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Article On Hip-Hop Ghostwriting


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Ghostwriting & Hip-Hop

July 28, 2003

Michael Seneadza

Droppin' Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture (Critical Perspectives on the Past)

William Eric Perkins


Yesterday I was having a discussion about whether or not Dr. Dre can be considered a rapper. The discussion quickly digressed into the topic of ghostwriting. For those that don't know, here's a definition of a ghostwriter -- 'One who writes for and gives credit of authorship to another'. The practice of ghostwriting in hip-hop has always carried a certain stigma. That is to say that no self-respecting MC would be caught dead reciting rhymes written by someone else. Yet we know the practice takes place. Jay-Z once told Vibe magazine that "I get paid a lot of money to not tell you who I write for." It's widely known that Dr. Dre's lyrics have been written by The D.O.C., Ice Cube, Snoop, Jay-Z, Eminem, etc. I'm pretty sure Puffy doesn't write all (any?) of his own lyrics. Da Brat has written for Jermaine Dupri. (no comment!) And didn't Nas write some stuff for Will Smith one of Will's latest albums? Who knows how many other examples are out there. This raises several questions for me.

Why aren't singers and musicians held to the same standard as rappers? Musicians aren't chastised if they play music that they didn't compose. Great singers aren't ridiculed for singing the words of someone else.

Would it be better if the liner notes explicitly said 'written by XYZ', instead of trying to be stealth about it? (For that matter, does the average person even read the liner notes?)

Is writing your own lyrics an essential part of being a true MC? Is that part of what differentiates an MC from a rapper?

Will the stigma ever go away?


You asked me Troy L. to explain my point of view of the difference between Hip Hop back in my era in comparison to now. Well first let me tell you that there’s a big difference between m.c.s and rappers. Rappers make rap records and are in the game for the sole purpose of monetary gain and fame. They have no love for the microphone or hip-hop, which consists of 4 elements - D.J.ing, Emceeing, Graffiti and Break Dancing!!! And I support this fact with pure evidence. Check it! Every time there is an anniversary for Rock Steady, Zulu Nation or the Cold Crush or even Disco King Mario do you see any of these rap stars or do you see mad m.c.’s that hold down mics like no other? Huh? No, because they don’t fit ;only the ones that have love for this music are there! Rappers don’t give out side jams and most of all rappers don’t interact with mc.s because m.c.s are a threat to them. If both were to get on the mic at a jam out side and the d.j. is playing breakbeats , the m.c. will tear the rapper ass up because he is in his domain his arena and he will not only rock rhymes he will rock the party; showcase the d.j. with no gimmicks no hype man, no dancers just him and his gift of gab. The rapper will say some good rhymes that is probably in record form, meaning it will be 16 or 24 bars and will feel very uncomfortable up there by himself, no dancers, no security and no hype man and to top it off if the record skips he,the rapper will stop and look at the d.j. or search for the soundman. The m.c. will stutter back on track. And in order for the rapper to rock the crowd he will have to borrow the m.c.s crowd motivation skills, or put on one of his hit records. Last but not least m.c.s roll with other m.c.s, rappers roll with body guards and entourages and stay stuck in v.i.p. rooms. However it’s somewhat not their fault because the record industry did that to them with trickery. How can you be a rap star and not be able to hang around your old block and chill? Everything you do is under a microscope! Then you chip off the founders **** but can’t give them a job as A&R or a talent scout! Don’t call us in for a collaboration of our **** you take, but pay the record companies that raped us for our voice samples or our songs. Niggaz talk **** about Will Smith but that mother****er brought Kool Moe Dee in when he did Wild Wild West! So we have the right to be bitter when we gave up blood , sweat and our souls so these guys can get million dollar deals. Video budgets etc. etc. We open the door and these so called rappers hold the knob on the other side so we can’t get back in. Don’t you know if we was to get them big budgets and have access to them top-notch producers we'll be just as big if not bigger. But they (the record companies) claim that they don’t want to take a chance on us! So why did they jump on our music in the first place! They took a chance then and look what happened….A 12 billion dollar industry! And that’s the difference- peace my brother holla

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I always wondered about that myself. Someone like Britney Spears or Monica, or even Mary J. Blige don't write their own stuff at times, yet have put out some of the best music a generation's ever heard. Actually, when I think about it, R&B singers don't seem to have ghostwriters. They come on out and say that "so and so" wrote this song for me. I don't agree with that "rapper" definition he stated. I think the big deal about ghostwriting not being as accepted in Hip Hop as anything else is because it was a voice for the people, and anybody could speak about what they felt like saying. I remember on one of the Tupac DVDs I have, it was said that Ray Luv actually wrote the song "Trapped", but Pac just felt that represent his own voice just as well, so he asked to use it. But on the insert, Pac is credit for the lyrics.

