Ghostwriting is surprisingly rewarding. Not only does it create a flexible lifestyle (you can ghostwrite from anywhere and all you need is a smart phone) but it also provides intrinsic rewards.
1. You get to express yourself in all new ways. When you ghostwrite you can write about things through another person that you normally wouldn't through yourself. Case in point: When I ghostwrite for a gangsta rapper I can become Martin Scorsese directing a crime drama. It's something I couldn't rap in the first person.
2. You learn about people. As a ghostwriter people tell you about the most intimate details about their lives. It's immensely interesting and rewarding to learn about different walks of life.
3. You help people express themselves. When an client receives lyrics that are a perfect fit they're ecstatic and they let you know. They get one step closer to reaching their dreams or cementing their legacy. It's a good feeling to be a part of that.
4. You get to collaborate. Often clients come to me with amazing concepts that I'd never think of on my own. It's exciting to put my lyrical skills in the framework of their concept. When great ideas meet technical skill the results can be amazing.
5. You have an excuse to listen to lots of music. This is my favorite. Part of my job is to be up on the freshest hip-hop tracks. I'm constantly combing blogs and YouTube listening to new songs and new artists so I'm up to date on what's hot. For someone with a love a of hip-hop this is a joy.
As a hip-hop writer you want to engage your audience and make them active listeners. You want them to say "what the fuck was that, that sounded dope" and rewind.
There are many ways to achieve this.
1. Say something off the wall and surprising. This will depend on your style and your reputation with the listener.
Ex: "Rhymes is made of garlic" - Ghostface
2. Say something that provokes thought.
3. Use a complex rhyme scheme.
4. Use inventive wordplay.
People often ask me if I record music personally. The answer is no. I'm purely a writer. I was thinking about this question today and it got me thinking about the different skill sets rapping and ghostwriting require.
Rappers must be performers. Their instrument is their vocal cords. Intonation, breath control, pitch, annunciation and rhythm must all be finely honed. And of the intangible quality of "mic presence" must be there as well. The best rappers change their voice to match their content or the audience they want to reach. Rappers must also embody a persona. Whether they want to be or not, they embody a brand that has certain consistencies (even if those consistencies include contradiction). The best rappers are in touch with what drives them and can clearly articulate it on a record. For mainstream rappers there's also the public persona which involves media personality, fashion, and choice of music videos. Rappers who write for themselves must also be lyricists, though this is not always a necessity.
Ghostwriters are lyricists first and foremost. They must be masters of the written word. Rhythm is a necessity too because what they write ultimately has to fit a beat. A ghostwriter must also be a passable vocalist because many clients require reference tracks. There are two less mentioned skills ghostwriters must possess as well. Those are empathy and versatility. Unlike a rapper, a ghostwriter must be able to deeply understand the artistic intent of their client. They must be sensitive to that person's experiences, style and world view. They must then be able to take that information and embody it. Versatility is required if a writer wants to work for a variety of clients and customize their lyrics in a personal way.
Of course many ghostwriters rap and many rappers ghostwrite. The line between the two often blur. Artists like Rhymefest, Skillz and Kel Spencer have been able to do both because their unique mixture of rapping and ghostwriting skills. The same is true of more mainstream acts like Nas, Jay-Z, J. Cole, and T.I. Regardless the distinction is still there.