But a Rapper with a Ghostwriter? What the F*ck Happened?: Why Drake’s Ghostwriting Controversy Matters So Much

drake-free-meek-millIf you haven’t heard yet, Drake was recently aired out by Meek Mill on twitter for allegedly using ghostwriters, including on Meek’s track, “R.I.C.O.,” from his recently released album, Dreams Worth More Than Money. While the internet goes crazy with criticisms and support and the two feud via diss tracks, I figured I’d take a few moments out to explain not only what a ghostwriter is for those who don’t know but also why this headline matters so much for Drake’s career.

For decades, songwriters have silently run popular music. Little to no critically acclaimed albums have been created without the help of additional songwriters, only for the artists themselves to grasp the spotlight. It’s something that’s normal in today’s music industry, with songwriters spanning across several genres to help some of today’s biggest names in music convey their message. Before finding the spotlight themselves, Frank OceanThe Dream, Ne-Yo, and more wrote songs for other people while living a primarily unrecognized lifestyle themselves. Most songwriters willingly choose to take this route, whether it’s because the spotlight isn’t for them or they haven’t had their big break yet. Although extra songwriters are commonly listed in the credits, the listener usually doesn’t notice and, if they do, they usually don’t care. What’s the big deal, right? One of the most beautiful aspects of creation is collaboration. So, why is rap any different?

Ghostwriters have been in hip-hop since Sugar Hill Gang‘s iconic single “Rapper’s Delight,” which Grandmaster Caz wrote the bulk of in 1979. So, they have pretty much been involved in rap since it’s inception. However, things changed in the late 80s and early 90s when artists like Public Enemy and Nas began illustrating something bigger than Sugar Hill Gang ever spoke on: personal struggle. Then, over the next two decades, the genre became more and more intimate as rappers shifted from “I said a hip hop/Hippie to the hippie/The hip, hip a hop, and you don’t stop” [1] to “When the cops came you should’ve slid to my crib/Fuck it black, no time for looking back it’s done/Plus congratulations you know you got a son/I heard he looks like you, why don’t your lady write you” [2]. At that time, it became apparent that hip-hop grew from not only feel-good but also intimately expressive music.

Since then, TupacBiggieEminem, and many more have risen to the spotlight by illustrating their own triumphs and struggles while showcasing their lyrical capacity. Today, there’s still a place for artists who come to the forefront due to their storytelling and expressive competence. After all, Kendrick Lamar, who’s known for his infamous Compton tales, is celebrated as one of the best rappers out at the moment. Rap music, now more than ever, is about celebrating the artist’s life and person in addition to their music, hence why Kendrick’s story is so captivating. Then again, so is Drake’s.

Drizzy, known for capturing the emotional aspect of the often cold lifestyle of a celebrity is the latest rapper to be called out for using a ghost writer. Yeah, he’s far from the first. Kanye West was rumored to have bought his 2004 single, “Jesus Walks,” from Chicago rapper Rhymefest and was additionally fingered when Kendrick Lamar’s reference track to “All Day” leaked earlier this year. Hip-Hop’s richest artist right now, Dr. Dre, was also rumored to have ghostwriters for his album, 2001, which reportedly received more than enough help from Eminem and D.O.CDiddy is actually known for using ghostwriters for most of his music. So, if Drake is actually using a ghostwriter, he isn’t alone.

So, what makes Drake’s story so intriguing? Timing. Drake and Kendrick Lamar are arguably two of the most recognized faces in Hip-Hop in 2015. There’s no doubt that the two rappers are extremely relevant, but as the two additionally cement themselves as legends, many journalists, fans, and listeners alike are on high alert. With Kendrick’s album already achieving critical acclaim, all of Hip-Hop is waiting for Drake’s follow-up to If You’re Reading This It’s Too LateViews from the 6. With the spotlight getting brighter and brighter for the Toronto native, seeing a headline like this could be harmful to his reputation as a lyricist, a reputation he tries to uphold in his music.

When speaking with my friends and family about Drake’s recent news stories, I often hear about Michael Jackson and how arguably the greatest album of all time, Thriller, was written mostly by producer Quincy Jones. I’ve heard example after example of artists who many would consider some of the greatest musicians of all time additionally using song writers. Even Lupe Fiasco, in his open letter “The Haunting,” wrote, “ghostwriting, or borrowing lines, or taking suggestions from the room has always been in rap and will always be in rap.”  However, it’s his next sentence that highlights exactly why this time around it means so much. “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.” 

For years, Drake has grown from into a fan base that not only likes his music for its clever wordplay and catchy hooks but also his undeniable confidence. Thank Me Later Drake hadn’t grown into it yet, Take Care Drake had it in his sights, Nothing Was The Same Drake made the first draft, and If You’re Reading This Its Too Late Drake mastered it. Through the entire body of work, the Toronto rapper proclaimed his legacy in rap as well as gave us a glimpse of what it’s like to be one of the best in the game. The album was the first to chart every song on the Billboard 100 and, whether you liked Drake or not, his respect was well overdue.

Now, this ghost writing controversy could put that lyrical confidence in jeopardy. So far, Drake has valiantly responded. After releasing the underwhelming “Charged Up” in retaliation against Meek Mill, Drake took another stab with his “Back to Back Freestyle,” an impressive showcase that proved Meek was, how Drizzy put it, “getting bodied by a singing nigga.” Meek responded a week later with “Wanna Know,” a diss track that the public was barely impressed with. Meek even used the reference track that alleged ghostwriter Quentin Miller wrote for “Know Yourself,” one of Drake’s most popular songs. Known for his early battle rapping days, the public, primarily twitter, expected more.

So, what now? With the beef virtually in the wind, it’s time to interpret the situation as is. There are a few ways I, a fan of Drake since his Comeback Season days, am digesting the situation. As a listener of Drake’s music, I doubt that his content will drastically change. Whatever he’s been doing, it’s been working. “10 Bands” is still a banger, “Know Yourself” still has people running through the 6 with their woes, and “Energy” still has people proclaiming they “gotta lotta people trying drain [them] of this energy.” In an interview with Mass Appeal, Nickelus F, who is another alleged ghostwriter for Drake, even stated, “in terms of entertainment, it’s been proven that it doesn’t matter…fans nowadays aren’t as concerned with if the person is a good writer. Only other writers care about that.”

And that’s where I come in. After beginning my own rap career at age 16, Drake became one of my favorite rappers to not only listen to but also look up to. Bar after bar, Drake gained the respect that any upcoming rapper would want. So, he ended up being one of the first rappers I tried to emulate when I wrote my own verses. The bigger Drake became and the more he prided himself on his credibility, the more I looked up to him. So, with this ghostwriting controversy and more Quentin Miller reference tracks leaking (some credited and others not), as a rapper, I am a little disappointed. The lyrics that I looked up to as an aspiring rapper I am now unsure of, which is unsettling at the least.

So, why does this matter so much? Not necessarily because of the fan base that casually listens to his music in the car but the rappers, poets, journalists, hip-hop heads, and people like me who were waiting for Drake to become one of the best to ever do it. Now that I am unsure, my perception of Drake, which I am still trying to get to the bottom of, has nevertheless changed. As Kendrick said in his 2015 single, “King Kunta,” “I can dig rappin’/But a rapper with a ghost writer?/What the fuck happened?” The question I hope to get to the bottom of sometime soon.

Uncredited/Unlinked References
1. “Rapper’s Delight” – Sugar Hill Gang
2. “One Love” – Nas

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