INTERVIEW: Is There Anything Wrong with Ghost Writing in Hip Hop?
“S. Carter, ghost writer, and for the right price I can even make yo sh-t tighter.” – Jay Z
Ghost writing in hip hop is a cardinal sin…right? I mean, no one cares if Mary J. Blige or Beyonce wrote their own songs but how would you feel if you found out your favorite MC had never wrote a single line he spit? Well, regardless of how people in hip hop circles feel, more rappers are using ghost writers nowadays more then ever. So, is there anything REALLY wrong with ghost writing in hip hop? Well, I had a chance to sit down with Rap Rebirth, a ghost writing service to kick it and find out exactly how the entire ghost writing business works, check it out.
How did Rap Rebirth get started?
I’ve been a fan of hip hop my whole life. In middle school I spent days
listening to the classics. I started with what was popular at time.
“Blackout”, “Life and Times of Sean Carter: Vol 2″, “The Slim Shady LP”,
“It’s Dark and Hell is Hot”, and “The Chronic 2001″. That was Hip Hop 101
for me. Then I graduated to “Illmatic”, “ATLiens”, “The Infamous”, “Low End
Theory”, “Liquid Swords”, “Reasonable Doubt”, “Paid in Full” and other
classics. I’d study the lyrics as I listened. By the time I hit high school
I was an expert in rap. I could quote almost any lyric and tell you every
album in an artist’s catalog. I was bumping so much music that writing
came naturally. I developed by imitating my favorite MCs. I’d write verses
as Nas, Slick Rick, Rakim, and Jay-Z. Incidentally this was great practice
In college I was writing lyrics at a high level. I started sharing them and
got a lot of positive feedback. At the same time I was studying
Entrepreneurship so I decided to start a ghostwriting service. Putting
together my love of hip hop and love of business made sense. And
ghostwriting was attractive because I could do it on the side and do it
anywhere. Of course I tried to land the big artists at first. I’d send out
lyrics and make phone calls to labels. I must’ve called Diddy’s New York
office a hundred times.
Then one night I was checking out a show with local acts and it hit me.
There was more money to be made with a large clientele of up and coming
rappers than trying to hit the lottery with a big name. I put up a website
called Ethereal Scribe that would later become Rap Rebirth. I developed a
marketing strategy to target developing acts that were trying to get signed.
Some of it involved networking at concerts. But most of it was online
through Google AdWords, Facebook, and MySpace. Client by client I built a
business. Referrals were key to getting larger acts and growing.
Nowadays there seems to be more ghostwriting going on in hip hop more
then ever. What do you attribute that to?
It’s a few things. One, it’s easier to collaborate. With online social
networking, virtual studios and broadband you can outsource your entire
album. Often producers and rappers never meet. They trade tracks through
email. The same thing happens with lyrics, only it’s even easier. Plus a lot
of rappers want who use ghostwriters want to stay anonymous and the internet
makes that easy. Two, it’s the decline of record sales. Labels want big
hits. They want high margins. Rappers are under a lot of pressure. Hiring a
ghostwriter to help make that perfect hit becomes attractive. Three, there’s
been a gradual change in the perception of ghostwriting. More and more
people see it as a collaboration. It used to be frowned upon now it’s
Writing rhymes in general is a very tedious task. How are you able to
write so many rhymes while also tailor making the lyrics to a person’s
specific style? Do you have a staff of writers?
I understand writing rhymes for some people is tedious. That’s part of why
we’re in business. But I love writing rhymes, for me it’s a joy. When I’m in
a zone the lyrics flow easily. Of course there are lots of revisions that go
back and forth with the clients. That takes time. But overall I’m very
efficient. And I’m involved with every project that comes in. That said
there are trusted writers that help out during busy times and with certain
When Skillz came out with “Ghostwriter” hip hop heads were in a frenzy to
find out who Skillz was talking about. Do you find that confidentiality is
very important for your clients?
There’s a live version of the first verse where he actually says the names!
It’s crazy. I think Skillz is a very talented rapper and writer. I look
forward to his wrap up tracks every year. And I don’t know Skillz personally
or the details of the “Ghostwriter” situation. BUT. I don’t think he should
have revealed the names. That’s a cardinal sin in ghostwriting.
Nothing is more important than trust. Clients need to know they can trust
you. It’s more important than skills or reliability. If they think for a
second you’re looking to exploit them or gain fame off their name they’ll
run for the hills. Being trustworthy is good business. A reputation for
confidentiality helps a ghostwriter land big clients. They’re the ones
especially concerned with keeping things on the DL.
Who is your favorite MC? And how would you feel if you found out that
they had a ghostwriter their entire career?
Interesting question. Nas is my favorite MC. If I found out he had a
ghostwriter since “Live at the BBQ” it’d surprise me. His music is so
personal and he has such a strong reputation for being a writer. Plus he
ghostwrites for artists himself. I’d be curious to know who the writer is
and what their dynamic’s like. It’s funny cuz Nas toys with that idea on the
track “Death Anniversary.” He says “What if Jungle wrote my shit, and I’m
really illiterate – and the whole Nas catalog was just an experiment.”
What is the best way for someone to contact you if they needed your
They can visit the site http://www.rap-rebirth.com, send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Twitter @RapRebirth.