Meek Mill became a household name by accusing Drake of using a ghostwriter. The story played out predictably: Drake’s camp denied it, he released diss tracks, and then Meek finally responded with his own. While it looks like Drake just trolled his way to a win, the debate over whether ghostwriting matters will continue until the end of time.
Leaving that debate alone, there’s another side to songwriting which isn’t as widely discussed. There’s a long history of tracks written or heavily assisted by other rappers who do get listed in the credits, as opposed to rappers who use ghostwriters and claim the work is all their own. In many cases, the “co-writer” does all or most of the heavy lifting, while in others, it’s more of a loose collaboration.
As Lupe Fiasco said in the wake of Meek’s accusation:
Ghostwriting, or borrowing lines, or taking suggestions from the room, has always been in rap and will always be in rap. It is nothing to go crazy over or be offended about unless you are someone who postures him or herself on the importance of authenticity and tries to portray that quality to your fans or the public at large. Then we might have a problem. Some of the most pivotal moments in rap have been ghostwritten verses.
Regardless, you can find it all in the album credits if you look hard enough.
Kanye West — “Jesus Walks”
Yeezy won one of his first Grammys for this powerful single, the result of a collaboration with fellow Chicago rapper and longtime friend Rhymefest. As the story goes, Fest originally found the sample and wanted it for his demo tape, but Kanye claimed it for College Dropout as soon as he heard it. Rhymefest got his writing credit and a Grammy, but his debut album, Blue Collar, flopped.
The Game feat. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg & Sly — “Drug Test”
Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole both received songwriting credits for this track, despite not appearing on it at all. When asked to comment by Sway Calloway, K-Dot only had this to say: “With writer’s credit, it can be anything from a melody to just an idea thrown into the air.”
Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg — “Still D.R.E.”
Going back to his N.W.A. days, it’s no secret that Dr. Dre doesn’t write his own rhymes. For the lead single to his long-anticipated comeback album, 2001, he enlisted one of the best: none other than Jay Z.
Dr. Dre feat. Eminem — “Forgot About Dre”
Like he usually did during this time period, Eminem stole the show during this track. Not surprisingly, Dre adopted the Slim Shady flow during his verses, all but confirming we have the Detroit rapper to thank for this one.
Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans & 112 — “I’ll Be Missing You”
Puff Daddy famously admitted, “I don’t write rhymes, I write checks.” Sadly enough, he didn’t even pen the verses for this tribute to his best friend, The Notorious B.I.G. Instead, Todd Gaither, aka Sauce Money, took the writing credit on this one.
Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg — “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang”
Although Snoop Dogg has the only official songwriting credit here, Dr. Dre mentions The D.O.C. by name in the final line for a good reason. In an interview with L.A. Weekly, D.O.C. said he helped Snoop piece the song together like a jigsaw puzzle in return for the namedrop.
Beastie Boys — “Paul Revere”
Rumor has it Run-D.M.C. co-wrote a large part of Licensed To Ill, but only “Paul Revere” and “Slow and Low” list Rev Run and D.M.C. as writers. Given the Beastie’s transition from rock to rap, it’s understandable they would need assistance.