, as much as we revere the legendary Eazy-E, he was known to spit quite a few ghostwritten rhymes himself.

But it’s bigger than just the singular act of ghostwriting. It seems to be an issue of value. For decades, we were verbally telling established and aspiring emcees that freestyling and writing their own rhymes held a certain inherent value within Hip Hop culture. At the same time, with the purchasing power of our wallets, we reinforced that idea. Emcees that placed a premium on the cultural value of lyricism (both in written rhymes and via impromptu freestyles) were often rewarded with recording contracts, lucrative battle opportunities and sometimes increased album sales. I think that the majority of Hip Hop fans and artists still continue to put this emphasis on lyrics despite a paradigm shift that no longer provides financial incentives for valuing lyricism.

Money Matters

“The game’s fucked up / Niggas beats is bangin’ / Nigga your hooks did it / Your lyrics didn’t / Your gangsta look did it / So I would write it / If y’all could get it / Being intricate / Will get you wood critic / On the Internet / They like you should spit it / I’m like you should buy it / Nigga that’s good business…” –Jay-Z, “The Prelude.”

As the average reader of this site probably knows, today there is much less of a financial incentive associated with being a mainstream artist on a major record label. Without getting into the boring business of rattling off album sales statistics, suffice it to say people buy a lot less music today than they did in Hip Hop’s Golden Era. According to David Goldman of CNN Money, statistical reports from the Recording Industry Association of America show total revenue from domestic music sales and licensing dropped from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion in 2009. And it should also be noted that the genres of Country and Hip Hop/R&B saw the sharpest declines. There are far too many factors to account for such a dramatic drop, but I use the stats to point out that there’s just generally less money in the industry.

Less people may be legally purchasing physical copies of music, but that doesn’t necessarily mean less people are attempting to make careers in Hip Hop. So if we briefly set the stats to the side and look at things on an anecdotal level, there are more aspiring and established emcees fighting for a smaller share of profits. In theory, the set of values ingrained in Hip Hop still implies that emcees who value lyricism have a better shot to rise within the genre’s pecking order and at least have a chance to be commercially successful. To me, that’s what made what we called the Golden Era such a revered time among Hip Hop fans. An artist like Ras Kass could philosophically buy into that ethos of valuing lyricism and also be financially rewarded by seeing at least modest commercial success. Both Rasassination and Soul On Ice appeared on Billboard magazine’s Top 200 albums chart. The same could be said of any number of artists that placed a premium on lyrics including Redman, Geto Boys and Twista. But, today, if fewer customers are buying the product, I don’t think our philosophy of telling emcees to aspire to lyrical greatness matches up with the economy. What are the financial incentives for a rapper to put a premium on lyrical ability?

The Time Cost Of Ghostwriting

“Don’t worry if I write rhymes / I write checks…” –Diddy, “Bad Boy For Life.”

We’ve already established that some of Hip Hop’s biggest names have been involved in ghostwriting in some capacity. But something interesting happens when you look at arguably the two most blatant users of ghostwritten rhymes—Sean Combs and Dr. Dre.

Dr. Dre and Sean Combs probably haven’t written their own rhymes since the Reagan Administration. And, it’s a safe bet that the last thing either of them completely wrote wasn’t earth shattering. But neither Combs nor Dre are particularly valuable only as emcees. The roots of N.W.A. are connected to nearly every West Coast emcee to some degree—not to mention 50 Cent and Eminem’s Aftermath ties. From World Class Wreckin’ Cru to Kendrick Lamar, a good portion of how we view Hip Hop on the Left Coast has ties to Dr. Dre. And between overseeing Aftermath and his Beats Electronics imprint, Forbes estimates Dre’s net worth to be upwards of $270 million. I think given Dr. Dre’s cultural impact, him writing his own rhymes is akin to Bill Gates mowing his own lawn. Sure he could do it, buy why the fuck should he? What’s the incentive of investing that time cost in writing a three minute song when he could be signing or developing other artists? Which one is more valuble to Hip Hop culture? Despite his cheesecake antics, I feel the same way about Combs. Nevermind the $550 million net worth powered by Ciroc and Sean John. Puff is the direct link between the New Jack Swing of Teddy Riley’s era and the Uptown aesthetic connected to Jodeci, Heavy D and Mary J. Blige. And that’s without mentioning Notorious B.I.G.

I would argue that to someone in a CEO position such as Dre or Puff, unsigned, emcees with a knack for writing but no marketability or charisma are like the day laborers outside a local Home Depot. There’s no shortage of them, and they’re relatively cheap. Why would Dre or Puff spend hours honing their middling writing talents when they could be off hawking Sean Jean or Beats Electronics? Dre and Puff are the two rare examples where writing one’s own rhymes is a horrible business decision. It’s more cost effective to either sub-contract the writing to someone like Jay-Z or Sauce Money or outright sign someone like Mark Curry or Hitman and let them serve in a ghostwriting capacity.

Different Degrees Of Ghostwriting

While it at least seems that Puff and Dre only use ghostwriters, how is our perception changed by an iconic artist’s use of ghostwriters? How famous do you have to be and how often do you have to use ghostwriters before it detracts from your overall body of work as an emcee?

