Over the past few days, the rap world has been in a total uproar over the Drake ghostwriter allegations. These allegations spurred from a feud started by Philly rapper Meek Mill who shared a few words via Twitter.
This isn’t the first time Drake has been accused of not writing his own lyrics nor is it as if Drake has lied about having co-writers (one could easily look in the writing credits of all his albums).
To be clear, MANY “artists” in the music industry don’t write any of their lyrics at all. Most of them, however, aren’t rappers. There is an inherent expectation for rappers to write their own lyrics. In other genres, songwriting isn’t usually deferred to the artist because the artist has another talent as a vocalist or instrumentalist. The art of rap is centered around self-expression. Writing is implicitly a critical part of the equation when it comes to being a rap artist.
Have their been rappers who performed the lyrics of other writers in the past? Undoubtedly. Eazy-E is probably the biggest name that comes to mind. Ice Cube (along with D.O.C) wrote most of Eazy’s material. Consequently, as great of a performer as Eazy-E was, his lack of writing ability deters him from being listed as one of the rap legends, although he is a legendary figure in Hip Hop culture. In 2013, Complex interviewed Ice Cube about having ghostwriters in rap and Cube responded:
It does take the essence out of what it’s all about. Having somebody write your shit, it really just turns your favorite rappers into vocalists.
The lines between pop music and hip hop have definitely been blurred over the last decade. With the commercialization of rap, is it more acceptable to have co-writers? Maybe.
To say it is ‘more acceptable’ now would be erasing the long history of co-writing and ghostwriting that has existed in the music industry (including rap). The new aged rap fan may not fully understand or appreciate the essence of hip hop culture, but lyricism will always be the core metric used to determine the relative greatness of an emcee. So it kind of goes without saying that your “rap legends” should be penning their own verses.
While I doubt anyone has Drake in their top 10 lyricist list (especially with his use of co-writers), but we can’t deny that he is a great performer/vocalist. He completely transformed QM’s reference tracks into hits. His voice is charismatic (just as Eazy E’s was) and his vocal performances are top of the line. He has brung major attention to a city that no one was checking for musically. He has successfully carried the torch passed to him by Lil Wayne. He is the quintessential blend of pop and hip hop and an emerging pop icon.
So yeah, the cat is out of the bag: Drake gets writing help for his music and from the looks of things that formula works for Drake’s camp. Will he a die a legend? Perhaps…
Just not a rap legend.