(Da) What’s on My Mind – Post #4

Posted on September 14, 2010 by

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I know it has been a while since I wrote one of these, I just wanted to remind people that the point of this article is to start a discussion.  In some of my posts, I am making a point but even still, I want to hear your opinions on the subject! Anyway, I was inspired the other day when I was re-listening to one of my favorite albums of the year, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Adventures of Chico Dustyy, and re-heard a line that caught my ear.

“It is like the game is haunted, there are so many ghostwriters” states Big Boi on his song “Follow Us”. Obvious negative connotations, direct implications that Big Boi would prefer it some other way; that so many ghostwriters is a bad thing. A ghostwriter is someone who writes rhymes for someone else to rap in a song. In hip-hop, everyone claims to BE a ghostwriter but no one claims to USE a ghostwriter. Hip hop nowadays has created a high standard for the emcee, one that is not found in many other genres, a standard that expects the artist to have two very separate but difficult skills. Being able to sing/rap should have nothing go do with one’s ability to write music or lyrics; being good at writing lyrics does not mean you will be able to perform them. However, hip-hop has turned the esteemed position of “singer/song-writer” into the standard for today’s emcee.

There was no problem that Aretha Franklin did not write all her own stuff, she could sing and that was what counted. People would still pay to see her perform, still buy her music; she was a singer not a song-writer. American Idol is one of the biggest musical competitions of all time and yet, the contestants take turns singing songs that have already been written, the contestants are competing with their ability to sing/perform. Can you imagine a mainstream rap contest, one where the winner was getting a record deal, in which the winner was able to rap old classic verses well? Pretty much every hip-hop competition requires the emcee to not only perform a rap, but to have written that rap, and in the case of freestyle battles, write that rap ON THE SPOT. How can such polar opposites be the standard, on one hand, practiced known pieces of choice are performed, while on the other, new work is created as the artist goes.

Rappers are constantly being asked for new material, when freestyling for a radio show or appearance, the audience demands that they hear something they haven’t before. If an artist says they will freestyle, and the audience recognizes a verse, it can be potentially damaging to their reputation even if their verse is the hottest 16 around.  Royce da 5’9” had to revisit Green Lantern after Slaughterhouse ripped “D.O.A” and perform another new freestyle cause people recognized his original.

At some point in recent history, this attitude became the reality because members of Run DMC used to write for The Beastie Boys on occasion yet both were viewed as dope for different reasons. As someone who cannot write nor rap, I don’t feel that every rapper should be able to do both and I can understand someone working as just a ghostwriter who never performs or a performer who doesn’t write. What do y’all think? Y’all expect rappers to do both? How did this become the standard? You guys think rap is helped because it weeds out the people who aren’t as talented as both or does it allow us to miss out on great writing talents who can’t perform or vice versa? I mean as far as radio play, I understand that not everyone there is a great writer and performer, but I mean just generally in hip-hop.