In the Rap and Hip Hop music circles, like many other creative art communities, there is a certain expectation of originality and authenticity. Take, for instance, the Drake-Meek Mill fiasco during which rapper Meek Mill called Drake’s authorship into question, and Rap-lovers had to decide whether his authorship really even mattered. As it turns out, it didn’t. After a lengthy battle – including tweets, subtweets, along with some legendary diss tracks and shoutouts – Drake was declared the victor of the feud after dropping two pretty succinct diss tracks and Meek Mill became the subject of several mocking memes. When considering the entire debate, it seems the consensus agreed that because Drake’s lyrical content was never very prolific in the first place his authorship never truly mattered. Given the pop-like nature of Drake’s raps, alongside his giant status, it was hard to expect that he could be brought down by a matter as simple as ghostwriting suspicion. However, this entire fiasco led me to question just how popular ghostwriting is, especially in an industry that seems to place authenticity and “realness” above all else.
While researching I found an article by Forbes in which actual ghostwriters spoke about their profession. I was not entirely surprised to learn that several well-respected and legendary rappers, like Dr. Dre and Diddy used ghostwriters, but I was surprised to learn that it was not a well-kept secret. Rappers like Dr. Dre and Diddy seemed to be flippant about their use of ghostwriters, placing more emphasis on their own economic status. The article states that the average ghostwriter can make up to “$20,000 upfront for their anonymous contributions”. However, the ghostwriters are typically not paid royalties for their songs unless they expressly ask for them. Additionally, the underground nature of ghostwriting allows for the possible exploitation of lesser-known rappers by industry greats. It was interesting to learn how insidious and quite popular the ghostwriting industry is. Although a primarily secret section of the rap industry it is still heavily involved and has its own honor codes and regulations.
While researching, I also found an actual ghostwriting website which sold ghostwritten verses, choruses, hooks, and even a full album, ranging from $22 – $200. Although the raps were somewhat subpar, their form and content were very similar to actual songs being released on major labels. The website offers up samples of four forms or themes of raps such as Street, Lyrical, Conscious, and Club. I thought it was interesting to see the rap industry and lyricism be broken down into rudimentary categories, and it seems somewhat telling that it can be divided and labelled so easily. One thing which extremely surprised me was the “Conscious” sample which seemed to address social issues – albeit in a very basic way. Considering that my overall research topic concerns how spirituality and social – consciousness in modern hip-hop and rap can be interpreted as modern spirituals, I was a little disturbed to see that these same topics could be written about and manufactured in such a seemingly mechanical way. Fortunately for my project, rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar – as well as others like Eminem, 5o Cent, and Jay-Z – were cited as consistently writing their own lyrics. However, this new information makes me question not just the authenticity of some modern spirituals, but whether their intention is social healing, economic gain, or a little bit of both.
Ghostwriting, Secret Business: https://www.forbes.com/sites/natalierobehmed/2015/09/22/phantom-rappers-inside-the-business-of-ghostwriting/#67b518b81ec1
Ghostwriters for Hire: http://www.hiphopghostwriters.com/store/