Yesterday on Twitter, dream hampton answered a question about Jay-Z’s apparent lack of uplifting or socially responsible/insightful music, similar to the critique Harry Belafonte recently issued, with a reveal about Nas’s controversial untitled album:
I think Jay writes what he believes. Nas’ “Nigger” album was largely written by Stic of dead prez and Jay Electronica
— dream hampton (@dreamhampton) augustus 13, 2012
And the initial question was never answered.
Dream hampton is a respectable writer but she’s also a personal acquaintance and employee of Jay-Z. I wouldn’t go so far as to question her journalistic integrity but “Jay writes what he believes” isn’t much of an answer is it? That doesn’t mean she’s lying, but you’ll have to consider she’s not an impartial bystander in the discussion and seems eager to deflect the initial question. By following it with the insinuation Nas doesn’t, because he has used ghostwriters, the question is handily sidestepped and we’re suddenly discussing an entirely different topic.
Whether Nas entirely wrote that album (in the light of the way the track sounds and FWMJ’s story, it seems entirely believable Jay Electronica did at the very least have a big hand in “Queens Get the Money”) or not, he did relase that album. He put his name and face on it, took the brunt of a cavalcade of media criticism and stood by those words. Jay didn’t, because he never uttered them. Def Jam even backed out of releasing the album with the intended title, but even though it became ‘untitled’ Nas eventually kept his spine straight and rode that storm.
And what is it that Jay “believes” exactly on his recent output? When looking at his last two albums, the only song with some insightful message is “Murder to Excellence” and even his contribution to that is largely about his ride to the top. He believes brand names are important? Or you can never have enough dough? Is that what we’re supposed to discern? By the way, there were plenty of interesting insights into Jay’s lyrics in his worthwhile book Decoded, co-written (or ghostwritten, one might say, since her name is nowhere on the cover) by dream hampton. Does her shared authorship of that book diminish its value or does it mean that Jay doesn’t believe in it? I don’t think so. On to the next one.
Nas might have had help, but who sits alone in a studio crafting albums? Does having other people around discussing what you’re writing and pitching in constitute ghostwriting, or do you need reference tracks for it to be labeled that? Even if reference tracks did surface, would it change the body of work as it is accomplished? The ‘Untitled’ record was not an autobiographical album, its subjects where bigger than that. Maybe Nas didn’t write every single song on it. Does that really diminish the record as a whole?
It’s still a record he crafted, expressing his beliefs on heavy issues and with his presence as the glue holding it together. It wouldn’t be the first time Nas has been involved with ghostwriting, only this time from the other side of the pen. Is the album more of a collaborative effort than a singular voice? That may very well be. Does that make the voice less powerful? Is it hard to believe that even in collaborating with other writers, Nas’ own writing and voice would still be the dominant factor?
Nas worked with Stic.Man on the album, and he featured on the mixtape leading up to it. It’s not a stretch to believe he contributed a line here and there, like Superb had some ideas Ghostface incorporated into Supreme Clientele. The notion however that Superb completely wrote Supreme Clientele has been shrugged off by everybody besides Tony Yayo, as laughable. Not to compare the man Stic.Man to the man Superb, but the collaboration or “ghostwriting” could be in a similar vein. People sit around in the studio, discuss what word to put emphasis on, maybe suggest another line or a different way of putting it. Technically there are more writers there then, as is the case with many, many, recording sessions. Does it constitute ghostwriting on the level Skillz rapped about? Not in my book, and the seemingly off-handed “Oh, Nas didn’t write that album” is highly reminiscent of Yayo’s remarks on Supreme Clientele.
I’m fully aware my view on this story is colored by the wish to not fully believe it, a remnant of Nas-stanning on the part of yours truly, but at the end of the day, ‘Untitled’ will always be a Nas album. Some of the tracks remaining on Nas’s his set list after these years (like “Sly Fox”) seem to have too much of a Nas flow and delivery to be entirely written by somebody else. Sure, the pens of others might be involved but the suggestion Nas didn’t write at least the majority of the album seems… off the mark. That being said, it wasn’t a very personal album, and though it had its great moments, wasn’t Nas’s best. Recently Nas has been on a winning streak rarely seen in his career and he seems to have found a voice that was largely absent from his work for a long time. Of course, it could be because he finally found a great ghostwriter that can mimic his earlier cadence, has a strong connection to his inner thoughts and can accurately express his emotions about his private life. But given the posture of Nas in recent years and the personal bent of his work on Life Is Good and the tracks leading up to it, it rather seems he has rediscovered a creative fire wholly his own.
Nas probably had help writing ‘untitled’ but as far as dream hampton’s implication that Nas barely wrote a word on it goes, I’d like to pull a quote from the man who unwillingly served as a catalyst to this whole ordeal:
“We don’t believe you, you need more people.”