The Nas Controversy and Why Rappers Are Afraid of Ghostwriters

The Nas Controversy and Why Rappers Are Afraid of GhostwritersNas photography by Kareem Black

In later tweets, Hampton claimed to have heard “like, 6 songs” that they contributed as vocal references for Nas, adding that she “shed thug tears” because of the disappointment she felt. Hampton says she will stick by her claims, “even if everyone involved denies it.” But she also insists that “Nas'll always be top 10 for me. I remember being hurt about it back then. But I don't care now.” In a later series of tweets she added “I wish rappers had the space to say 'I was blocked, plus, I don't really know that revolutionary shit like that, so I passed the pen... Y’all should give them that space.”

Another critically acclaimed hip-hop artist, Talib Kweli, offered some surprising comments via Twitter in regards to ghostwriting and hip-hop. “Nas could let Rebecca Black write his next album for all I care,” he began. “He's given us too many classics. No fronting on that man. And if stic and Jay Elec wanna contribute to my project, I'll send a car to they cribs right now, son.” His progressive mindset was a moment of real talk, emphasizing that the final product is all that matters. Or at the very least, it doesn’t hurt to have peers in the studio to help edit and brainstorm. Still, few of his peers seem anxious to join him in taking that position publicly.

 

The fact is that anybody involved in the music industry knows that rappers use ghostwriters all the time.

 

Two acclaimed rhymers that have featured on tracks with Nas throughout his career declined to comment on whether or not Nas had ever used a ghostwriter or even the politics of having one all together. “I actually wish the story would die,” one said. A prominent journalist of Hampton’s era refused to comment on the record, but he privately questioned her personal motivation. “If and when Jay [Electronica] told her he was writing for Nas, I’m pretty sure he was telling her as a friend and not for her to reveal to anyone else that day or years later. And what does she really know? She doesn’t know if he just had writer’s block and used them for inspiration, if he used one bar from him or entire songs. And it doesn’t help that she’s so close to Jay-Z.” Hampton penned Jay-Z shelved biography, The Black Book, as well as his 2010 lyrical analysis book Decoded. “Now even it what she says is true, it seems like she’s siding with Jay because of a personal relationship.”

Although Hampton has done her best to downplay her Nas allegations as no big deal, others have obviously taken it as such. But the fact is that anybody involved in the music industry knows that rappers use ghostwriters all the time. Although having a writer clearly isn’t anything to brag about, there are some exceptions to the rule. Sauce Money and Smitty are better known as ghostwriters than as rappers. Biggie was widely assumed to have written for Lil Kim, and Jay-Z for Foxy Brown. And there are other examples.

In a recent Complex interview Wu-Tang Clan member Method Man explained that Ol’ Dirty Barstard’s Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version album was largely written by fellow members RZA and GZA. “The majority of the verses on that album are old RZA rhymes and GZA rhymes,” Meth said. “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!’”

Ice Cube reportedly wrote for Eazy-E when they were part of N.W.A. Jay-Z reportedly ghost wrote for Dr. Dre on 1999’s "Still D.R.E." and Royce Da 5’9” “The Message” from that same album. It seems safe to assume that Kendrick Lamar wrote Dre’s verse on their “The Recipe,” and who’s to say who penned the verses from “3 Kings,” his recent collab with Rick Ross and Jay-Z.

Even the accused Nas has reportedly written for others. It’s said that he wrote Will Smith’s huge club cut “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” as well as Diddy’s verse on Press Play’s“Everything I Love.”

 

Even the accused Nas has reportedly written for others. It’s said that he wrote Will Smith’s huge club cut “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” as well as Diddy’s verse on Press Play’s “Everything I Love.”

 

In a 2010 interview with New York Magazine, Diddy explained that he’d do anything for the sake of a good song and that he wasn’t above enlisting writers for help. “I guess I’m blessed with the opportunity, like a singer, that can work with other songwriters,” he said. “In rap it hasn’t necessarily been cool, but I think that's my own allegiance to the song. If somebody could help me make the song better, I don’t really care what other people think. I know I co-wrote more than half of my album, which is the most I’ve ever written in my life.”

That may be fine for Puffy, who’s famous as a producer and businessman, as well as an artist. But no matter how much Hampton tries to downplay it, claiming that an iconic MC—widely considered a great poet of his era—didn’t create all of his art is a huge deal. Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones just isn’t any rapper. He’s one of hip-hop’s most renowned lyricists, easily ranking on any critic’s All-Time Top 5. If it were Flo Rida or LMFAO being accused of enlisting lyricists for hire, the outcry wouldn’t be anywhere near as loud.

Imagine if John Lennon or Bob Dylan confessed that their classics had been penned by ghostwriters or if someone of note claimed that Maya Angelou or Gil-Scott Heron didn’t write their own verses. Their fans would be as livid as Nas’ were this week. In a roundabout way, the amount of attention these allegations have received proves how great of an artist Nas is and what he means to hip-hop. All rappers have is their words, but some carry more weight than others. That’s just how it is.

Tags: nas, dream-hampton, stic.man, talib-kweli, diddy, dr.-dre, jay-electronica, ghostwriting
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