As a kid we recited portions of rap lyrics to each other to show how connected we were to savory word play of the hottest rapper. In fact, I can recall ending conversations or beginning them with syntax that carried rhythm cats would bop a yes or a no to. For me, a teen living in the South Bronx, sometimes rap music was the only thing that could make life relevant.
It might be understandable if a Hip Hop fan is dejected when he finds out that his favorite rapper has misrepresented himself. This rapper may have simply changed his name, fabricated a life of crime and violence, or flaunted money he didn’t have. Whatever the case may be, for years the ultimate offense still sits at the highest point on the wall of accursed actions performed in the world of Hip Hop: ghostwriting. This is the rapper that spews lyrics that aren’t his and written by another. He performs someone else’s story and he delivers it with emotion to a faithful audience. He convinces.
Recently, Nas underwent scrutiny because of accusations made by dream hampton claiming he used Stic.man from Dead Prez and Jay Electronica as ghostwriters in the production of “The N-Word” album which was later rename “Untitled.” Much of the uproar was in response to an assault on Nas’ purity as a rapper. Some might criticize many aspects of his albums: consistency, stamina, content, and even purpose. However, who can question the lyrical play of Hip Hop’s golden child? Nas convincingly ripped mics at 16 better than most rappers would be able to in their prime. Riddling off bar after bar of authentically phrased philosophy, his delivery and raspy voice has still remain distinct. So where do we go with the accusation?
Set Aside the Taboo
Let’s not have that discussion about rappers using ghostwriters from day one. Let’s not blanket the charge of incredible lyrics by examining producer-rappers like P-Diddy and Dre or even scrutinize brand rappers like Wil Smith. Unless you follow the development of a rapper, identifying his authentic voice can sometimes be difficult. There have been accusations of many rappers that have betrayed the sacred oath of emceeing. Perhaps it would be more worthwhile if we engaged in a discussion of musicianship? What makes a good rapper, song, or album? Rappers are a apart of a fraternity of musicians that exist to perform. Rockers, soul singers, and Jazz musicians all collaborate, adopt someone else’s story, and perform them with no objections. Why hold rappers to a standard of creative purity that are not used to critique other musicians?
Some creative minds have jumped on this question, and have already begun to pioneer a new type of rapper. There is no reason why ghostwriting can’t be a viable, public, and profitable sector of the Hip Hop music business. Jessie Kramer of Rap Rebirth, a ghostwriting agency, professes we should examine the entire package. Kramer runs a ghostwriting business that crafts a creative environment for the rapper. Rap Rebirth gives rappers inspiration, helps in the drafting process, and provides creative feedback that would be used in any artistic field. Hip Hop has become an extremely marketable enterprise, and each aspect, if it means to survive, needs to be polished. There is so much room for stylist, publicist, and that is needed to enhance the other parts of the artist. Ghostwriting helps rappers maintain their voice and shouldn’t be seen as anything more than coaching. Sometimes in order to improve your craft you have to look outside yourself and a peer that knows your skills might be the best at pulling out unique work.
While Nas’ credibility is on attack, he still remains one of a select few of rappers that have maintained relevance for more than 15 years. The average listener can admit that the shelf-life of a rapper is extremely short. The rap industry is exclusive and limits its admittance. Perhaps creating a space for collaborators, assistants, muses, or ghostwriter can open the market a bit more and allow others an opportunity to shine. Moreover, the use of a creative team might help the longevity of a rapper. The youthful nature of the Hip Hop world rejects help that could possibly increase the lifespan of an artist’s career. It would have been seen as silly if Miles Davis didn’t look to work with Hendrix, Coltrane, Parker, and even Russell Simmons to produce one of the most eclectic and longest careers as a Jazz musician.
The written word remains the most sacred aspect in the art of rap. It’s a tough pill to swallow and condone ghostwriting in the Hip Hop arena. Those of us that grew up in communities in which Hip Hop was a religion have extreme aversion to the idea that someone would rap and not produce the art themselves. The craft of projecting an original image of an underrepresented lifestyle or community that had very little mainstream voice empowered us. Growing up in the Bronx, I learned to tune out and separate real emcees from fake ones. We changed the station or turned the volume down if a particular rapper was believed to have used a ghostwriter. We were proud to root for a neighborhood kid, the verbal skills he built from the streets, and his unorthodox education. We wanted more, but we never thought about how that rapper would maintain the level of his art.
“It is what it is- and- Was what is wasn’t …”
Now that this story has taken a full cycle around most media forums it is with a sigh of relief we can clear Nas completely of the recent ghostwriting allegations. Stic.man has denied writing Nas’ lyrics and not offering anything more than suggestions and motivation. Jay Electronica finally responded with an emphatic “No” and a salute to Nas, claiming that Nas is one of the most gifted to ever pick up a pen. Although Nas is now allowed to stand tall and boast about his creative purity, recognizing ghostwriting as a legitimate stage in the creation of good rap music might be worth considering. Perhaps believing that creating rap should be a singular production limits its existence, employment opportunities, and the impact rap can have on the world.