Edited by mfuqua23
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Here's another article on it:


"MC's Not Writing Lyrics

Ghostwriters could be getting more common in hip hop - it's being claimed up to 40% of US tracks aren't written by the rappers spitting them.

It could range from a writer helping an MC with a few lines to them penning entire tracks.

Having other people write your lyrics happens all the time in the pop world, but is hip hop progressing the same way?

TXU's Nick Davis caught up with XXL journalist Adam Matthews, Kanye protégé Rhymefest and J Records artist Smitty to find out.

Listen to their chat here

So is it all about collaboration or are hip hop stars using ghostwriters cos they lack lyrical prowess?

Do you care if a rapper's lyrics aren't all their own? Is it OK for an MC to have killer flow without lyrical ability? Do you see hip hop going the way of pop? A lot of big artists are producers first and foremost - is it cool for them to collaborate?


If it's a concious hip hop track or one of true meaning it has to be written by the artist otherwise it's just not credible and the artist ends up looking a fake.


I tink pop's rubbish yeh and i don't tink hip hop should b goin like dis. Hip hop ain't just bout da musik, it's also bout how da artist feels and how into da lyrics dey r and da meanin behind dem. If they got sum1 else writin 4 dem den it don't really have da same effect.


I don't have any time for rappers that don't write their own lyrics. For singers it's different because if a singer has a good voice it doesn't really matter if they wrote the songs themselves - its still going to sound good. But if an mc doesn't write their lyrics it's a different story. Rap is all about the lyrics and the lyrics make or break a rap record. If the guy doesnt write his own songs it's going to take away from the musical experience. It just sounds fake, talking about other peoples lives and rapping from other peoples viewpoints. Most rap fans care about the lyrics and meaning of the songs rather than the flow.


I think that as an MC it is a requirement for you to be able to write the majority of your lyrics, although to be fair there have been occasions where artists have admirably carried songs they didn't write - I doubt anyone would complain as long as these artists still get the royalties!

sci bucks

i feel it really takes away from the whole game - hip hop is life - its meant to be real! dis whole game has fallen away from its original roots. what ever happened to sayin wat u mean and meanin wat u say - i love hip hop and hate dis all bout money rap game!!!

joka a.ka P'Lyrical Teraspitz a.k.a Verbal Abuse

wats da point of having a good flow or lyrical content if u dnt write it. To me lyrics are thoughts and feelings, so wats da point expressin sum1 elses thoughts. i write my own bars and will never let sum1 ghostwrite 4 me, but watch out b'cos every1's guna try copy and hate my style.

duane "lil bear" mcguire

i think its a cheap way into the industry an if u cant write dont rap simple all you fakers who r using ghostwriters need to move over cuz there's plenty of sick uk rappers who write there own songs and r willin to put in work


As a writer and producer myself, people don't understand how hard it may be for some people, there is such a thing as writer's block. smokey robinson has written over 10,000 songs over the years. but also there's people like kanye west and pharell that you'd wish didn't write their own lyrics.

Tai Monoup

I think the reason we have such a hard time dealing with the whole 'ghost' issue is because we totally buy into the messages that most MCs spit as truth, to a degree. The reason we easily digest the fact that singers get stuff writen for them is that we tend to separate the singer from the song - maybe because the subject matter of most r'n'b tracks tends to be a little superficial.

If we learnt that Bob's Redemption Song, or Marvin's What's Going On was written by someone else, we'd probably have a hard time dealing wid that too. Maybe the fact that MCs have more freedom to show more of their personality in a rhyme than a singer would have in a song makes hip-hop more personal.


There is music like album fillers which you just listen to, usually while doing something else- like a lot of pop music it simply sounds good. Ghost writings fine for this. But then there are tracks which are meaningful to the rapper- the kind of song you can listen doing nothing else 'cos the lyrics are so deep. you cant have this ghostwritten, people take it to mean something to the rapper- its just lying to the listeners."

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Hiphop is different to singing I think.Singing should sound good, hip hop doesnt have to. Hip hop has to have a message, singing doesn't have to. Basically, the way I see it is that singers can have 'writers', but should never have 'ghost writers'. Hip-hop artists shouldn't even have 'writers', let alone 'ghost writers'.

Rappers can have 'writers' if the track is only meant to sound nice (like I see P. Diddy's work as), but still - never 'ghostwriters'.

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All music has a message to it though, the thing is though singers could get record deals singing somebody else's songs like they do on 'American Idol' for instance, but with hip-hop you have to be original and move the crowd with your own lyrics and energetic flow of the lyrics to get signed, that's where you could say the similar thing between hip-hop and other music when it comes to performance, 2 people could say the same thing but the one that could move the crowd better will get the victory but you gotta be original with your lyrics in hip-hop, all artists should be involved with writing their lyrics, I don't mind if somebody lends a hand when it comes to song concept but if you don't write any of your lyrics, it's hard to call you an artist, I'm sure Marvin Gaye had a hand in the writing table, I don't think he just sat there and had people just write of all of his lyrics for him.... I don't like it that Puffy boasts about writing checks instead of lyrics, that's fake, lol.....