“People don’t know this, but my father wrote rhymes for several of Run-D.M.C.’s records, like “Thirty Days” and “You’re Blind,” wrote Russell Simmons in his memoir, Life And Def. “To me, my father was a better poet than Run and a huge influence on him as a lyricist…”

In turn, Run wrote part of Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’” while Simmons was managing Kurtis Blow. Do we look at Run, Kurtis Blow and DMC less as pioneers or anything less than legendary because of this? There are an innumerable amount of these stories including Nas, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Big Daddy Kane, The Beastie Boys and many others. Some are common knowledge and others are like Hip Hop urban legends. To me, there just seems to be an unrealistic all or nothing mentality that is applied to Hip Hop like no other genre. Most people looked at the liner notes of “Still D.R.E.” the day 2001 came out. We saw S. Carter in the credits, knew Jay-Z wasn’t rapping on the song, and instantly connected the dots. Yet despite this, artists like Skillz, or Jermaine Dupri will probably always be viewed differently based upon the stigma associated with ghostwriting. If you want to argue the semantical differences between a unaccredited ghostwriter and a contributor that gets publishing rights and royalties, I won’t stop you.

Rhyme Pays, But Freestyles Don’t

“Understand I could get money with my eyes closed / Lost some of my hottest verses down in Cabo /  So if you find a Blackberry with the sidescroll / Sell that mothafucka to any rapper that I know / ‘Cause they need it much more than I ever will…” –Drake, “Say What’s Real.”

Just so we’re clear, a traditional freestyle is defined as an impromptu, unrehearsed rhyme, created on the spot. Yet lately, you see so many pre-written, smartphone verses being billed as “freestyles,” that we’ve resorted to praising rappers for doing what should be a part of their job description—freestyling. I make the above statement with the caveat that some emcees are much better at writing than freestyling and vice versa. For what it’s worth, I’ve never heard GZA freestyle. Ever. There have been at least two GZA visits to “The Wake Up Show” that I know of. And both respectively yielded verses from “Mic Trippin’” and “Living In The World Today.” Neither Sway or King Tech had an issue with this, and for the “Mic Trippin’” freestyle, Masta Killa even supplied in-studio ad-libs. Everyone involved knew they were hearing a pre-written verse. This is obviously just anecdotal evidence, but from then on I knew not to expect a GZA freestyle. It doesn’t mean I like Liquid Swords any less, it just set a different expectation. And I assumed GZA either didn’t like or wasn’t particularly good at freestyling on the spot.

But generally, artists like GZA were the exception to the rule. Nowadays the definition of a freestyle seems to have morphed. Daily, rappers pass pre-written rhymes over other emcee’s tracks as “freestyles.” To me, these so-called freestyles are mixed and mastered interpolations of other emcee’s songs that cash in on the sampled artist’s popularity and/or beat selecting prowess. But the very foundation of Hip Hop is built upon sampling previously made songs and turning them into something new and inventive. So where do we draw the line? I think there’s a huge difference between turning a looped sample into a new, original song versus just going into the studio and throwing bars over someone else’s instrumental. And reading a rhyme you typed into your smartphone over someone else’s beat uses an entirely different skill set than spontaneously crafting lines on the spot. But those are only my subjective opinions, and popular trends suggest I’m in the minority.

As the Drake quote from “Say What’s Real” demonstrates, Drizzy ushered in the era of the smartphone freestyle. I make a lot of what I feel are justified criticisms of Drake on this site, but the phone freestyle won’t be one of them. Taken at just face value, what’s the difference between GZA giving a DJ a known album song instead of a freestyle versus Drake giving a DJ an unfinished song from his phone? Neither fit the traditional definition of a freestyle. Yet it’s safe to say we view GZA in a much different light than Drake. I sure as hell do, and my only real defense is the sentimental attachment I have to Wu-Tang Clan and personal preference. Ultimately, if we’re viewing them in a vacuum, strictly on the basis of their freestyling (or lack thereof), what’s the difference?

I clearly have an emotional attachment to Hip Hop’s Golden Era. I love the fact that Tony Touch still throws in his freestyle bars during “Toca Tuesdays.” Even if Tony’s internal rhyme patterns aren’t intricate, it takes me back to The Piece Maker and Touch’s “Diaz Brothers” collaborations with Doo-Wop. In 20 years, maybe the traditional definition of a freestyle will be obsolete. As someone that came of age when freestyling was still an essential part of an emcee’s resume, I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a good or a bad thing. If the critical praise associated with a quality freestyle doesn’t provide at least a small hope of increased album sales, what incentive does an emcee have to excel at freestyling? From a financial standpoint, the only people gaining from radio station freestyles are the people that own the rights to the YouTube videos.

Lyricism And Hip Hop’s True Values

“Things are getting critical / The way cats biting is despicable / Pitiful unoriginal / Damn it’s miserable / I’m a businessman / I ain’t tryin’ to be lyrical…” –Cam’ron, “Let Me Know”

So how is our perception of ghostwriting and maybe even redefining what a freestyle is connected to the news of Nas possibly getting a lot of assistance on his 2008 album? I think they’re all tangential issues related to how we value raw lyrical ability. Is there a relationship between the intrinsic value of good, original lyrics and the potential monetary value of those lyrics? As listeners, we say that we put a premium on lyricism. But each year, new emcees attempt to build careers solely on being first-rate lyricists, and many of them are relegated to a niche audience. The traditional rules of Golden Era, sample-based, boom-bap Hip Hop dictated that crafting quality lyrics needed to be part of an emcee’s skill set. But there’s clearly been a paradigm shift. Can we still preach the importance of being lyrical when Waka Flocka Flame says, “I’m not into being lyrical” and goes on to reach the Billboard chart six times with at least one certified gold single to boot? I’m not pointing that out to demonize Waka Flocka Flame or cast “socially conscious,” super lyrical, backpack Rap as the savior of Hip Hop. Most people would probably disagree with me, but I think Hip Hop needs Waka Flocka Flame as much as it needs Pharoahe Monch. I feel like that opinion doesn’t imply that they’re equals either—because to me they’re most certainly not. The current climate means there’s less of a correlation between critical acclaim and commercial success. Being renowned in one’s field and financial profit aren’t guaranteed to go hand in hand. But in Hip Hop they currently seem to almost be mutually exclusive.

