Writing a hit song is hard work. Figuring out the exact formula of lyrics, melody, cadence, and “it factor” that will make a song climb the charts and get stuck in listeners’ heads without them hating the mere mention of the artist who made it is one of the toughest jobs in the music industry. While the artist’s charm and delivery are what helps carry the song to prominence, it all starts with the person who first puts the pen to paper (or thumbs to phone keypad) to scribble out something for them to say.
Of course, in hip-hop, it supposedly works differently: Rappers are supposed to write their own lyrics, to the point that rap fans debate endlessly online about which rappers are “allowed” to be considered the best in their craft based on whether or not they do. However, more and more rappers have pulled back the veil on the hit making process to reveal just how many chefs are involved in the craft of their most beloved recipes. Recently, Cardi B, who has been harangued since her precipitous rise behind 2017’s “Bodak Yellow” about the provenance of her raps, was challenged about her songwriting prowess by a fan on Twitter and shot back with an admission that took all the air out of the argument by admitting that, yes, she does use writers — but only in specific situations.
“I do write a lot of my sh*t that’s the thing,” she shot back at the now-deleted accusation. “Just like every other artist, I do have a couple writers that help with hooks but I wrote plenty of songs on my album specially my mixtape.” Considering that songs’ hooks are the part that most fans sing along too, it’s a big admission, but it’s a far cry from Cardi having songs written for her — especially since she’s right: Many artists do have writers who pen their hooks or producers who sell them the beats with the hooks already recorded.
The myth that rappers have always written 100 percent of their own songs has long been disproven, but it still crops up, mainly as a way for critical listeners to discredit artists they dislike in lieu of praising the artists they do. As Cardi points out, though, it’s rarely as cut-and-dry as they make it seem (many of rap’s formative hits don’t even have hooks on them, so the question of songwriters wasn’t one early rap fans cared about all that much in the first place). Rappers, like artists of any genre or medium, often have collaborators to help them along, because success is rarely a one-person job.