Edited by bigted
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The reason why their might be 5 names on the credits is 'cause besides the name of the artist performing the song if they actually wrote any of the song, maybe a co-writer, there's a producer(s) unless they produce it themselves, and the name of the people they sample would be on the track too along with the people who produced for their song too, for example I'm gonna show you if I had Jazzy Jeff produce a track for me, and we sample a song by Keith Sweat that was originally produced by Teddy Riley, btw my real name is G. Miller if you wonder who that is, for the sake of the argument I'll have fuq co-write the lyrics with me(M.Fuqua) a lot of times you wouldn't know about ghostwriters 'cause they ain't credited that's why they're ghostwriters, there's a lot of rumors about so many people using ghostwriters but you wouldn't know for sure, Kel Spencer might be credited for writing some stuff with Will but he's a co-writer 'cause Will's credited for writing the lyrics too, that means he probably just helps Will fix a couple lines in the verse, anyway this is what the credit would like for me:

(G.Miller, J.Townes, M.Fuqua, K.Sweat,T.Riley)

A lot of times you'll see that more than one person produces a track too, wouldn't that be considered co-producing and if it ain't credited it's ghostproducing? You see Andre Harris and Darren Hansen produced a lot of the tracks with Jazzy on "Willenium", so r they considered co-producers? Like there's a rumor that Pharrell produced "Rump Shaker" for Teddy Riley but only Teddy Riley's credited for producing the track, so would Pharrell be a ghostproducer if that was true? I found it kinda funny that people'd protest Kanye West for having Rhymefest ghostwrite for him when he was nominated for a Grammy while Dr. Dre and Puffy won Grammies without writing any of his songs, you look at their credits and they ain't credited for writing their h own songs, maybe for producing, that doesn't make sense, they should take their Grammies away if they're gonna protest Kanye, Kanye writes most of his rhymes unlike them even though their not really that good in my opinion, lol. I don't think Will had any co-writers in the JJFP days, it's ever since he started doing movies, he probably needs a lil' help 'cause he probably don't have a lot of time to proofread his rhymes like he used to, I don't see nothing wrong with that, when it's time to perform he always rocks the house and that's the most important thing about an mc like it was stated in that interview, some cats might write rhymes for other people to make money instead of doing shows 'cause when they perform people boo them, lol... btw if I'm not mistaken I think AJ has a "Source interview" from the late 90s where Will denies having ghostwriters when they asked him, he should post it for us....

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I kinda agree with Johnny. It difrent when lets say a AZ uses Ghtsowriters than when Puffy does. Puffy`s musik isnt for the message. Its just for fun and having a good time. Thats why I think there is no problem that Will used some writers on Big Willy Style. That was just for having a good time. But when Artits like Black Rob or AZ are starting to use writers than there is something wrong caus they are known for they`r message and not for they`r musik to have a good time with.

Second is that Puffy and Dre are not realy mc`s but mor producers who like to grab up the mic sometimes. Now nothing is wrong with that. They aren`t that good in writing so they Ghostwriters or Co. Writers. Why not? There are only some allround typs. That why I would say that RZA is brillinat. He is a great producer and wrote some of the best lines ever. No doubt.

What depends that thing with Pac that he had a writen song caus he felt that lyrics in that song.. That`s ok too. As long as you don`t do it all the time.

And than you hace the thing with groups. Let`s say the Wutang Clan. They are all great writers and mc`s but I`m pretty damn shure when they do stuff together they also write each other. Nothing is wrong with that caus it`s a group. As long as they dont do it with they`r solo stuff.

Now with the singer,rapper stuff. There isn`t realy a diffrence ANYMORE.

R. Kelly for example writes songs like U Saved Me and Prayer Changes who have strong messages. He shouldnt use writers for stuff like that. But notrhing is wrong with using writers for his party songs. Same with rappers. Like I allready said... Puffy can use tham caus his music is for having a good time. And the ones who make music for the message shouldnt do it.

Edited by Turntable
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You could look at the credits for "Lost and Found" and see that Will wrote all the serious songs on there himself like "Tell Me Why", "Loretta", "Could U Love Me", "Mr. Nice Guy", and "Ms. Holy Roller", he only had Kel Spencer(AKA Lennie Bennett) help him on the upbeat tracks like "Party Starter", "Switch", and "Pump Ya Brakes", Will probably gives him credit 'cause he wants to help a young brotha make the game, he ain't selfish, there's nothing wrong with that.... btw is D. Lewis Skillz?, that's the name I see on "Lost and Found" next to Will Smith and the producer on that credit....

