I think Jay writes what he believes. Nas’ “Nigger” album was largely written by Stic of dead prez and Jay Electronica
— dream hampton (@dreamhampton) August 13, 2012
Oh, what a fuss was created once dream hampton* tweeted the above statement, followed by fwmj’s co-signing that Jay Electronica shared ghostwriting duties for one rap’s legends, Nasir Jones, on Untitled.** ***
Here are a few tidbits to consider:
— Guys like Skillz and Stat Quo have found financial security ghostwriting for the past decade. Their names may not ring bells for their work, but their bank tellers know them well when they walk into the building.
— The D.O.C., Pharoahe Monch, Consequence, Sauce Money, Ice Cube and Biggie all have writing credit attached to songs they were never heard rapping on. Not to mention Nas himself writing a bunch of Will Smith’s comeback tracks.
— Several artists who are on radio right damn now and have had chart-topping albums and singles? Yeah, there’s a ghost guy behind their work. I’ve neither seen this with my own eyes nor have I asked the artists or the writers if there’s any truth to it. For one, I don’t have to because the people who shared the info with me weren’t doing so maliciously. The tidbits came as offhand information said casually like, “Yeah, Artist A is out in L.A. this week writing for Artist B” and the conversation continued on as if the speaker said “It’s going to rain today.” The words required me to keep a poker face instead of screaming out “Hold the holy fuck up dog! What did you just say?”
— We all know Snoop constructed a whole album (Ego Trippin’) out of songs written by other people. He caught some flack, but everyone quickly moved on. Not a big deal, mostly because, being honest, it was Snoop, who’s unfortunately lost a bit of his touch over the years but we love him unconditionally for what he’s done in and outside of music. Looking back now, Snoop, for better or worse, broke the mold with the move.
Here’s the thing and also the point where the “rap is to wrestling” analogy rears its ugly head. With both being forms of entertainment, we’ve watched them grow, expand and become larger than life. What may have started out as a form of entertainment hedged on 80% skill and 20% showmanship isn’t anymore. In fact, the percentage breakdown may be inverse at this point. Hearing that may be a jagged little pill that’s hard to swallow, but that won’t change things. Not just any man can deliver “The People’s Elbow,” only The Rock can. Not many people can deliver works like Untitled, Illmatic and Life Is Good. Only Nasir.
If the words of dream and fwmj are true, should we, as the congregation, be disappointed to find out God’s Son maybe wasn’t delivering the word of God, but the words of another mortal? Yes, it stings to find out Santa isn’t real. But should we be heartbroken? Not really.
I know I’ve said this a million times before but it has to be restated: no other genre requires its musicians to write their own songs. None. The closest music to rap may very well be Country since both audience’s tend to demand a level of authenticity out of their stars. Yet, most country singers wear cowboy boots, indulge in drink cheap whiskey and create the saddest of songs…while pulling up to the red carpet in limos.
The grey area for rap tends to be that we know the roots because we either lived them as the events were happening or have an elder who did. Having emerged in the ’70s, rap’s birth is still a firsthand event that old fogeys such as myself can retell to our kids and other youngsters. Still, the version of rap I grew up knowing, the one that required this insane level of authenticity and “street cred” before you could speak, that music has been altered. What once was a subculture is now pop culture, driven by money, T.I.’s (word to Bol) and more factors we won’t waste time naming. It’s grown and gone through changes, many of which are for the better.
And once you accept that Santa isn’t real, but that Christmas still has so many other meanings and things to offer, then you can enjoy it again for what it is.
Update: Not for nothing, here’s a clip of Nas speaking on ghostwriting, in which he answers the question bluntly by saying he’s never used a ghostwriter. Dah well. Thanks Hip-Hop Wired.
* – I fuck with dream the long way and show 110% respect to her as author and an architect for this thing of ours. But she helped write Jay-Z’s book, so who do you think she’s choosing in the endless debate lol?
** — I, for one, do not doubt fwmj. I also don’t believe shit Jay Elec has to say. Speaking of Christmas, we’ve been waiting on Act II as a once-promised gift for years now.
*** — Nas should’ve hired ghost beat-pickers instead of writers.