Early yesterday morning, Meek Mill revealed to the world that Drake’s verse on “R.I.C.O.” was co-written by a guy named Quentin Miller. Jaws dropped, twitter exploded, and many debated whether Drake was still eligible for “best rapper” status. Really though, it wasn’t truly a “reveal,” as Miller’s name appeared on the song’s credits in the DWMTM packaging. Going beyond that, the outrage Meek prompted seemed a little exaggerated when you consider that A) Drake’s had help writing his songs for his entire career, and B) he’s far from the first respected rapper to do so.
Miller’s work for Drake isn’t technically “ghostwriting,” as he is credited by name on tracks he contributed to, but the term has come to encompass any verses rapped by someone who didn’t write them on their own. The practice of ghostwriting is, by this point, a time-honored tradition in hip hop, but one that inevitably sparks controversy whenever it comes up in conversation. There’s undoubtedly tons of ghostwriting that goes on behind the scenes that we’ll never hear about, and oftentimes the accusations are unsubstantiated by actual evidence (like Gillie The Kid’s claim that he wrote most of Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter or the prevalent rumor of Young Chris’ role in Jay Z’s career).
There are, however, some pretty believable instances of highly-regarded lyricists enlisting more unknown artists to pen bars for them. It is more common for pop-minded artists like Will Smith, Iggy Azalea and Bow Wow to do so, but here, we’re looking to highlight the absolute biggest, most revered names who’ve benefitted from ghostwriting. Not every example can be definitively proven, but we’re going off more than just a bit of conjecture.
A point that Nickelus F (who’s allegedly written for Drake in the past) made yesterday was “If we gonna point the finger at Drake for having help we can’t turn a blind eye to Yeezy… And Yeezy is in my top list of rappers.” There’s truth to what he’s saying too. Although Drake may trump him in of-the-moment popularity, Kanye’s more frequently cited as the best artist of a generation, or a revolutionary, or one of the all-time greats, and he’s definitely had others write for him.
From My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy onward, this has been made abundantly clear in his album credits– Yeezus alone lists rappers, singers and poets like Malik Yusef, Rhymefest, Cyhi The Prynce, Lupe Fiasco, Sakiya Sandifer, Fonzworth Bentley, Anand Bakshi, Jill Scott, Pusha T, Ab-Liva and John Legend as writers on various tracks. But even “Jesus Walks,” Kanye’s breakout single, was partially written by Rhymefest, and people have long alleged that Consequnce wrote a bunch of early ‘Ye lyrics.
Funnily enough, Kanye got some of his first production jobs as a ghost producer for The Hitmen’s D-Dot. What goes around…
As another rapper/producer, Dre’s beatmaking chops have obviously always come first, but with The Chronic and 2001, he still has two of the most critically acclaimed West Coast hip hop albums under his belt as a rapper. Since the N.W.A. days, though, it’s been pretty clear that he’s used ghostwriters. First Ice Cube, the The D.O.C. and Snoop Dogg, then Jay Z and Eminem (and probably Kendrick Lamar too).
It’s even been confirmed that Hova wrote all of “Still D.R.E.” and Em is entirely responsible for “Forgot About Dre.”
Diddy’s a producer who’s even less renowned for his rapping than Dre, even though he’s released many more solo albums. He’s been accused of hiring ghostwriters for nearly everything, but what we know for sure is:
– Brooklyn’s Sauce Money wrote “I’ll Be Missing You” after Jay Z declined to. “He was blown away because it was everything he wanted to say,” he said. “It’s almost like being an actor – I became him, and once I became him I knew what he would want to say to Big in remembrance.”
– Pharaohe Monch penned Press Play‘s “The Future”
– Diddy himself rapped “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write cheques” on “Bad Boy For Life.” ‘Nuff said.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard
In an interview with Complex in 2011, Method Man revealed just how much of ODB’s Return To The 36 Chambers was written by other members of the Wu, including him, GZA and RZA:
“The majority of the verses on that album are old RZA rhymes and GZA rhymes. ‘Approach the school, 9:30, you’re late,’ that’s RZA’s shit, I heard that shit when I was 14 years old. That whole, ‘Easy on my balls, they’re fragile as eggs,’ niggas said that in a rap battle in fucking 1989.
Dirty took all their shit and made it his own and GZA ain’t say shit. Most of [Dirty’s verses] was GZA’s shit. I remember GZA and ODB got in an argument one night and GZA was like, ‘Nigga most of that shit on your fucking album is mines anyway!’
ODB wrote ‘Brooklyn Zoo’ though. I could go through the discography I could tell you which ones he wrote. Like ‘Dog Shit’ on Wu-Tang Forever? The fucking, ‘Calling me a dog/But leave a dog alone/Because nothing can stop me from burying my bones,’ I wrote that when I was 15 years old.”
Although to a substantially smaller degree than ODB, Ghost face also outed by Meth in that interview:
“The beginning of Ghostface’s verse on ‘Cherchez La Ghost,’ that’s my song ‘I Get Down For My Crown.’ I wrote that when I was 16. The first four bars, ‘Brothers try to pass me, but none could match me/No girl can freak me, I’m just too nasty,’ that’s ‘I Get Down For My Crown.’ Youtube it and you’ll find it because J-Love put all that shit up there.”
Some people claim that Mase ghost-wrote for Big L, as they have some similar lyrics, but it seems more likely that it’s the other way around. After all, Mase was a much bigger pop success, and L never really made it out of the underground before his untimely death. It’s rumored that Kanye and Craig Mack also wrote for Mr. Betha, but those are more unconfirmed than his connection with L. Ghostwriting veteran Skillz has also said that he wrote for Mase.
In an interview with XXL, Terror Squad’s Cuban Link confessed that the late Big Pun wrote many of Fat Joe’s rhymes:
“Big Pun was ghostwriting for Fat Joe and told Joe let’s write up a contract. Because [on] the first Terror Squad album Fat Joe got [a] $15,000 bonus and kept it to himself, he didn’t give Pun any percentage of that. So that’s how appreciative Fat Joe is towards his people.”
Jones’ currently incarcerated friend Max B is credited with writing his biggest hit, “We Fly High.” Outside of that, Biggaveli had writing credits on a number of other tracks on Jones’ albums Hustler’s P.O.M.E. (Product of My Environment) and Harlem: Diary Of A Summer.
Much of Snoop’s recent material has been ghostwritten. Problem admitted to writing for The Doggfather in a 2013 interview, and although he didn’t name any names, Snoop himself said Malice In Wonderland was mostly written by others in a 2009 interview:
“I got a couple of my little homies that’s putting the pen to the paper. I be letting my homies get on by writing and expressing they thoughts through me. I be letting them have opportunities to be a star through me.”
Dude doesn’t seem at all secretive about it.
Now here’s the most contentious example. Nas is often near the top of peoples’ lists of the best lyricists of all-time, so there was an uproar in 2012 when stories about his Untitled album came out. Writer Dream Hampton, The Source’s first female editor, tweeted shortly after its release that Jay Electronica and Stic of dead prez wrote many of the lyrics. Electronica denied this, saying that Esco “never has and never will need a ghostwriter,” but Stic was less guarded in a Facebook post: “My contributions to his album was a collaboration and an honor and under his direction of what he wanted to convey and say.”