In most other genres, it hardly matters wether a singer has written his/her song him/herself. As long as the singer is able to put believable emotions and some individual personality into the rendition of the song, we tend to perceive it as honest. Not so in hip-hop. The ability to write is seen as vital to the role of the emcee, as much, or maybe even more so, than the performance of the words itself. We often can accept that a rapper plays a role that doesn’t resemble his life, or is only parallel to it or an extrapolation thereof, but with such a large emphasis on wordplay and lyrical intricacy, we feel swindled when an emcee hasn’t written his own words. Still, despite the stigma ghostwriting has, it’s been a part of hip-hop ever since Sugar Hill Gang’s Big Bank Hank took Casanova’s rhyme book to take a verse of his for the recording of Rapper’s Delight. There’s no reason to assume the practice disappeared in recent times (“We grew up doing graffiti” and “Insh’Allah” don’t sound like Rozay words to me. Waddup Nas?) but here are seven rap hits everybody knows and those that (presumably) took the pen to the pad to ghostwrite them.
P. Diddy – Bad Boy For Life Written by: (Mad) Skillz
We all know Diddy never wrote a verse, but who took on duties when BIG passed away has not always been so clear. With shoes to fill like that you need a lot of confidence (something Pharoahe Monch and Royce da 5’9″, who both worked on Press Play, justifiably don’t lack), and to give a rapper nobody takes seriously some lines people can still somehow find worthy of an “oh snap!” moment. It’s long been rumored Skillz is the one responsible for Diddy uttering the infamous “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks” line, a lyric so bold in it’s bleak cynicism you’d almost think he might’ve written it. Well, at least you could hear Diddy believing what he said in this case.
Dr. Dre ft. Eminem – Forgot About Dre Written by: Royce da 5’9″
Before the falling out between Royce and Em (and the eventual reunion between the two) Royce and Em wrote a lot of joints together. With Royce being a known ghostwriter (for Dre and Diddy at the very least) it seems almost a given that the buddies sat down together like they did with the original ‘Renegade’ to churn out this single from Dre’s epic comeback record, with Royce taking on Dre’s role and Em writing his own parts.
Lil’ Kim – Queen Bitch Written by: Biggie
BIG had strong feelings about the direction Kim’s career should take and a clear vision for it. So clear in fact, he decided to write at least several of her songs himself and record reference vocals for her. When they eventually leaked it didn’t really come as unexpected to anybody, and though getting unreleased Biggie verses is something any rap fan wishes for, hearing him rap about being the ‘Queen Bitch’ was just plain… weird.
Will Smith – Gettin’ Jiggy With It It Was Written by: Nas
At the start of Will’s big comeback as a rapper a lot of time had passed since the Fresh Prince was shaking the room in the summertime, spitting about parents who don’t understand alongside Jazzy Jeff. Columbia saw an opportunity in the Hollywood golden boy’s marketability though, and if Will’s rhyming style had gotten a bit stuck in the past they surely had an emcee on their roster that should be able to bang out some lyrics fit for the tail end of the millennium. Of course you’ll have a hard time finding either one of the admitting to the rumors, but Nas has been known to ghostwrite and it’s not hard to imagine many of the songs Will kicked during that time in Nas’ voice. Sidenote: Am I the only that hears traces of Luda in Will’s ‘Switch?’ No idea if Luda ghostwrites though, but I wouldn’t put it past him.
Jay-Z ft. Memphis Bleek – Coming of Age Written by: Jay-Z
Jay-Z has ghostwritten for everybody from Dr. Dre to Bugs Bunny (not a guy named bugs, no the actual toon Bugs Bunny. He even threw in some jabs to Mickey Mouse. No kidding.) but while he’s usually very discrete about his customers he was less so regarding one of the iconic cuts on his debut album. Jay told in his book ‘Decoded’ how he wrote the entire song but needed a different voice to make the song work. When he needed a guy he felt could match his hunger and memorize the track fast enough to make it to the studio session in time Bleek stepped in. The rest is history.
The Roots ft. Eve and Erykah Badu – You Got Me Written by: Black Thought and Jill Scott
Before ‘The Seed,’ their collaboration with Cody Chesnutt, ‘You Got Me’ was the biggest foray The Roots had internationally made into the mainstream. The story chronicling the difficulty of maintaining a romantic relationship while apart and the jealousy that can come with it was an engrossing tale beautifully set to a tune by The Roots. The sultry chorus was delivered by Erykah Badu, and while many assumed she spit the verse of the woman in the story as well, that was actually done by a then little known Philly rapper by the name of Eve. Judging by the flow and the way the song is structured though it seems safe to assume BT wrote the whole rap but the group felt it would be better if the woman’s voice was voiced by, you know, an actual woman. When you dig into the extensive liner notes to the album though, it’s revealed Jill Scott actually wrote the chorus miss Badu sang. She later more publicly got her shine on Come Alive, the live album by The Roots, where she sang her chorus and was introduced onto the stage by Black Thought as “Jilly from Philly,” co-writer of the song.
Probabilty: (of BT writing Eve’s verse)
NWA – Straight Outta Compton Written by: Ice Cube
With their success growing, Cube became more and more annoyed at what he saw as an uneven workload, especially since he didn’t see it represented in the way the group’s dividends were distributed among the members. The D.O.C. probably helped out here and there as well, and even though we never got to learn what lyrics Cube had written exactly and what not, it seems safe to assume MC Ren was the only other member of the world’s most dangerous group actually writing raps. It lead to Cube eventually leaving the group and aiming the scathing diss ‘No Vaseline‘ to his former crewmates.