Rap Rebirth Blog Hip-hop ghostwriting and lyricism


Lyrical Exercise #3

Gettin my Andre 3000 on...

ANDRE 3000
Notes was strewn across the room, mind open like a womb
I'm in back of ya, lady Dracula, now she's risen out her tomb
Zoom microscopic topic to discuss is love and trust
Met a lady from Atlanta called Ms Santa selling dust
Thunder bolt volts the antidote to the anti dope I bus
With the musk of mammoth tusk rust spaceship doors plus whores I thrust
Trust in G-O-D, only heaven up above me
So it's clouds that wanna hug me, angel shrouds they wanna slug me
Now I'm back down to Earth, Andre this is your self worth
Combined with lines divine make sublime feel like your birth


Lyrical Exercise #2

Cam and MF Doom rapping about roller skating

Ayo I got my skates strapped, rollerbladin, hate that
Cruising round Harlem, and I don't need no street map
Smile at the pretty mamis, they like "hey hottie"
God on eight wheels, sex appeal, I'm God body
I got the purple ones, pink wheels, bubblegum
Laces made with satin, rule Manhattan, havin fun
I pop a figure eight, they like damn Cam you great
I pop a clip, aim at your lip if you tryna hate

Got the butter, did I stutter, shutter speed on the camera slow
To catch the blurred motion from this potent roller skating pro
Flow like my raps over Madlib lab tracks
Facts never fiction, your eviction from our skating pack
Cam got the guile, why they call him Giles, flashy styles
Move like magician, Christian, early, surly, extra wild
Yo, oh, ho, you couldn't hold a torch, no
Candle get dismantled, trampled, found fifty leagues below

Damn DOOM that's super deep, prefer skating to a Jeep
Catch me at the roller rink, mink coat, bringin heat
Baby girl, she likes to roll, shorts hug her ass yo
They way her cheeks pop make me lose my balance - woah


Lyrical Exercise #1

in the style of Nas rapping as a first gen iPod jealous of iPod Touch

Uh... lord lord Jah... what I'm gonna do...
Uh... shhh... lord lord Jah... hook me up to iTunes...

Hmm, I gave you music, hymns, I'm bout to lose it
Cause my click wheel, grey screen, nah, you never use it
I stay collecting dust, metal plate collecting rust
Headphone jack bust, got that water damage musk
Heard you got new lover, drape her in a plastic cover
Massage her smooth skin like Whoopi and Danny Glover
Old enough to be her mother, but I'm jealous of my own seed
Sexing with boss Jobs now I'm just a plate for weed
Remember my debut in 02, it was beautiful
Camera's flashin, oh the passion, high fashion suitable
For any event, I had to repent, the fame had me buggin
I was losin all my data, my revisions in the dozens
Now you got full color, full motion, spread emotion
Of envy, can't ever be - half of your commotion
An ocean of innovation separate me from you
But I'm the OG, original, and you just version two


The Earth Shattering Genius of Jay Electronica

There's something very special about Jay Electronica. He's that rare one of a kind musician that only comes along once in a decade. What I love about Jay's music is how unique it is. He mixes complex lyricism with pantheistic spirituality and puts it over breathtaking beats. There's also a little social commentary and some classic hip hop bravado. It's the kind of talent that instantly grabs your attention and makes you ask "who the hell is this guy and why haven't I heard about him before." Well you might have heard his latest classic "Exhibit C" (currently getting modest radio play in New York, props to DJ Enuff for that), or maybe you heard his production last year on Nas' song "Queens Get the Money". Check out "The Pledge" where he raps over Jon Brian's score from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it's outstanding...


Hip-Hop’s Ghostwriters

Interesting article Gelf Magazine did a couple years back on ghostwriting in hip hop



History of Ghostwriting #2: “Ghostwriter” – Skillz

In mid-2000 the talented underground rapper Skillz (you probably know him best by his year end Wrap Up songs) released "Ghostwriter", a controversial song where he revealed he was a ghostwriter for several mainstream acts.

The original version of the song censored the names. However a rare recording of a live performance shows Skillz dropping actual names (a cardinal sin for ghostwriters). According to him they never paid and that's why he called them out.

Check out the original.

Mad Skillz - Ghostwriter (Censored)


History of Ghostwriting #1: “Getting Jiggy With It” – Nas

Not many people know Will Smith's 90s standard, "Getting Jiggy With It", was written by Nas. At the time both artists were on Columbia records and were encouraged by their label to work together. Their first collaboration was a song Nas did for the Men in Black Soundtrack called "Escobar 97'". Later that year Will Smith approached Nas about writing a hit for his upcoming album "Big Willie Style." Nas agreed (for an undisclosed sum), sat down, wrote the song and the rest is history.


The Genius of Notorious BIG

"Excuse me, flows just go through me / Like trees to branches / Cliffs to avalanches / It's the praying mantis"

"The What" by Notorious BIG

There was something special about Biggie. Twelve years after his last recorded content, his songs still sound fresh and up to date. He had a quality that's hard to pin down and tangibly define.