The things Hip Hop’s silent majority of listeners claim to place value on such as lyricism and freestyling have changed. Or at least the financial rewards for valuing such things have decreased. Sometimes we see it demonstrated all in one song—look at “3 Kings” by Rick Ross, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z. In one song we have what was surely a ghostwritten Dr. Dre verse that doubles as a Beats Electronics ad by admonishing, “You should listen to this beat through my headphones!” Then there’s the matter of Jay-Z, who usually never freestyles, continuing an at least semi-plausible narrative that he knocks out album quality verses in one take. He even cracks himself up by taking a thinly veiled shot at imprisoned Diplomat affiliate Max B by rhyming, “Stunting to the Max / I’m so wavy,” only to tell Khaled not to worry about keeping his rhyme. After all, it’s just a freestyle. And that doesn’t even begin to address Ross. The correctional officer-turned rapper is derided all across the Internet and in print magazines for supposedly not being authentic. But all he does is ride it to a number one debut with God Forgives, I Don’t. Just for good measure, the reformed crack kingpin that Ross swiped his name from may end up as the person paying in this scenario.

So what do we really value as Hip Hop fans? Because it appears that not being lyrical, not freestyle or not even buying into Hip Hop’s artificial construct of authenticity can still result in financial and sometimes critical success. As with any polarizing debate, there isn’t any real absolute truth and we probably end up with more questions than answers. But one concrete takeaway will always be the constant element of change. And Hip Hop is definitely changing.

Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has  been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @FourFingerRings.

76 Comments

  • ish

    hip hop is dead.right now we busy listen shit....all this motherfcks who sell their soul to devil.illuminati...i quess underground its best than this bitch ass niggars....HOPSIN IS THE BEST.

  • Uknow

    I've been ghost writing for years I do it because I like freestylin on paper I'm a crap rapper but when it comes to words and paper I'm strong at what I do many artist have used some of my lyrics and I have made producers and managers very wealthy I have never had one any of these people give me a penny as soon as I asked jzee peeps for some change from a riri track I wrote my ends started to look like Brooklyn and I'm from the uk fukin scary it's a producers and managers war where artist want the kila hooks and lyrics and they will resort to kidnapping fuckin up ur relashionships with loved ones and other satanist rituals to ensure they get what they ne ed and make sur if ur a lyricist ur workin for nada jazee is well known to get 70 writers for riri I know some of them can't even spell their own names so all his doin is putting his fam down as writers who pay him a tax ting it's become a fuckin joke if u freestyle on the mic or on blogs or paper these rats in hip hop have turned something which had genuine heart into a money makin machine wher so much real talent rappers and writers are used and abused and discarded so those in the high powered seats can creame of the best and maintain their authority with their thugs and bitches who gives a fuck I if jzee sits and eats with Obama he still a thief

  • Anonymous

    Wrong Wrong Wrong. Who said that freestyling MUST be impromptu? What GZA did and what Drake did has been going on forever. Freestyling isn't limited to being only off the top. Secondly, lyrics DO matter. Maybe not in all cases, and arguably to a lesser extent in this era. But that does not negate the fact that many artists rely HEAVILY on lyrics for their success. Take Kendrick Lamar for example. We all know that few West Coast artists have garnered such acclaim, praise, and hype for being the next "it." Out of all the West Coast artists to come out in years none have been as big as he has. Can we think of what qualities separate him from the rest of these artists? You got it, lyrical ability. Afterall, why was the hip hop community set ablaze after Kendrick Lamar's control verse? Aside from the "King of NY" (Kurupt) reference and aside from calling out a huge portion of today's rappers, it was because many people felt he "lyrically murdered" all other rappers. How many people were talking about how Kendrick lyrically beat his opponents. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that people still LOOK for lyrical prowess when determining how good a rapper is. What is also important is how lyrical ability and writing one's own lyrics is an essential part of many artists careers. Another example would be J. Cole, we all know how much he values lyricism. There are many aspects and qualities that hip hop fans value just like there many types of hip hop. Artits rely on different things to sell music. Wacka Flocka relies on his energy and aggressiveness along with his demeanor to create a certain vibe that originates from the "trap" something many backpackers just can't understand. Other artists like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar rely on lyrics as an integral part of their music among other things. In order to say lyrics are less valued in today's hip hop era you must back it up with solid evidence. The whole "freestyling" point was not helpful at all. Take Ol Dirty Bastard for example. Much of his style was based not on intricate rhymes, freestlyes, or lyrical ability but on annunciation and raw energy. What is so lyrical about Ol Dirty Bastard? Not to knock him because he's a legend in my eyes but he was not the most lyics.

  • clarnis

    You can not be both at once,these so called lyrical kings r full of shit:-)

  • Jwill313

    How does Nas name comes up in thr topic of having a ghostwriter before Lil Wayne?

  • LL

    Stop being so fucking retarded: Just so were clear, a traditional freestyle is NOT defined as an impromptu, unrehearsed rhyme, created on the spot; it was initially pre-written rhymes that weren't necessarily on topic or in song format. No one can make up rhymes on the spot, for more than a few bars, without failing to make sense, they may string together several rehearsed rhymes but that is hardly the same thing as making everything up on the spot.

