Rewriting The Rules: A Roundtable Discussion On Ghostwriting In Rap

Nicki Minaj's comments about ghostwriting resurrected an age old debate, but the way some emcees and writers feel about writing for others may surprise you. It shouldn't.

I just don’t like ghostwriting. It is for the simple fact that I like my stories and music to reflect truth. As a fan of the Last Poets—whom I consider the forefathers of modern emceeing—I feel the practice of ghostwriting dilutes an emcee’s message. I always felt the purpose of an emcee was to be the voice of many and talk about what was going on in their community. When I first began writing this piece, I assumed anyone with a general knowledge or appreciation of Hip Hop music and culture felt the same. I originally had a preconceived idea about authenticity and the value of writing your own lyrics. Hip Hop is a communicative language, and I think it should be used to tell your truth about yourself and your environment. I think emcees have a responsibility for the platform that they have been given.

I learned many artists don’t mind ghostwriting and that it’s no big deal to them. I did find some common ground in Killer Mike, when he offered his opinion on the subject in his August, 2013 interview with HipHopDX by saying, “Rap is predicated upon [the concept of], ‘I am telling the truth about my life and my environment.’ So as long as rappers are presenting a rap in that way, they are going to be expected to be a writer of their lives and environment. It is that simple and not hard or overly complex. As long as the stance is, ‘Nigga, I’m real,’ then it is expected for them to be the authors. That’s it.”

The topic of ghostwriting has gained new legs off the strength of Nicki Minaj sending subliminal shots at Iggy Azalea and other emcees during Sunday’s BET Awards. Undoubtedly, when the conversation regarding ghostwriting comes up, the point of how one defines what exactly ghostwriting is should be addressed first. For me, the definition of ghostwriting is when an artist hires an outside lyricist or emcee, has them write an entire song, pays them an upfront fee and gives them no credit on the album liner notes or on the writing and publishing side. If an artist is given credit on the song or shares in the writing and publishing, to me that’s just collaboration.

What you’ll find below is a spectrum of opinions from various artists on the subject of ghostwriting. It’s important to note that people who draw the majority of their income from writing rhymes—either for themselves or others—have no problem with the concept of ghostwriting. After having done all this research and hearing all the views of the wide spectrum of artists that challenged my viewpoint, I haven’t changed how I feel about the subject. I feel if you are lucky enough to be given a large platform to speak to people, then you have an unwritten contract with your audience to speak your truth and elevate them. Otherwise, to me you’re not Hip Hop; you are simply in the entertainment realm or performing Pop music.

What’s Your Personal Experience With Ghostwriting?

55 Comments

  • Kashif

    I agree with the writer of the article. I am okay with it as long as it is a collaboration with the artist. But if someone is writing your entire song then there is a problem. Hip hop is an art form, and an emcee is appreciated both for his writing and rapping. Dre and Diddy get a pass as they don't hide the fact that they are not writing their stuff. Plus they have respect in the hip hop world for their own accomplishments.

  • kbz

    real mcee gotta write 4 himself

  • Biggie Smalls Is The Illest

    http://slumz.boxden.com/f87/the-definitive-ghostwriting-exposed-research-thread-will-keep-updated-936314/

  • Biggie Smalls Is The Illest

    @Maxwellinfo: Is it truth that you can expose ghostwriters if you use a copyright file app.? I have read some stuff like that on a website (link below, it seems to be the famous ghostwriters-list...)Does copyright give you an info about stuff like that?

  • Biggie Smalls Is The Illest

    Is it correct that you can expose some ghostwriters if you have an l.o.c.-ID and use the copyright file info? Something like that was written in the "ghostwriters exposed"-thread on slumz.boxden.com (famous "ghostwriters-list") (link below) http://slumz.boxden.com/f87/the-definitive-ghostwriting-exposed-research-thread-will-keep-updated-936314/

  • Erick

    Fuck what lil debbie thinks lol her music is trash.

  • LUNAWESTCOAST

    @HipHopDX @Maxwellinfo because of this stupidity writers dont get credict. Wacc artist use they crew to steal lyrics reshape it in their own handwriting and then claim they wrote it. They still a wacc rapper. They should give props to good writers. All the industry's have writers and acknowledge them. The rap game for some reason rather lie like they dont collaborate. Just a bunch of wacc artists stealing. Then when a real artists give props to their writers and crew the facc always have to find a way to defend their behavior. It takes a team. Entertainment is made up of producers, writers, performers, actors, singers, but the facc denies the real. Michael was a world success because of his team. Maybe if that facc rapper would have given props to writers she wouldn't have had to pump her body with facc silicone for a gimmick to be desirable. Real dont get record deals then have to alter their apperance for sales. The true art and talent sells it self.

  • Anonymous

    It's funny that Nikki is bringing this up when her own Bosses use ghost writers lol!!

