In the music world there are singers. There are also rappers. There are also songwriters. Sometimes these positions overlap.
They are not required to.
In the past few months, the conversation of ghostwriting has come back to the forefront again. Some feel it should never occur in the world of rap and I disagree with this. Songs are made to be enjoyed by the listener one way or the other. This enjoyment does not always have to produce happiness but can even be sad or another non positive emotion. Regardless sometimes an artist may need help conveying these emotions. This is when the songwriter comes in. The songwriter knows what words and arrangements touch people and they may be cliche but they still work. The more accessible the song is the more successful it will be. And, the success of the song is at the forefront of some artist’s minds while others could care less about it.
The dividing line for me personally when it comes to ghostwriting is the type of song that is being written and the persona of the artist. For the sake of this conversation we will stick with rap for now and take a classic song like Wu-Tang Clan’s “Protect Ya Neck”. Debates on who had the best verse on this song are still had today. This song flows perfectly and combines hype and bars effortlessly. Based on the Wu’s reputation and image we expect each verse to have been written by each member and each member only. And they all were. But what if it was revealed that this wasn’t the case? Would our perception of the legendary group change? Of course. This is because when it comes to them we expect them to write their own verses based on who they are. And, this is a verse driven song – not a hook driven one. Sure, you’ll rap along if you know it but the average listener can not get up and dance to it. This was not the song’s intention – it wasn’t written to be accessible by the average listener.
Now let’s look at an oldish Kanye West (STAY WITH ME) song “All Day”. This song has three audible voices on it – plus the whistling of Paul McCartney. It also has 21 credited songwriters. Why? Because this is what Kanye does. We affectionately call him a “coraller” or “maestro” as he knows how to bring the right people together for a song and of course a full album. We expect multiple people to be involved when it comes to his work. He believes in giving credit where credit is due and even you make a small writing suggestion or are the original artist of the sample on a song – you’ll be credited as a songwriter. Songs like “Monster” and “All Of The Lights” have multiple writers (obviously) and are fantastic songs. They’re easy to sing along with and are accessible by the average listener. Songs like “Jesus Walks” and “Flashing Lights” have only one additional credited writer each and while carrying a message with them, still are accessible by the average listener. All four of these songs have a completely different tone to them, are excellent overall and in my opinion – timeless. This just shows how sometimes having multiple writers can enhance a song or sometimes multiple ones aren’t needed.
The world of ghostwriting is a tricky place. When we found out Joey Bada$$ had writing credits on “rockstar” and Lil Yachty had writing credits on “Act Up” in which he said “I wrote the whole song, except J.T.’s last verse” our minds were blown. Did that stop us from enjoying the songs? Of course not. An artist can have ghostwriters however if they say they wrote the song by themselves then that becomes an issue. Or, if the artist has ZERO writing credits on the song then that is an issue as well. Artists like Drake who are huge are likely to have ghost writers based on the fact that their music is supposed to be successful and accessible. We should not condemn them for this. Artists whose careers are based around their verses as opposed to their song’s accessibility are likely to have no ghostwriters and likely only bring other writers in for hooks. Having ghostwriters is not a bad thing – it just depends on how you use them.