    • J.Sirko

      Freestyle is a style of rap, with or without instrumental beats, in which rap lyrics are improvised, i.e. performed with no previously composed lyrics, and "off the top of the head"

    • Anonymous

      Freestylin is a GIFT along with song writing. Some people happen to be gifted in both areas. #GiftOfGab

  • tgbthyujiu

    Cheap Beats Dr DreIts more or less common knowledge that Beats By Dr Dre Kobe Bryant probably hasnt written an original rhyme since Eazy-E was rocking a jheri curl under his Los Angeles Kings fitted. And, as much as we revere the legendary Eazy-E,Beats By Dr Dre Sale he was known to spit quite a few ghostwritten rhymes himself.xingeet23@#

  • TD

    Cant mention Max B and not mention how he wrote Jim Jones's albums and hits and made Jim Jones a whole life story which was actually Max B's.

  • Anonymous

    god...fuck this article absolutely disgusting. you can't play both sides, pick one and stop trying to win a popularity contest among the stupid uneducated wacka listeners of 2012. fucking sellouts

  • oskamadison

    A question I thought I'd throw out there: What's worse? An MC having someone ghostwrite their bars for them but it's based on that MC's experiences (what they've seen first hand and actually DID) OR an MC who's a gifted writer who can paint the most vivid pictues...but it's all based on a lifestyle that he's neve even come close to living?

  • The_Observer

    "I think Hip Hop needs Waka Flocka Flame as much as it needs Pharoahe Monch" - thats the very reason Hip Hop is MS Windows, ridden with bugs & viruses. so called educated journalist, jimmy iovines, radio dj's, tv presenters, editors and bloggers promoting such mediocre As stated in of the comments, lyricism do sell and rappers like Jay Z, Nas, Eminem, Lupe, Scarface, Biggie, Tupac, Big Pun, Wu Tang, Guru, LL Cool J, L Boogie, Lil Kim, Lil Wayne and Common are living proof. The diff between a Wocka Flocka vs Pharoah Monch is no matter what, Pharoah will remain relevant to the fans because they know he's got the skills to kill the cold feel and leave your heart warm, whereby a Wocka is hot today, and cold tomorrow, forgotten with no respect as another bubblegum is being unwrapped and chewed Where is Soulja Boi now? Where is Bone Crusher, 3 Six Mafia, Skeelo, JKwon, and Guerilla Black...where are they now? Can they even be mentioned in the top 100? lyricism is one of the major elements that form the foundation of hip hop hence today even though they not making an impact, the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Krs-One, Canibus, and Last Emperor are still respected, quoted and recited. No one will remember, talk about, praise, recite nor respect Souljah Boy, Chief Keef, Wocka Flocka ten years from now, but we'll still remember Biggie, Pac, Pun, Guru, Big L, Biz, Nas, Priest, GZA, Jay, Talib, Mos Def, and Pharoah So, maybe there is a point i am missing somewhere in your bold statement there Omar Burgess...what do you really mean, "Hip Hop Needs Wocka Flocka as much as we need Pharoah Monch', please eloborate? There are many lyrical mc's that can cross over and flow seamlessly on party/ club beats, house like beats, and other forms of commercial beats and stil spit Ether One artist i can think of is Vast Aire, that man has unique vast styles can rhyme on any type of beat be underground or commercial and has amazing word play simple yet not easy to comprehend from the word go. you have to think first...there is nothing as challenging than having difficulty in trying to simplify simplicity and Vast presents exactly that....simple rhymes, simple words yet very creative, tricky and slick. I hardly ever hear him drop bombastic words like many undergournd artist do. An artist like Vast Aire can get a record deal with Def Jam and blow up if were to rhyme over beats supplied by Just Blaze, Kanye, Scott Stotch, Pharell and all the other producers who appeal to the mainstream....any lyrical mc can make an impact commercially given he is supported by a creative team with good financial backing so its not that underground artist can never cross over, its the marketing teams in dept who are not educated or creative enought to figure out a plan for the underground and that alone tells you the level of their mindsets...mediocre at it purest form G.O.O.D, and Def Jam music can sign any legendary lyricist and make them blow

    • Jwill313

      I respectfully disagree on a very small portion of your comment but I mostly agree. The Hip Hop doesn't need a Wocka Flocka Flame and Lil Wayne really shouldn't be mentioned amongst those names, he's part of the problem these days.

  • Anonymous

    Next to being reality show "actor" or radio personality, being a rapper is the only form of entertainment were you don't have to be good at doing what you do to be successful. Think about it, professional athletes have to be above average to be in their leagues, singers gotta be able to have some type of range especially if you don't have "that look" or at least put on a hell of a show, rappers lately have been getting by on minimal effort, in any other form of entertaiment the performers pour their hearts out to make sure you're entertained or amused, they know where their money comes from, at least when they're onstage, booth, or in front of cameras. Rappers almost act like they're doing you a favor at least the ones on top do, that's why they are not selling like they used to. It's a bad balancing act a mainstream rapper has all this promo and shit but get in the booth and do a half ass job, meanwhile an less popular rapper gets in the booth with fuckin all they got in their heart and gets half ass promo, why should any of these go platinum on the first week? Or ever? I know some dumb down for sales but consumers aren't dumb as they think we are, maybe the younger easily impressionable ones, and half of those are purchasing with their allowances or have no real bills to take care of, so a head of household music buyer is not gonna buy an album on the strenght of a single, the thought process is more like "I heard this joint is aight I'll download it, I would buy it but it's not that serious and this cat doesn't need the money. Hell he said on the song he got money, meanwhile I got bills I'll just catch a show or club appearance when he in town, there will be hoes there but I will buy me a dub", it's been years since cats have been torn between buying an album or a meal because they had to have it, and it's because of minimal effort.

    • Anonymous

      That's what I just said, even a benchwarmer in a professional team sport gotta make the minimum requirements to be in that team which are still higher standards than the amateur or collegiate level. Bottom line they have to give their best to keep from getting cut, if not there won't be a next season, same should apply to rappers, labels are to blame but obviously they're shooting themselves on the foot, all other genres do well and their music sells itself, and the labels hold them to a higher standards, meanwhile rappers keep putting out trash for a quick buck screwing themselves in the longrun, plus who's telling these wack niggas they can rap anyway? We need to start being real with these cats which we obviously are since we're not supporting like we used to whether it's boom bap, trap, pop they all fuckin up.

