What do you think of when you hear the term “Ghost Writer”? The actual definition of a ghost writer is a person who is paid to perform a literary service for someone else but is not given credit for the work they’ve created. Some of the greatest artists in music have had help with verses, hooks, and even reference tracks for complete songs, but the most telling aspect of it all is… are they properly crediting the individuals who were “behind the pen” during these great moments in music history.
What’s the Difference?
Casting value on the difference between a credited author and a ghost writer is necessary to ensure the proper level of appreciation is given to the creators of the art that we consume and realigning artists who seek help based on the amount and frequency. When you hire writers to assist you in creating music, there is a level of respect that should be paid in return to the artist that works with you to create something greater than the sum of your separate respective talents. Some artists may perceive the public admittance of the help as a strike or blemish to their resume as a creative or their discographies and choose to keep the help a secret to maintain that mystique and praise they have built throughout their careers. The issues always seem to be of greater weight and criticism when they are revealed without the authorization of the artists in question. How would you feel if your favorite artist(s) of all time didn’t write your favorite work from them, or had reference tracks even guiding them on how to compose and perform the songs you love most? How would you feel about the same artist(s) if they always credited and made public the assistance they received throughout their career and your favorite songs/albums were many of the songs that they got help on varying from lyrics to full reference tracks?
Drake vs Kanye West
Despite all of their differences and recent disagreements with each other, Drake and Ye have a lot of similarities in how they’ve created some of their greatest music in their respective discographies throughout their careers. The collaborative nature of these artists and the manner in which some of the information has been revealed has casted a veil of doubt over some of their best and/or most appreciated work as musicians. With Drake, he has been “exposed” for having a ghost writer by the name of Quentin Miller that went as far to provide the Canadian Rapper with reference tracks for songs on his mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”. There are also softly-confirmed rumors of artist The Weekend had gifted Drake a handful of songs in exchange for exposure on his highly-touted album “Take Care” which is regarded by many as Drake’s best work and a classic album.
Kanye, on the other hand, has also had quite the reputation for a more joint effort in the writing process on his albums. Even dating back to his earliest work, Kanye has listed additional credited writers on his songs from “All Falls Down” ft. Syleena Johnson which was co-written by Lauryn Hill, to “Crack Music” ft. The Game, which was co-written by Willard Meeks, ‘Jesus Walks”, co-written by Rhymefest, or “Bring Me Down” ft. Brandy—co-written by Shy FX and Jon Brion, among many others. As it stands, the primary difference between the two megastars was the actual credit given for assistance in the grand scheme of their discographies.
After We Found Out
Once this was publicized, especially in Drake’s case with the Quentin Miller reference tracks, there was a cloud of doubt casted over the artistic credibility and integrity of much more than the tracks that were initially brought to light. While widely commercially consumed, Drake’s musical standing has taken a nose dive in reference to critical acclaim, musical awards, etc. His latest albums have not been on the same level of his earlier work, and it is now (for some) hard to determine what his most authentic sound and work is because of the many styles and trends that he had borrowed or used throughout the more popular saga of his musical career. Even his most recent project, a double-album titled Scorpion, was still hovering around the level of overall mediocrity in these midst of more artistic scrutiny from Pusha T in their heated rap beef and the solidification of Kendrick Lamar and J Cole as the two leading figures in the hip-hop genre in regards to substance and critical acclaim within the genre as well. K-dot is also receiving literary awards for his work in addition to Grammy awards, multi-platinum albums and breaking streaming records in the process. Mr. West has been observed under a difference lens since the sudden death of his mother. His last few albums have all been deemed as unfocused and underwhelming as he has yet to recapture the magic of his earlier albums, many of which had much more collaboration with feature artists as well as writing credits from additional authors… some of which who were revealed after the songs were released. Recently, the rumor of Drake serving as a ghost writer for Kanye on his latest album surfaced and was later credited for his work on the song “Yikes” on the album Ye. All of this has tainted the artists’ names in one way or another and removed them from true emcee acclaim and honorable mention and only referenced as either a producer or pop artist, respectively.
With all that has been said, the biggest question is “Does it all even matter?” and if so, to what extent? In a world of music where rules and continuously altered and adjusted to cater to those currently in the limelight, there have been notions and ideologies brought to light that suggest actually being behind the pen is no longer necessary as long as the music is good. As the genre of hip-hop grew into prominence from the days of its inception, it was important to be authentic, genuine, and believable in order to get your point across to the listeners. This also may have been more important in the earlier eras because of the overall density of content that was being given out to the hip-hop fans. While the hip-hop fandom has grown and expanded to create the most popular genre in all of music, it has also lost some of the principles and foundational ideals that it was founded upon. Under that premise, it is safe to assume that there are a large number of fans that honestly do not care who writes the songs as long as they sound good and their favorites artists are the ones who are releasing them. The purists of the genre intend to hold onto these principles and hold all artists to a certain standard to preserve and uplift the genre as a true artform in a time where it is being marginalized to merely a business or money-making ploy. So, I leave these questions to you: How do you feel knowing that top-tier artist solicit help, whether credited or not, when they write and compose music? Would you rank your favorite artists differently if you knew that they weren’t writing of composing their music? If artists genuinely didn’t care about integrity, then why would they hide it?