Serious Question: Is There Room For Ghostwriters In Hip-Hop?
Even if you weren’t seeking it out, chances are the beef between Meek Mill and Drake found you. It popped up in your Twitter feed, while you were updating your Facebook status, listening to the radio or chopping it up with a friend. A gift from the meme gods, it’s the kind of online fodder that keeps on giving. But for the 2.7 of you who have no clue as to what I’m talking about, here’s a brief recap. On Twitter, Meek Mill called Drake out for allegedly using a ghostwriter on his verse for their collaboration “R.I.C.O.” off Meek’s new album, Dreams Worth More Than Money. Meek also told people to stop comparing him to Drizzy because, unlike Drake, he doesn’t “trick” his fans into believing the raps of an unknown author are his own.
In true beef fashion, Drake responded with not one, but two diss tracks, “Charged Up” and “Back to Back.” After referring to Drake’s efforts as “baby lotion soft,” Meek released “Wanna Know,” which, ironically, left fans wishing the Philly-born rapper employed the use of his own ghostwriter. All of this back and forth raises a valid question: is it earth-shattering (or that much of a revelation for that matter) if a musical artist, a rapper specifically, uses a ghostwriter?
In a machismo-heavy genre of music like hip-hop that’s often all about keeping it 100, I understand the concerns and raised eyebrows that ghostwriting elicits. In rap and hip-hop, your rep and your word are king. But if 50 Cent or Rick Ross has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t take every word that comes out of a rapper’s mouth as a fact. That applies to whether or not an artist penned their lyrics by themselves or had assistance. Rappers, like any other artist, tell stories. Storytelling – I’m not saying anything we don’t already know – can be rife with embellishments that progress a plot, sell a point, appeal to an audience, etc. It’s called artistic license. So just because you’re rapping about one thing, I as a musical consumer don’t have to believe that everything you’re saying is real or immediately assume it’s a fantastic tale. And this, my friends, is called suspension of disbelief.
Some of our most treasured artists never wrote a word of some of their biggest hits. From Whitney Houston to Chaka Khan and Diana Ross – the list goes on and on. Even if these artists employed writers, the love would still be there because fans fall for the voice. It’s all about talent and delivery. Yes, lyrics play a crucial role, but in the wrong hands, a well-written song can fall completely flat.
In music, regardless of the genre, ownership falls on the artist singing, or in this case, rapping on the track. When most people hear a song they like, they don’t say, “I wonder who wrote this song.” Rather, they ask, “Who sings this song?” It’s the same reason in a band of equally talented artists, the lead singer is the one who garners most, if not all, of the attention. They are both the visual and aural center, focus and hub; not the songwriter.
Let’s also remember that ghostwriters have been around forever and a day. Their efforts are utilized in novels, screenwriting, songwriting – practically any written form. And the world has neither stopped nor ended because they exist. Ghostwriters punch up lyrics and dialogue. And who is to say that they’re behind entire songs and not just helping stuck lyricists with punchy lines and choruses? They help artists find their voice. And they do it anonymously because either their contributions weren’t enough to garner a “written by” credit, because of the type of contract they signed, or because they’re part of a team created to take an artist to new heights (see Bad Boy’s Hitmen production team). So even if Drake used a ghostwriter, is that cause to turn our backs on one of the most celebrated, chart-topping rappers in the game right now? Is it cause to get that bent out of shape? Does it destroy his cred, suddenly wipe the slate clean or strip the man of his obvious talents? I don’t think so.
In my opinion, what makes a rapper or a music artist, in general, authentic is their unique spin on the music they present to the world. That includes their ability to adapt and grow as an artist. Hip-hop has a bonus element of smart and clever wordplay that garners respect from fans young and old. (Well, maybe not that old.) And as we well know, rappers are given respect partly based on their ability to deliver on that front, along with other status-invoking accolades like their number of albums sold, freestyling abilities, mixtape popularity, and, as evidenced by Meek and Drake, beefs won.
Meek certainly garnered a lot of attention following his initial Twitter rant, but let’s not forget that music was at the center of those tweets. Based on the delivery of the tracks we’ve heard from both him and Drake in the days following (which Meek even acknowledged sounded like Drake’s own words), I’d say Drizzy is the clear winner. Ghostwriter be damned.