    • Anonymous

      actually there are plenty players in professional sports that are given a job just so that a team can fill out its roster...Labels also have to take some blame tho cuz they're the ones goin out & hiring these untalented rappers. We all kno there's plenty of underground rappers who deserve a shot but labels think they cnt make crossover records or watever & just dnt sign them. They rather put all their dollars behind some garbage ass artist who wont even be around for more than 3yrs.

  • TalkAboutFreestyleAndDon'tknow$hit

    All this talk about freestyle rhymes, lyricism. and substance. I'm dissapointed with this article and the author, seriously. There is talent that does not require an "incentive" of green paper to develop and hone "lyricism" and you wont find it anywhere near a major record label. The true benchmark for improvisation of lyrics and hip-hop is always and only found. -------------- UNDERGROUND See for youself, although you must open your eyes first. Project Blowed The Goodlife Cafe Freestyle Fellowship

  • ExcusesExcuses

    nope. every1 knew Cube and Ren wrote for the group. i have no clue who the fuck Roxanne Shante is. in the 70s rappers werent expected to write their own stuff. less people buy bc less people have the money. teens buy most stuff and they love stupid shit. underground artist arent able to ship 50k copies due to funds and to every store. you have to search for their albums. Puff doesnt do solo albums and no one checks for Puff verses so who cares? Dre shouldnt be held to such a high standard due to the fact that both are true for him. Ive never understood why he is? you didnt really describe different degrees. and the late 80s were when ghostwriters became a sin so Run n Kurtis barley have an excuse. freestyling has nothing to do with the issue and if its prewritten at least they wrote it and at one point is was off top. money and time are poor excuses. wack shit is not needed on Hip Hop, its only bought bc the labels forced it on us and its our (true fans) and the older rappers and legends faults for allowing it to happen. now we cant stop it. so what else you got...Omar!?

  • Dynomite

    It's only a problem when you don't pay writer and give him credit. If you don't give him credit, then you're just lying.

  • Drew

    in todays Hip Hop(or even music) its about personality. Why does Lil Wayne sell so much, because the dude has personality. Look at Drake he sells cause girls love his emotional/honest personality in his music. personality and gimmicks are what enetertain people. Also you have to understand that with this internet age and on to the next one generation music careers dont last that long. Gone are the days where you could drop a classic album and that would hold you for a couple years. So ofcourse upcoming rappers are gonna say to themselves " why should i focus on trying to write some incredible stuff when it probably wont sell?" And ya`ll can say for honour and keep the art of lyricism alive but that stuff doesnt pay bills. Anyways jus my 2 cents Think about it discuss it with your fellow hip hop heads

  • jester

    DX: Given the content of your previous music, what was your involvement in Sly Fox? That really felt like a Stic.man and Nas song, I almost expected you to put a verse on it. Stic.man: Nas came with that idea. He said, I want to get back at Fox for trying to put me out there like Im a murderer, and taking my lyrics out of context. He had the title for it and everything, and he was like, I want you to help me build on that shit. We just started throwing back ideas and phrases. He got a notepad and started writing down things Id say, things he would say. I think [M1] was in there for at least some part of that, in the general conversation. We didnt have a beat for it, we just had some ideas. I had this beat I was doing for a martial arts movie. Something just said, Play him that. I had some little [bass] rumbling low in there, and I was like, That sounds like some news shit a little bit, lets see if thats the vibe. I really didnt think it was, but I was just like, Let me see. When I played it, and he was just like, Thats it! Im like, What, that beat aint really ready! But if he likes it, let me see what I can do to make me feel like its on point. I called in the guitars to bring it more where I thought where it should be at. So we get the notepad full of ideas about Fox. Im like, Searching like CBS, and I see B.S., track us down with GPS. He came with, Red Foxx, only fox I know. He would scribble it down, but not in a rap format, just dope little pieces. He goes in the booth after I get the beat all up, but what you hear on the song, he spit that. He had a certain method of what he wrote down and how he spit it. So Im like, How can I be productive? Let me think of a hook, so we can stay focused. I wanted to do a million songs, I didnt want to be stuck on one song forever. So I write the hook that you hear on the song, and when he comes out the booth, I go in the booth and lay the hook down. When I get halfway done with the hook in the booth, he stopped me like, Come out. Ima say that hook. I leave the pad in the booth, and he goes in there for one take and spits that shit hard. We work it out, keep working on the song and tweaking it, and thats how Sly Fox came about. It was co-written and a collaboration, but it was his idea and his genius.

  • WOW

    EVERYONE LOOK UP: PRODUCER'S CORNER: STIC MAN. HE EXPLAINS WHAT HE DID FOR THE UNTITLED ALBUM IN 2008.

  • Anonymous

    I always thought the four major catagories in rap were lyricism, flow, substance, and creativity, and if you didn't have atleast 2 of them (one of which has to be either lyricism or flow and if its not both you should be exceptionally good at the other) for me to consider you a decent rapper. The reason why we ask for more from rappers then singers is that the skills of rapping individually do not require an incredible amount of talent, but once you combine the intricate rhyme schemes, telling a story with some deep meaning, having a great flow, throwing in some clever word play, etc, then you get a massive amount of skill displayed.

  • TommyK

    I only clicked on this article becuz I saw a picture of Max B... Some may remember that joint Cam had with Max "Pushing 40 ngga U not the One / Its Killa Season..." dissing Jayz. It was a strange thing becuz Biggavell used part of his name from Jigga. He used the 3 greats Biggie, Jigga and Makaveli, hence Biggaveli. Jay took the time to shout him out and keep him alive in peoples ears.