You look at all the top artists of all time like The Beatles, Elvis, Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and James Brown, they write basically everything they've done, even if they had co-writers, they were always involved with their writing, you have to write your lyrics to be a great artist, no question....

Edited by bigted
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I think people probably protested Kanye West 'cause the most serious songs he released from "College Dropout" like "Jesus Walks" and "Through The Wire" weren't written by just Kanye, Rhymefest was credited as a co-writer for "Jesus Walks" and I don't see Kanye's name credited on "Through The Wire", he wrote basically everything else on there himself but they weren't really as deep as those songs according to most people, most people thought "Jesus Walks' and 'Through The Wire' were the highlights of that album, I don't recognise the names that're credited though for "Through The Wire".....

Ghostwriting ain't really a new issue for hip-hop either, remember "Rapper's Delight"? Melle Mel was the only mc on the Furious Five who wrote a verse on the message according to what they said in a hip-hop book "Can't Stop, Won't Stop", the rest of that song was written by the SugarHillRecords writers who'd write songs for them and Sugar Hill Gang, Run-Dmc said that LL Cool J wrote some of their earlier songs, Kurtis Blow said he had DJ Run write some stuff with him too, you'll see their names on the remastered albums but on the ol' school rap ablums they didn't have credits, ghostwriting always existed, as long as the songs are good, who cares, songs are different than freestylin', it takes more effort to make a good song than it does to spit a few punchlines, songs consist more than just punchlines....

I think the thing is, the people who're acting like ghostwriting is a new issue are the ones who don't like the hip-hop songs that're currently being released, but this was something going on in the golden era of hip-hop too, think about it a lot of the big name mcs had other mcs/ non performing songwriters write for/with them even then, before "Rapper's Delight", nobody made songs, they were just freestylin' in the parks to DJ'in, the only truely way hip-hop'll go back to the original roots is if mcs stop making songs and just freestyle with DJ'ing, lol....

Edited by bigted
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Maybe those who ghost write do it because they know they can be of help to somebody, but don't want the credit or fame. Yet some of them have turned around and got jealous. "I'm the ghost writer of the century and I've carried all your top hip hop rap artists on my back."

Hip Hop's divisions are really starting to bother me. It's almost like that slave thing where it was "Let them hate and kill themselves off."

The race is Hip Hop, but they split it... Hip Hop vs Rap, Mainstream vs Underground, Freestylers vs Writers. I think everybody feels like they have a need to find the EXACT answer as to what constitutes a rapper, emcee, freestyler, ghostwriter, and everything surrounding. I don't know if it's suppose to general knowledge or if people are afraid of these changes.

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Why are cats(not the ones on this board) so concernced about ghostwriting all of a sudden when most of today's rappers are having their lyrics written for them(did I hear someone say Bow Wow)? And I agree with Ted, a lot of old-school rappers had their rhymes written for them. I mean nobody really thinks that Puffy or JD writes their own rhymes. What about Dr. Dre during his days with NWA. It's a known fact that MC Ren & Ice Cube wrote Dre's rhymes. MC Ren wrote a lot of Eazy E's rhymes as well.

It happens. The only difference now is that these "ghostwriters" are trying to get shine now. I kinda hope that they expose all of these wack rappers in the game now. I can't blame them either. I mean they write all of these songs and it's the talent-less bums that's getting credit.

Really, I could care less. I just want to see a change in the lyrics.

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:word: I don't care if somebody told me 50 Cent or somebody else wrote "Candy Shop", I'd still tell you it sucks, just like I still think "The Message" is the greatest hip-hop song I heard even if not every Furious Five member actually wrote it or not, I still think too that Salt-N-Pepa are one of the greatest groups of all time even if they didn't write their rhymes.... Haters use ghostwriting as an exuse not to like an artist, they might've heard that Nas helped Will write some songs on "Big Willie Style" and overexagerate it to make it look like Will's wack 'cause he don't write any of his rhymes, but the truth is their favorite gangsta rapper probably had help on their songs too but they wouldn't admit that though, lol, just like they dissed Will for doing a freestyle on the radio that was a song on his album but Snoop does the same thing too, he'll freestyle songs that're actually on his album when he's on the radio, a lot of ol' school mcs in the '70s used to write their freestyles down before they'd go to the party, it ain't nothin' new, for all we know Jay-Z probably writes down his songs too at his house and memorises them, then making it look like he just does it off the top of his head, we'd never know for sure 'cause we don't live with him, even if he did that, he's still a talented mc, or if he really does it the way he says he does it too, people'd still feel or diss the songs the same way.....

Edited by bigted
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