He was lyrical. He traded rhymes with the best and often put them to shame. He rapped circles around Method Man in his prime ("The What") - out shone Jay-Z on three separate occasions ("I Love the Dough", "Brooklyn's Finest", "Young G'z") - ghost wrote pages of brilliance for Puff Daddy, Lil Kim, and Lil Cease - even took Bone Thugs own sing song style and did it better they could ("Notorious Thugs").

He had swagger. There was a charisma and confidence that oozed from every song and video. It was a mix of sly self deprecating humor and bravado. He had the audacity to diss lyrical heavy weights Nas, Jeru the Damaja (on "Kick in the Door") and The Roots ("Flava in Ya Ear Remix"). But you couldn't help but like a guy who said, "Heart throb never / Black and ugly as ever - however / I stay Gucci down to the socks / Rings and watch filled with rocks."

He had heart. Underneath the tough persona was someone with real emotion and character. You could hear it on tracks like "Sky's the Limit", "Juicy", and "Miss U".

And he had an incredible flow. The way his lyrics came, one after the other, with effortless precision and grace made rapping seem like the easiest thing in the world. Case in point... "This goes out to crews who choose to use disrespectful views on the King of NY" (from "Kick in the Door"). The internal rhyme scheme on the line is amazing. His delivery of that line is great. The way it fits DJ Premier's classic beat is awe inspiring.

Maybe that special quality was his versatility. He could do any type of song and make it real. Nothing sounded forced or phony. On his second album "Life After Death" the battle anthem "Kick in the Door" somehow flows seamlessly into the swanky players cut "Tonight". His street songs are great ("What's Beef", "Warning", "My Downfall"). His commercial crossovers are timeless masterpieces ("Big Poppa", "Hypnotize", "Mo Money Mo Problems", "Going Back to Cali"). He could do storytelling ("I Got a Story to Tell..."), love songs ("Me & My Bitch"), and social commentary ("Things Done Changed").

If Nas has the most pure talent, and Jay-Z is the wittiest, and Tupac the most passion, and Rakim is the most lyrical, then Biggie was the most well rounded. He was an MC's MC. Someone who could get play on MTV, pop radio, and in the grimiest blocks of Brooklyn. He was a great entertainer, a powerful influencer, and a reflective poet. And because of that unique combination, he just might be the greatest MC of all time.


Some Thoughts on Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting has been part of hip hop since its inception. Big Daddy Kane wrote for Biz Markie, Jay-Z wrote for Foxy Brown, Nas wrote for Will Smith, and Skillz wrote for well, almost everyone. Until recently ghostwriting occurred in backrooms through personal networks and was rarely acknowledged. The idea that a rapper didn’t write their own lyrics was stigmatized and the use of ghostwriters was kept secret.  This was because a large part of hip hop’s legacy is based on individual expression. If a rapper’s using someone else’s lyrics then they were perceived to be less real.

In 2010 things have changed. The internet and online social networking have allowed people to meet and collaborate over great distance. Everything has become a joint effort. We’ve all become interconnected and our experiences are shared. Producers and rappers can now exchange beats and vocals without ever meeting. A rapper can “outsource” their entire album online. Without leaving home they can buy guest appearances, instrumentals and now lyrics. The rapper supplies the creative vision (like a movie director or producer) and various support crew fill in the missing pieces (like a movie screenwriter or cinematographer). The idea that ghostwritten lyrics are fake has been replaced with the idea that they’re a collaborative transmutation of the rapper’s original intent.

How It Works

Rap Rebirth was started in 2008 at the beginning of this transformation. I’d been writing for years and saw an opportunity to turn a hobby into something real. Instead of taking the traditional path of networking at concerts and sending out letters to established rappers I built my own site. I put up samples of my lyrics, bought some basic web advertising, and posted on hip-hop message boards. The response I got was overwhelming. There was a huge untapped market of MCs looking for lyrics. It included MySpace rappers, YouTube rappers, local stars, posse members, international rappers, and even a few established veterans. Suddenly it was alright to hire a ghostwriter and the Internet made it easy.

A lot of people are curious how about the process. First, the artist contacts me and gives me some personal information. They tell me about their world, their slang, their favorite subject matter, their artistic influences and about their friends, family and enemies. Then I send them a sample verse to make sure I have their style down and that they feel properly represented. After that they may request a verse, a song, or even a whole album. Payments are made in advance through PayPal.

Is Ghostwriting Good for Hip-Hop?

So the big question is, “is this good for hip hop?” My answer is, "Yes. It absolutely is". Rapping is now open to so many more people. Someone with good flow and delivery who struggles with writing can now express themselves. A veteran rapper with writer’s block can buy lyrics and still put out music for their fans. The range of available music is now much wider because there are less barriers to becoming a rapper. This is great for fans because there’s now more variety. It also ensures the quality of lyrics can be top notch, a win for fans as well. Finally, ghostwriting allows a greater degree of collaboration. Something special happens when creative minds get together. The sum of the work they create is greater than its parts. Ghostwriting allows each person to do what they do best and thus creates a more compelling work of art.