[Column] Roundtable: Is Ghostwriting and Co-Writing Acceptable?


Since rap has basically reached pop status, is it acceptable for a rapper in 2015 to have co-writers, ghostwriters, and writing teams just like pop artists? It’s basically accepted in every genre, but rap seems to be different in that way.

There are two sides to the debate:

One side: What matters is what the final product is, and what’s coming out of the speakers. It doesn’t matter who did what, as long as the end result is dope.

The other side: We expect rappers to be authentic, to keep it real, to have skills and showcase them. What’s an emcee without their rhymes?

What do you think? We put it to our writers to discuss:

Matt McLellan:

Hip-hop is one of the most popular genres in the world. Growing exponentially every year since its inception, the level of expectation has also been rising. What was once known as an individual artistic effort soon became team collaboration.

The increased economical and social pressure to release constant hits has either elevated or ended careers. As a natural progression, artists on all levels resorted to the recruitment and collaborations of up and coming talent to meet this high demand. A very familiar concept to the music world, however in hip-hop it has become taboo. With a genre powered by pride, swagger, and bravado, asking for help is a sign of weakness.

However, I disagree. All through rock & roll history, production and lyrics have been divided by everyone in the group to complete and the music has reached legendary status, as well as paving ways for more innovative genres to form — including hip-hop. The end product held the most importance. Not the journey.

Ghostwriting is now a necessity in hip-hop. Whether you like it or not, for the genre to progress and continue to deliver high quality productions, it must adapt to the rock & roll ideologies.

Paul Camilleri:

Ghostwriting in music is an interesting subject. From rock, to electronic, to pop, to hip-hop, every genre has had their fair share of ghostwriting mishaps, though it may be more of an issue in specific genres than others.

For example, in rock music, other artists could write chords for someone else to play, minimizing the talent required in songwriting, though that artist would still have to be able to play those chords, which still requires skill. Electronic music is a different beast, however: due to the nature of electronic production, ghostwriting for this genre can end up being much more severe, as the selected artist could actually have done absolutely nothing to create the song, and do nothing once again while performing it.

Hip-hop kind of falls right in the middle of these two: you could definitely have someone write the song for you, but the emcee still has to be able to sing it, and perform it. Now you may be thinking, “it’s rap, if you have the lyrics you can perform it.” While that’s true, I can honestly say that even if I have all the lyrics of a song, me performing it will not sound anywhere close to the original artist. That is where the actual personality of the artist comes in, where if you gave the exact same song to 10 different artists, you would get 10 different products.

In addition to that, songs nowadays are like movies, where sometimes you need a team of people working together to really make something awesome, but if that is the case, every person involved HAS to be included in the song credits.

I believe that ghostwriting can be allowed, if all of the contributors involved are included in the credits. In my mind, I draw the line at lip-syncing, where that is truly faking your art. There is nothing wrong with working with a team, though you have to give credit where credit is due.

Martin Bauman:

I’m conflicted on this one.

If we’re truly honest, hip-hop has always had ghostwriting – hell, the first song that put the genre on the map and inspired a generation of emcees was bitten from Grandmaster Caz’s rhymes. Ever since Big Bank Hank rapped that he was the C-A-S-A-N-O-V-A on “Rapper’s Delight,” rappers have been taking credit for other rappers’ rhymes. Even the wealthiest hip-hop artist of all-time, Dr. Dre, is known for not writing his own rhymes. Jay-Z wrote “Still D.R.E.” It’s part of hip-hop’s history – in some ways, the founding pillar. Still, I don’t know.

It would also be hypocritical to protect the ‘integrity’ of hip-hop while simultaneously accepting the fake narratives that so many rappers have sold listeners – and often without any hesitation. Rick Ross, he who raps of selling dope straight off his iPhone, is a former correctional officer. The rap persona is just that: a persona. That hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the biggest hip-hop artists in the last decade. Let’s not even get into all the rappers who rent luxury cars and mansions for their video shoots, glorifying a life they don’t even live. We don’t seem to have much of a problem with that either. Still, I don’t know.

I interviewed Locksmith – a man who lives and dies by his rhymes – and asked him this question. Of course, he’ll take my side, I thought. Quite the opposite. He feels the way many of my colleagues do: rap music has become pop music, and along with that comes a team of co-writers. There’s nothing wrong with bouncing ideas off other artists – even taking suggestions – if it leads to a better song. He makes many valid points. Still, I don’t know.

I went looking for support from hip-hop’s elder statesmen: someone whose judgment would carry weight; whose judgment I could definitively seal the argument with. I made a beeline for Chuck D – searching whatever past comments he might have made on the matter. You know what? Even HE doesn’t have a problem with ghostwriting. Damn. I really must be bugging. Still, I don’t know.

I get it. Hip-hop is pop. Hip-hop is showmanship. Hip-hop and ghostwriting have been together all along – long before Drake may or may not have been running through the 6ix with his woes. I can listen to the music and appreciate it – even enjoy it. Artists are right: collaboration leads to some great music. So go ahead, enlist all the ghostwriters and co-writers you want. Just know this: at the end of the day, I will make a note of it. I know I’m not the only one.

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