Guest blogger, author, and songwriter Shelly Bell (@iamshellybell) addresses the recent controversy surrounding Nas‘ Untitled album and claims that he allegedly used ghostwriters for the project.*
Fans finding out that Nas has used a ghostwriter was akin finding out that your favorite aunt really canâ€™t bake. I imagine that finding out that the cake you thought was made from scratch is really from Betty Crockerâ€™s finest box would feel deceitful. You then realize she lied to you because it made you happy to feel like you were getting a homemade cake just for you. She admits that her cakes never rise and she was tired of wasting money on ingredients.
I find it a little ridiculous that people still want to believe that music is organic. Live music fans felt deceived when instruments were added to software that could be played on keyboards. Millie Vanilli fans felt deceived when they found that all of their music was lip synched. Live audiences still feel deceived when their favorite performer is lip synching on stage in order to save breath for dancing. Are fans being naive? Do we really want these artists serving us their flat and awkwardly iced cakes?
We must also realize that most moves made in entertainment have a feasible air of deceit. In a business with seemingly 4080 rules of governance, itâ€™s an inevitability. Consider the progression of this story:
1. Nasâ€™ album drops
2. Nas does interview with Big Boy (Power 106 Los Angeles), denies using ghostwriters
3. Frank Miller Jr. (rappersiknow.com, formerly of Hot 97) blogs that he got word from Jay Electronica himself that he ghostwrites for Nas (over 3 years ago)
4. Jay Electronicaâ€™s album drops in a couple months
Fans fall for the â€œokey dokeâ€ every time! The conversation between Jay Electronica and Frank occurred years ago. The album in question dropped in 2008. Why is this being revealed now? If indeed Nas is using a ghostwriter, Jay Electronica is most likely not the only one. Why did Frank put so much emphasis on Jay Electronica instead of researching to give the full scope of the topic? Is Frank really hurt by Nas denying the use of ghostwriters in an interview and decided to out him? Power 106, LA and Hot 97 are owned by the same people. Was Big Boy working with Frank to start some controversy before Jay Electronicaâ€™s album drops?
If people believe that Jay indeed wrote for Nas their love for the lyrics will give Jay Electronica more commercial push. Music conspiracy theories float the minds of the analytical Hip-Hop fans while others settle with shaking their heads at Nas.
Every song in existence has at least a writer, producer, and performer. These people do not have to be the same person no matter what the genre of music is. In Hip-Hop culture, people consider a rapper â€œless thanâ€ if he doesnâ€™t write his own lyrics. This has gone without question much too long. If we recall Hip-Hop history, rap started out as a hype man over break beats. Once the first organized verse hit the scene rappers were then charged with writing their own lyrics. Is Hip-Hop still stuck in the 80â€™s?
No one expects a singer to write their own lyrics, but they do expect for them to be able to perform them well. With the invention of pitch correction you donâ€™t even need to be able to perform well anymore. Yet itâ€™s acceptable as long as the song is a great song. Does this acceptability need to be transferred to Hip-Hop as well? It seems that rappers are transitioning into the digital age when it comes to electronic sounds and computer created effects, but still denying publicly that they could use a little help with their rhymes. Whatâ€™s wrong with needing a little help?
If we open up to the idea that using ghostwriters is acceptable maybe rap would not be in the anti-climatic state that itâ€™s in now. This could also be a way to keep rappers employed behind the scenes. When artists transition out of public view the public usually assumes they are working on an album or living off of royalties and producing. Why couldnâ€™t they live off ghostwriting and this be acceptable to the public?
Letâ€™s be clear, ghostwriting is an avenue that rappers can take, however, it is as if they have to keep it a secret. Hip-Hop really needs to transition out of this idea that writing your own lyrics gives you some street credibility because Hip-Hop is no longer a street industry. It is not so much the thing people are doing to bring people together on the block. It is now about global thinking artists who can cross from one market to another and maintain some credibility in the markets they started in.
Maybe Nas was coached by the label to use a ghostwriter. Even though rappers want to maintain control over everything, they have to admit that taking some advice from the label does actually lead to better selling albums i.e. Lupe Fiasco.
The possibilities arising from this story are clearly limitless and deserve further thought and conversation.
- Shelly Bell, @iamshellybell
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