  • Jahad

    Very good article!, but as a hip-hop purist(traditionalist, ie. beats and rhymes) i feel sick that real lyricism as taken a back seat to garbage(commercialism, ie. rick ross, trap music etc.) because we have allowed those who don't care about the culture to own it.

  • MPistol

    What is truly sad is ppl insist on defining "hip-hop" by the music. That has been such a small part of hip-hop as the culture that it has been.

  • So Icy Boi!

    Lil Wayne is da GOAT. hip hop is Lil Wayne. swag

  • Steven

    Great article that speaks the sad truth, about hiphops direction which reflects people as a whole

  • cruelz

    finally a good article since 2011 because honestly it was getting all TMZ in this bitch

  • gsonii

    I will ghostwrite for some of these characters. How do I get in the business.

  • @DeeHavior

    @RC I believe the mentoring is still going on in hip hop. People just appreciate the music. Whoever or whatever you like, play it, share it, & promote it. We're passed the "snap" era & everything fans & supporters complained about. We've witnessed some dope careers started by some artists who are conscious & have grown in the past few years. Hip hop/ rap is back in a good space, the money isn't the same, because the economy isn't the same. Doesn't mean the music is bad, lets rejoice & pick out the artists we like and support them simple!

  • RC

    The problem is it's simply too easy for people to highjack the culture these days, anybody with a PC can throw their name up on the internet and call themselves an emcee or whatever. Hip-Hop once upon a time use to be a very exclusive club and if you didn't pass the bar you got no respect. Also those who did pay their dues were mentored by those who proceeded them and the culture carried on and grew. You just don't have that anymore. In the end Hip-Hop is no longer controlled by the people who created it, this is the end result of letting the industry take control and make rules for the Hip-Hop world that we made, Hip-Hop use to be a very powerful force, why do you think they panicked and dumbed it down and lobotomized it??

  • Anonymous

    You made some good points but lyricism does sell as we can see from the top selling artists all-time:Eminem,Pac,Hov & Outkast. As some1 else stated in the comments, Dr. Dre, Diddy & other rappers usually go to select good lyrical rappers to be their ghostwriters. They arent gonna pay Soulja Boy or Bow Wow to write their lyrics. But we as rap fans have to understand, some of the GOAT's of other genres of music didn't write every song & dats cool. As long as u wrote majority of ur raps especially like the classic albums than Im cool. If Nas didnt write the majority of Illmatic, than we as fans & the whole HipHop community should have a huge problem...I also disagree w/ur point that hip-hop needs Waka Flocka. NEED is such a strong word for such a less than mediocre artist. When I think of the word need, Im thinking of artists that elevated the culture and inspired future generations. Legends like Grandmaster Flash & Furious5, Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow,Run DMC, Beastie,Boys Public Enemy, NWA Geto Boys, Biggie, Pac etc. Hell I'll even credit to MC Hammer for really making hip-hop dance records popular. When I look at Waka tho, I see nothing that will make him be remembered. Hip-Hop can survive w/out the likes of Waka & alot of other rappers. They arent pioneers and arent elevating the culture in any way. Any1 can do wat these rappers do, jus give them a budget,studio & a mic. Hip-hop survives off of talent not $. It started w/out $ and became popular.

    • Anonymous

      Idk who was the first to make dreads a popular hairstyle for blacks but I do know Wayne's had dreads for a while so I cnt say Waka influenced that style. Wale & Roscoe Dash made no hands a hit record but either way, that record didnt influence any other artists or have a great impact on the culture. For ex. when soulja boy dropped "crank that" tho it was a terrible song lyrically, as a hip-hop dance record, it inspired future artists. We started to see a rapid increase of dance records. Songs like jerk, teach me how to dougie, walk it out,stanky leg, pop lock and drop it were all possibly because soulja boy had a huge hit w/crank that. That's one way to look at an impact & NEED for an artist.

    • Jo

      Notmuch of a waka fan, but he has made his impact... all these dudes dreaded out, come from waka... You can barely walk a hood now, without seeing that. And he is not saying you need waka himself, but artists that might not necessarily be into lyrics. "No hands" was a cultural hit... fact

  • Hate Revolver

    For those interested in finding the truth about the ghostwriting involving Nas, look up Producer's Corner: Stic Man which was done by this very site. I don't even know why they don't reprint it to squash the nosense.

  • billyjean

    who cares ghostwriting, composer, song writer all the same thing and in each GENRE not just hip-hop so dont act like this is new people.... it has been going on forever.

  • jester

    The reason I love hiphop is for the lyrics I'm big on painting pictures with words when I listen to music I wanna see my version of the images!!!

  • JP

    As far as the "freestyle" issue goes, it's definitely a case of a legion of existing and aspiring artists who've found comfort in their inability to freestyle without being ostracized like years back. Does anyone remember RAP CITY? I know that show scared the shit out of existing and would be rappers that knew their freestyle game wasn't up to par and people finding that out would enclose them into a box on a lower tier shelf in hip hop music. It started with the "you gotta pay me to freestyle" movement, where they all knew no one was about to pay for that shit then and there so the obligation was forfeited. Then radio DJs would dub video visits with "freestyles" to get more views despite them being rehearsed and it just ballooned from there. I have no problem with "spitting writtens," but show some sack and own up to it because the new public doesn't care that much either, as long as you don't call it what it's not. And if anything, just call it "Flowin'" and leave it at that because thankfully, freestyling has an existing definition and a great one at that. Would you call a scripted comedic scene "Improv?" We thinks not. @JGltd

  • jerryc

    The last few paragraphs really sum it up. I come on here and see some of these fake ass, wack rappers get blasted. Their songs are garbage and their lack of talent is exposed. Then low and behold, they still kill it on the charts. I deal with it daily; I am constantly hearing my friends and younger kids talk a bunch of garbage. One high school kid told me that he felt Wiz Khalifa and Rick Ross were the two best rappers alive. Its not even funny anymore. What the fuck happened? Where has taste gone? Who still has an ear for a good song?