  • GaryF

    This was a great piece... I don't know if you ever read that book where they interviewed over 100 emcees, called "How To Rap", but there is a LOT of information in there from loads of legends about ghostwriting as well whether they think it is ok to write fictional content. Worth a read if you haven't read it already.

  • BLOCKBURNER

    There's a lot of Ghost writing in hip hop like Gillie the kid did for birdman ask anyone cause the words he was philly words not New Orleans words he never wrote for Wayne all u have to do is listen to philly slang words then listen to New Orleans slang words and decide for yourself oh Wayne wore Gillie chain that's all

  • Violator

    Great Article! I'd say since Nicki sparked this conversation, a good honorable mention should have gone to the Lil Wayne ghost writing accusations that have been around for like 10 years. I remember back in circa '06-'09 you couldn't read an article about Wayne without accusations of ghost writing. And when Drake came on the scene, everyone was like this is Wayne's ghost writer. I think Wayne might have had a bit of help in like Carter 1, but since then, the mixtapes, the rest of the Carters etc, ghost writing claims have mostly been false. Fact is, this is hip hop, you might get a hot ghost written single, but people aren't going to buy your album and induct you into a pantheon of legend if they suspect that you spitting someone else's rhymes.

  • ITU

    Andre 3000 from Outkaz last year said that T.I has ghost writers, but he didnt say "Ghostwriters" he said it in a slick way

  • Jimmy

    Eskeerdo has written for a bunch of these artist check the credits Crazy!

    • hoodgrown

      thanks for putting me on.. I checked wikipedia and found all his writing credits. DAMN - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eskeerdo

  • f u pay me

    Puff Daddy had 2 of the best writing his rhymes (jadakiss and pharaoh monch) and he still sounded like shit. One the worst I ever heard no flow n a terrible voice for it. Dr Dre is the only one I don't care bout who wrote his rhymes cause his beats make up for it and im still waitin on DETOX like a fool

  • Don

    How did you do an editorial like this and not once mention Skillz? Dude practically made a career out of ghostwriting.

  • Anonymous

    Ghost Writing is essential to most artists career in some form or fashion, at one time LaLa Anthony was making an attempt to be a emcee this is before she married Melo, and she couldnt write, but my team wrote the records for her, we didnt make up any details, she literally told us what she wanted to rap about and she gave us stories about her life that we penned into records, the whole ghost writing ghost producing thing is overblown, no one is a juke box you cant pop a quarter into an artist and get a record, when you have pressing deadlines sometimes you have to get help especially with concepts, I know dudes who are ridiculous hook writers theyll give you a club record in 5 minutes but then again I know some dope story tellers and verse writers, for example D.O.C was a dope emcee but then he had the car accident so he wrote most of the Chronic records for Dre, should he be silenced as a writer because he can no longer physically get on the mic? Chronic is a classic and it wouldnt have happened without ghost writing.

    • @Maxwellinfo

      Hello Anonymous If you read the article we defined Ghostwriting as a person brought in paid an upfront fee and is given NO credit on the publishing or writing end. Hence the word Ghost!! D.O.C who I think is dope was given writing credit if you look on the album notes or discog for his skills on Lil' Ghetto Boy, A Nigga Witta Gun, The $20 Sack Pyramid, Lyrical Gangbang off the Chronic. So by our definition his is not a Ghostwriter. Now to your comments on LaLa all I say is Lord have mercy dont get me started on that one LMAO!!

  • R.Pgh

    I'm no fan of ghostwriting, although for certain artist it's a necessity. As much as Diddy sucks as a rapper, he would be a hell of a lot worse without ghostwriters. Shit, occasionally a good song will come out of it like 'The Future' which sounds like Diddy doing a karaoke jam of a Pharoahe Monch song.

  • Its Um

    Oh yea why leave out rapper Skillz, he said in his songs and I think a interview he ghostwrites for some people.

  • Its Um

    Royce also said he help wrote Dr. Dre and Diddy with some verses/songs.

  • Anonymous

    An opinion piece really...hip-hop's based on credibility, something you lose as an artist when your rhymes are ghostwritten. A comedy rapper like Biz having songs ghostwritten by a friend is one thing, but rap is huge business now. The line is now that if you can't be bothered to give the fans what they want for the money, you don't have to. To them I would say, get some motivation and inspiration, or stop fleecing the fans and quit.

  • Anonymous

    Wrong page. lol

  • Anonymous

    Az never lost his step with the lyrics but the beat does need work. I feel like kanye would have done something serious with this sample.

  • Anonymous

    i heard eminem wrote most of 2001

    • khordkutta

      "Its either my life or your life, and i aint leavin, i like breathin'' when i first heard that line i immediately knew em wrote that ish. Ghostwritin' has always will always be part of hiphop for better or worse.

