What You Know About Ghostwriting in Hip Hop May Be All Wrong

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Recently, Meek Mill accused fellow rapper Drake, of having spit ghostwritten bars by Quentin Miller on their collabo track. This Twitter insult was slung at Drake to discredit his position as one of the rap industry’s top performers. However, the social media beef didn’t seem to go the way Meek planned when Drake came back with bars on two well-placed diss tracks. It didn’t seem like the reference tracks from Quentin Miller which showed Drake in a bad light, affected what people thought about Drake’s songs Charged Up and Back 2 Back. People didn’t even question whether or not he wrote the songs. They just assumed he did. However, everyone also knows that Drake probably has used ghostwriters in the past. People don’t seem to care anymore, or question an artist’s ability because of it though. And for the most part they’re probably right when it comes to popular music.

Did you know ;

Rakim wrote Summertime for Will Smith?

RZA and GZA wrote for Ol Dirty Bastard?

Run-DMC wrote for the Beastie Boys?

Jay-Z wrote Still D.R.E. for Dr. Dre?

Cam’ron wrote Crush on You for Lil Kim?

Kool G Rap wrote Chick on the Side for Salt n Pepa?

Cassidy wrote Got It All for Eve?

Officially, ghostwriting is when a writer is not credited for their input on a project. There are numerous tracks which people think were ghostwritten or enhanced with the help pf other people that were actually given credit, like what Jay-Z did for Dre. However, since many people never see the credits, there are songs that many think are solo productions which are in fact, not. The conceptual process can be a lot more collaborative than people imagine and it has been that way since the beginning of hip-hop music. Many people know that one of the earliest rap songs, Rapper’s Delight, was written in part by Grandmaster Caz, even though Big Bank Hank performed the lyrics. But you shouldn’t be surprised. Too many songs in rap music were collaborations, borrowed concepts or flat-out co-written, to name all of them. It’s been going on since the beginning.

Big Bank Hank and Grandmaster Caz

Big Bank Hank and Grandmaster Caz

One hugely important song that most people don’t realize was co-written changed the face of Hip Hop music forever. The song was pivotal in the transition from party music to conscious rap. That song is The Message, by Grand Master Flash and the Furious 5. And although it is the most popular song by the group, it’s the one song that the group was least involved in creating. It’s also the last song they did together before they broke up.

ob_ce8841_face-a-grandmaster-flash The-Message_x0ojjm

Other than being in the video, the group, The Furious 5, really had nothing to do with the creation of the song. The song is, for the most part, a co-written solo track for Melle Mel. Melle Mel, who performed the track, only wrote the last verse which starts, “A child is born with no state of mind, blind to ways of mankind…” Arguably, that verse contains the most potent bars beyond the hook, but the creator of the rest of the song, including the beat, is all but unknown in rap circles. When you see the credits for the song, the first name is E. Fletcher, followed by M. Glover (Melle Mel), S. Robinson (Sylvia Robinson) and J. Chase (Jiggs Chase). Ed Fletcher aka Duke Bootee, is the main person responsible for The Message sounding the way it did and Grand Master Flash himself, is not even on the record at all, which is why he hated the song. Jiggs Chase recalled how Sugar Hill Records owner Sylvia Robinson “wanted a serious song to show what was happening in society, but hadn’t been able to get it together (Jiggs Chase, theguardian.com).” She also was inspired by the final cut being 7  minutes and 11 seconds because she was “…into numerology (Ed Fletcher, theguardian.com).”

When it comes to ghostwriting, emcees have always taken pride in the idea of writing and performing their own material. That’s what made emcees special on one level. But when it comes to rap music, the same rules have always applied to making hit records. Music is a business that works as a collaborative team effort, of which the artist is only the face. There may be numerous people behind the scenes making your favorite pop star look like a winner. It’s not just the effort of the person behind the mic, in front of the camera, who’s responsible for putting them there. Making songs is one thing, but hit records are usually collaboration. It all comes down to what Sauce Money told me in an interview we did in the late 1990’s. When I asked about him writing the Grammy Award-Winning B.I.G. tribute song for Puffy, he said that he didn’t mind if people didn’t know he wrote the song just as long as he got paid.


Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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