    • EMAIL

      If i had to pick one song that no rapper right now could top it would be Nas on One Mic. Drake, Rick Ross, all those wack rappers making money off dumb teenage girls can't even match their own best song against that song and say they'd win. I miss the 90s.

  • Anonymous

    i only clicked on this article because of the max b picture and his only mention is of jay-z sneak dissing him also, max b wrote all of jim jones hits

  • Wayne

    This is a VERY GOOD article.

  • Psycho Maestro

    It's amazing how far people will go to defend shit rap. Saying its good business, there's ghost writing in the roots of rap, blah, blah, blah. Ghost writing is the equivalent of watching Kobe Bryant run around the court with the ball but everytime he shoots, he hands the ball to an unnamed, uncredited player that sinks the ball. Then everyone goes nuts and starts chanting Kobe's name while wearing his jersey and saying how awesome he is when the ghost writer is the real star. HIP HOP ISN'T POP MUSIC. Having your songs written for you makes you fake, not a superstar. Ashlee Simpson's career was destroyed by her lip syncing. People wrote of Milli Vinnili forever because they weren't actually singing. So how the fuck is it credible for rapper's to rap other people's lyrics? THE WHOLE BASIS OF HIP HOP IS LYRICAL MESSAGES, INTELLIGENTLY OUT WRITING AND OUT RHYMING OTHER RAPPERS.

  • The G.O.D.

    PEACE What is your definition of freestyle, Omar? It seems you got it confused when referring to GZA's flowing free of style. All freestyles are pre-written, you need to make a case for 'off the dome', money or go ask G. Rap, Krs-one or better yet GZA's cousin BDK was interviewed a while back and he pointed out the difference between freestyling and going off the top of your head. Do your research. p.s. so-called 'issue' with regard to Nas is a non-issue. PEACE

  • joker

    HHDX stop giving this author a platform. This site doesn't need an author that thinks hip hop fans are stupid on the subject of lyrics, ghostwriting, & freestyles. This man has written two editorials all because of a woman who hasn't substantiated her claim. I've been a fan of hip hop for years. I know of the ghostwriting/co-writing by Kane to the likes of Shante & Biz Markie. Both of the latter artists had hits, none of them are considered top 10 in most surveys. Saying ghostwriting isn't important because Diddy & Dre do it and still sell records is a fool's logic. They were producers or business owners long before they decided to pick up a mic; neither are legitimate emcees by their own admission, and neither are considered top tier rappers. The author claims that lyrical ability is over-valued today but uses lyrics from rappers as one of his sources? How stupid of you. Lyrical ability is important IF you want to be successful in hip hop music. Dre & Diddy both use(d) talented artists to write for them. Hell, Diddy alone has used Biggie, Mark Curry, Nas, Sauce Money, etc. Why didn't he use lesser emcees like Lil B? I mean lyrics aren't valued in today's market so why recruit talented lyricists/writers at all? What the author doesn't understand is that developing a song requires someone good enough at their craft to execute a concept, and that requires someone with skill. You don't use a landscaper to give you a shape-up because he doesn't have the proper skills; obviously cutting hedges and cutting hair requires a different skillset. I think that the author lacks understanding of his subject. What the author should realize is that the highest selling emcees & ghostwriters are all top tier lyricists/writers: Nas, Jay-Z, Eminem, 2pac, Outkast, Ludacris, etc. are all talented writers and are the highest selling rappers in their respective regions and in hip hop in general. So yes, skill does translate into success, and that's why Diddy, Will Smith, & Dr. Dre recruited lyricists to write their rhymes. Know your subject before you write an article & be sure to use the same effort you used to write these editorials to fact-check baseless, unsubstantiated claims.

  • Hate Revolver

    A better article Omar. Now, you can't use Puff and Dre as exmples because everyone knows they are Producers who want to rap and the people who write for them are credited. But that's what makes Hip Hop what it is. That a rapper has to atleast write his rhymes whether a Wacka or Nas. It might be an realistic demand but that's what fans pride Hip Hop for than any other genre. I know they are legends how have had ghostwriters, but the thing about the Nas controvesy is that Hip hop fans want the authentic MC to be the standard in hip hop. And you are rewarded with respect and commercial success in due time. Look at all the praise Nas it getting with his latest album. Wacka Flocka will never get the recognition and the majority of hip hop fans see that. And it's quite evident that people like Wacka are not going to have lasting careers because people know their raps are garbage compared to someone like J cole and Kendrick Lamar. So we do still value lyricism. You might not have quick success, but you might have a lasting career and Nas is a perfect example. As far as freestyling, that's always been a tricky skill cus you never know what real or not. And I think people look at it as a separate skill in hiphop. It's nice to be able to do it, but l don't think you lose credibility if you can't. As long as you can write and l think we should make rapper accountable for that. atleast.