  • What'z Crackin'

    I know Nikki Minaj isn't talking about someone ghostwriting; she's probably hasn't wrote a lyric in her whole life. my thoughts, I don't like ghost writing but its a necessary evil. MC blah might write some tight ass lyrics but if he puts it out nobody listens. He gives the lyrics to lil wayne all of a sudden the song sells gets 100 of thousands of downloads and so on. It isn't just one artist either; I think all of our popular artist use ghostwriters in one form or another whether they admit it or not

  • Anonymous

    Start working at home with Google! Its by-far the best job Ive had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this - 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,, ============================= WWW.DOLLARTRIBUNE.CON =============================

  • DavidDanielz

    Funny how Nicki is talking ghosting writing but fails to bring up Lil Wayne and Drake. They are the two biggest artist that use ghost writers. That whole camp is going down now. Nicki sees her stock going down. lol Its amusing at best.

    • Hoodgrown

      @Matthew: I was just about to say that. Some of the folks here reading comprehension isn't up to par.

    • Matthew

      Y'all realize Ester Dean came up with the hook right? She put it together with the two producers (who automatically get song writing credits nowadays even if they don't contribute to the song). I'd say 90% of rappers and overall musicians nowadays don't even come up with their hooks. They lay down the verses the majority of the time, as Nicki did. And you can tell Ester didn't "ghost write" for Nicki because the verses are NOTHING like Ester's solo material. Get My Dough, Twerkin 4 Birkin, Drop It Low, etc. But, you can definitely tell she came up with the "I still love" part of the song. As one of the MCs in the article said, it'd be a problem if Nicki said she wrote the song by herself and didn't give any Ester any credit... She did lol. + Nicki said when she SPITS, you know it is from her not when she SINGS. She has never claimed to always write her singing material.

    • HUH

      Especially since Pill n Potions was co-written by Ester Dean and two other people. Talk about being a hypocrite. SMH

  • Anonymous

    lil debbie is greatest rapper of all time.

  • Anonymous

    This just puts up a whole nother level t guessing the message behind the lyric. Rap Genius thinks they know it all.

  • King Zulu

    I meant No One Can Do It Better -_- follow me @theSmokeSession

  • King Zulu

    It all depends on how well the ghost writer delivers the performers way of thinking and personalit. Basically. Y'all gotta kick it for a minute. My N.I.G.G.A. The D.O.C. NO BODY CAN DO IT BETTER!

  • Truth

    Bottom line...in Hiphop, artists create, if you don't create your music you're just a performer, so don't go around claiming to be a dope MC unless you write your own shit. This isn't RnB or any other genre where you have to know how to sing and carry a note...in Hiphop you rhyme, it's supposed to be lyrics driven and if the lyrics aren't yours then your just performing someone else's art. When an artist records a song then sends it to you and you memorize it true to form like a child memorizes their favorite song on the radio, YOU ARE NOT AN MC. The only fun in ghostwritten songs is trying to figure who wrote them...listen to a P Diddy album, and try to figure out who wrote what, you'd be surprised how easy it is

    • Mike

      MC means move the crowd right? Big Daddy Kane couldn't perform the way Biz Markie performed, it'd look too weird. THe way BIz said his words and what not just didn't fit into BDK's style. So yes you're performing someone else art but your performance is your own art. You can't take away that from an artist; god knows most of these artist are terrible performers.

  • Anonymous

    Nas wrote Get Jiggy wit it. The fact that he said a few words here and there and was in the studio when the song recorded and even was a legit writer on four other songs prove that he had a good hand in the song. Nas also wrote Doctor Dre's The Watcher.

  • Anonymous

    What I don't understand is Young Money/Cash Money use ghostwriters, so is Nicki talking about her labelmates and bosses as well? if not, stfu

  • Anonymous

    Slippery slope here. If you nice your verses should be for hire, but integrity kicks in and rappers shouldnt use ghostwriters. How you going to get some songwriting credits to boost the publishing catalog? Composing has always beena vital part of the industry so it shouldnt astound anyone that rappers have ghostwriting opportunities. Lot of historic songs are ghostwritten for high in the studio agreement prices, not publishing. I dont believe anyone is paying for ghostwritten albums, but songs, yes, khaled has a ghostlabel people

  • Forsure

    See for me ghost writing is trash... never changing my mind. Look you can say "hey everyone else does it, so its fine right?" FUCK NO, lets not get caught up in that shit. I love rap for it's raw and real feeling but the problem is in recent years we have been pulling away from that and rappers have been lying for years about how hood or gangter they are. Examles include people like Lil wayne and Rick Ross. Real hip hop heads don't buy that shit only mainstream wana-be's who got into rap their freshmen year of collge. LOL Come on! this isn't Pop music this isn't R&B this is FUCKING HIP HOP DOG and WE HOLD our ARTISTS or should be holding them to a higher standard doods! Someone in there said "hey, Yo, we don't have all the time to write the rhymes." Well fuck you and do it. I could care less if you CD's come out every other day it matters to me more that it is authentic. END