by Kyle Bray
Lyrics are one of the most important parts of a rap song, and traditional hip hop culture rewards people like Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z for their lyrical genius.
A rapper’s skill is judged based on many factors, but a rapper’s lyrical ability is often their most judged quality. Rappers who do not write their own lyrics are often shunned and considered lesser than their peers. In “King Kunta,” a song by Kendrick Lamar, he calls out rappers who don’t write their own lyrics.
“I can dig rappin’, but a rapper with a ghost writer?/What the fuck happened? (Oh no!)/I swore I wouldn’t tell, but most of y’all sharing bars/Like you got the bottom bunk in a two-man cell.”
This criticism of ghostwriters is not exclusive to rappers. It is also present among fans of hip hop. In a video titled “Ghostwriting: Rap’s Messiest Secret” on the Youtube page of popular rap site HipHopDX, one commenter expressed his dislike for the practice.
“No respect for rappers with ghostwriters ever. if i found out my favorite rapper had one id stop listening to them,” they wrote.
It has long been assumed that every rapper writes their own lyrics, but is this true? Has every great rapper written their own lyrics? The answer is no.
While several pinnacle figures of the genre write their own tracks, many of the most influential rappers have utilized ghost writers. From groups like N.W.A. to solo performers like Kanye West, many of them have collaborated with writers to help them write songs and finish albums.
Another key factor to note is that above all, rappers are performers. Lyrics, while important, are only one of the many factors that make a rap song good. A rapper might have the best lyrics in the world, but if they can’t perform them well, they mean nothing.
Legendary musicians like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson did not write all of their lyrics, but still found incredible success in the music industry because they were more than just people who spewed out words. They were performers who lit up stages and inspired crowds of people to love their work. Why should Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West be held to higher standards than these legends?
One component of rap music is sampling, which involves taking music that someone else made and using it in another song. In a video on ghostwriting, popular music reviewer Anthony Fantano argues that sampling is almost the same as ghostwriting. While ghostwriting is frowned upon, no one looks down on samples. If it is okay to use other people’s music, why can’t a rapper use someone else’s lyrics, as long as proper credit is given?
The negative stigma surrounding ghostwriting is certainly not going away. “Collaboration” will still be utilized by many rappers to create some of the most popular songs and records in the genre, and there isn’t much fans can do to stop it.