  • Todd Smith

    First off I love this article. As a die hard Nas fan and overall hip hop admirer, I do understand that money is a requirement to live a certain lifestyle or for the most part maintenance of a lifestyle but as a FAN I see different. If you are an "MC" that claims to have love for the culture and/or the fan then you wouldn't do the complete opposite of what you preach. Because then me as a person who respects and honors realism in lyrics and BUYS albums, will not continue to support. I buy product with a certain expectancy. I expect Ross to rap about drug trafficking that he may or may not have ever been involved in but, I also expect him to rap dope over banging beats; nothing more nothing less. I don't want to believe it but I def think Nas had help w this latest project just for the simple fact of how astonishing it is. I understand being signed under big budget Jay-z helped w production but I haven't heard Nas ever spit this well in my opinion. It saddens me and I actually don't listen to it as much. DON"T TAKE AWAY MY REALITY! Peace

    • WOW

      What a piece of shit you are. a fresh one for that matter. How are people like you even made to think bullshit like that? Honestly, how could you say Nas' new album was ghostwritten?

    • Anonymous

      Oh, so now all of a sudden Nas had a ghostwriter for Life is Good too!?!? GTFOH! The album sounds like vintage Nas. Nobody else. smh. You're clearly not familiar with his catalogue.

  • Real Talk 100

    Again, slander from unconfirmed reports being spread by the same author as the last OpEd. Quote from Omar Burgess OpEd above: "....when [fans] learn that a rapper such as Nas may have had some help penning SOME or ALL of their rhymes" We now have multiple confirmations now from stic, that 0% of the words that came out of Nas mouth was written by either him or M1. So to speculate that there is even a possibility that ALL of Nas lyrics were co-written or ghostwritten is muddying the waters. At this point, I think you all are posting a second OpEd is just to get a boost in the hits seen to your website yesterday from this nontroversy. That's a risky strategy. When your terrible standard in journalism is what brings people to your publication. Ask the Source how that worked out long term. going over to xxl website now, Bye Baby lol.

    • Real Talk 100

      if you dont believe my theory on Dx milking the Nas Ghostwriting slander for all its worth.... As of 11:50AM EST, Two of the Five top Features are two part Fiction piece by Omar Burgess. Another of the Five top Features, total Three including the above, is the stic interview where he says he wrote 0 raps for Nas. Ironically given the content, Hiphopdx chose to title that news item "Stic Man elaborates on Ghostwriting for Nas".

  • Anonymous

    FREE MAX B FUCK JAY-Z AND DR DRE

  • Anonymous

    Lyrics are overrated but yet nobody wants to admit it. Want to know why 2Chainz is relevant right now? It's not because of his potential of becoming a poet laureete. It's because of his DELIVERY - we're entertained by not so much of his southern drawl but also how much he projects his coupe the same color of mayonaise. This is why ghostwriters exist. We don't necessarily see the artist before we judge the song, we hear the song first not knowing how the artist looks like or what subject matter they chose. There has never been a time when we copped a mixtape because of the cover, we copped the mixtape because of familiar artists on it, and we become open to a new artist if (s)he happens to outshine the said known artist we're familiar with. We no longer care who's real or authentic, and we definitely dont want to admit that we care about what the rapper is talking about. Maybe lyrics can provide a percentage of the credit but we're really hooked by delivery.

    • Anonymous

      Nah dude you're totally right about Pac. Some of his stuff was nursery rhyme level shit but he totally sold it like it was Gospel Truth.

    • TheIVth

      I get your point, but Ive always felt that delivery is half the battle when it comes to being deemed a good or great rapper. Some of the most revered rappers arent that great lyrically as say a Lupe or Chino XL, but they had great delivery ie: Snoop, DMX, Scarface (in my opinion), Method Man etc. Pimp C is one of my all time favorite rappers, but I always knew that it wasnt necessarily his lyricism that got him over, but more his occasional one liners and absolutely his great delivery. I might get shot for this but Tupac was never a great lyricist to me. But he had an incredible delivery that made you feel him.

    • TheWatcher

      You're both right... it is about delivery .. and its about lyrics too.. but no one CARES about your lyrics if your delivery is shitty. good lyrics good delivery good track = good music every time.. people need to practice more and stop using hiphop for a get rich quick scheme. Sick of these topics too.

    • JOe

      You know why 2chainz is hot? Because he was willing to be the next trick paraded down the runway. Lyrical minimisim is the racket. It is the industry's agenda to dumb down the taste of the consumer becuase it is much easier to replace a cartoon rapper than it is to replace someone of substance. It is also easier for the public to grasp the concept of "spend it" then it is to buy into something more substantial. Two chains is a cog in the system, a spoke in the wheel. As soon as the public grows tired of his persona or as soon as he thinks he has the leverage to get out of his almost assuredly paltry contract, the label will just move on to the next ho who will sign up for a box of Newports and Puma sweats. The "delivery" is jsut something the labels PR department pumps so, no offense, the unassuming public can believe that their is something unique and great to the rapper. PR just like this bullshit article is PR for ghostwriting rappers. The cat is out of the bag. Rappers don't write shit. So instead of writing, they get these cornballs to write articles supporting the trickery. Rap songs should have disclaimers much like cigarettes or low grade meet: WARNING: CONTRIVED BULLSHIT. NOT CREATED BY ARTIST. Rant - Terminated.

    • Psycho Maestro

      I've never seen a more well written stance defending shit rap. But your view is wrong. First off, rappers like 2chainz aren't poets. They're ignorant fucks that probably dropped out of high school in 8th grade. And arguing that it all about delivery is a joke. Its not even remotely difficult to deliver a basic 16 bar verse. Especially with singular rhymes at the end. Its called TALKING!!!

  • Anonymous

    I generally liked this piece but using album sales as the only measure of financial gain (or loss) from having higher quality lyrics or handwritten lyrics is problematic. Having well-written, authentic (whatever that means anymore) rhymes can still help an artist build up a dedicated fanbase that will go to shows, pay for merch, etc. It might not matter at the top for dudes with other business ventures but it definitely helps for underground/indie rappers.