Rewriting The Rules: A Roundtable Discussion On Ghostwriting In Rap

posted Monday June 30, 2014 at 10:00AM PDT | 58 comments

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?

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