Spooky Business: Top 5 Mysterious Hip Hop Ghostwriters
By Anton Constantinou
Happy Halloween hip hoppers! To see in this year’s celebrations, we’ve gone for a decidedly different approach to usual “creepiest raps of all time” theme, and instead run with something a little more out-of-the-box.
Ghosts. But, not ghosts in the ghoulish, eerie sense of the word. Ghostwriters. Those anonymous rhyme jotters who, for as long as hip hop’s existed, have taken pen to paper for some of the biggest stars, including P. Diddy, Drake and Kanye West. A shadowy practice, which, to date, remains one of rap’s biggest taboos.
A ghostwriter is defined as a person who’s paid to write a song for which they are later not given publishing credit for. A co-writer, by comparison, receives both royalties and acknowledgment. To illustrate this difference, lets compare the contributions of Nas on Will Smith’s Big Willie style, to that of Jadakiss in Money. In the former example, Nas is openly cited at having co-written three of albums top songs, Men in Black, Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It and Miami. In the latter example, Baltimore’s, Money is hers and hers only, at least in the eyes of the public. Jada neither features on the track, nor in the album sleeve.
Early evidence of ghostwriting can be traced back to 1979, with the arrival seminal classic, Rapper’s Delight. We all know it as a song by The Sugarhill Gang, but the story goes that it contains some lyrics which were pinched from another artist at the time, Grandmaster Caz.
Real name, Curtis Fisher, he was formerly a member of Mighty Force: a group run by rapper and manager, Big Bank Hank. Big Bank Hank was apparently listening to one of Caz’s tapes at the time (put out under crew name, Casanova Fly) when he stumbled across the lines:
“Check it out, I’m the C-A-S-A, the N-O-V-A / And the rest is F-L-Y / You see I go by the code of the doctor of the mix / And these reasons I’ll tell you why / You see, I’m six foot one, and I’m loads of fun.”
Not only did he pass them off as his own, but he didn’t even have the good sense to remove the “Casanova” bit. As Caz recalls:”He just copied it word for word – he said: “I’m six foot one” – he’s not, I’m six foot one. Everything in the rhyme describes me. I’m unwittingly Hip Hop’s first ghostwriter.”
Fast forward to the present day, and not much has changed. Just last year, Drake landed himself in hot water for supposedly not crediting Quentin Miller, who helped to co-write a verse in R.I.C.O. Rumour has it Miller also had a hand in Drake’s 10 bands.
Earlier this month, new Def Jam signee, Dave East was captured voicing his opinions on ghostwriting in an interview with Allhiphop.com.
“I mean I don’t knock it. You know what I learned with Hip Hop. It’s a money game. Everybody getting money. It ain’t really about the culture…ain’t no rules. Nobody following no guidelines” he said.
Interesting choice of words. Is East implying that “keepin’ it real” is a bygone tradition, or is he merely pulling back the curtain on a dog-eat-dog business masquerading as the music industry.
For a more in-depth look at plagiarism in hip hop, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the most prolific ghostwriters out there. Please note, due to the covert nature of ghostwriting, we’ve had to feed off hearsay for a few of these:
In his early years at Bad Boy Entertainment, The LOX front-man is said to have penned for both Biggie and Diddy. Diddy we can understand, but Biggie is hard to stomach. Credits apparently include Senorita and B.I.G.’s verse on Last Day. Believe it or not, The LOX even co-wrote I’ll Be Missing You.
“I didn’t really understand it in the beginning. Diddy was trying to squeeze the life out of me. I felt like I don’t wanna keep giving him my bars. Cause he’s taking from my tank. I need all of these bars. I’m not gonna keep doing this.” said Jada in an interview last year.
Their dealings led to several feuds over contracts and money, with Jada & co bashing Diddy at any given opportunity.
Although openly acknowledged as a ghostwriter, Miami born Smitty deserves more kudos than we give him credit for. Mc Lyte’s used him, Diddy, Loon, Truth Hurts, Birdman, even Will Smith. However, to this day, Smitty still maintains that he’s not a ghostwriter, perhaps to keep his anonymity intact: “I received publishing credits on every record I wrote, so I would be entitled a songwriter, not a ghost writer” he says.
3.) Jay Z
Shawn Carter is one of hip hop’s greatest selling artists of all the time, so it’s strange that he should also pop up as one who’s been uncredited. In Jay’s case, a talent for rhyme writing has brought with it generosity.
Much of Foxy Brown’s first album, Ill Na Na was ghost written by Jay, with songs including Foxy Bells If I and I’ll Be – which he also appears on as a feature artist. Other ghostwriting credits of Jay’s allegedly include Indian Carpet (Timberland & Magoo), Slim Thug’s I Ain’t Heard of That and Lil Kim’s Big Momma Thang.
Dre’s bars in Still Dre are a subject of controversy. Despite Wikipedia citing Carter as a co-writer, rap fans still insist he’s the ghostwriter behind the song.
2.) MF Grimm
Who is MF Grimm you ask? He’s only one of hip hop’s biggest phantom rappers. The California based writer and previous MF Doom collaborator lays claim to dozens of verses dating back as far as 1986.
He supposedly wrote for Dre when Death Row Records was still called Future Shock; many speculate he’s even the true lyricist behind Dre’s debut studio album, The Chronic.
Back in the day, he was hired by many major labels, both for choruses and full songs, all-the-while remaining anonymous and not receiving any royalties.
“Everything I did was off the books,” claims Grimm, who, nowadays, has him name against graphic novels and books.
1.) The D.O.C
Whether or not The D.O.C’s near fatal car accident in 1991 gave way to his ghostwriting status is open to debate, but his song credits remain a hotly debated topic in the hip hop community.
The bulk of his work is said to have come with the Eazy-E label, Ruthless Records, and later Death Row Records, in which he claims ownership of the songs, Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang, We Want Eazy, Always Into Somethin’. With respect to the song Next Episode – released in conjunction with the Dre comeback album, 2001 – he said: “I’d cultivated that song for such a long time…We were just waiting for the right story, and 2001 ended up being a huge record.”
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