Since the Genesis of hip-hop music, the greatness of a rapper has been measured by three determining factors; music quality, cultural impact, and perhaps most importantly, lyrical content. Now, attached to these determining factors are certain requirements that include but are not limited to; creativity, originality, and integrity. Where an R&B or pop singer is admired for the beauty of their voice, rappers are worshiped for the power of their language. Where Beyoncé fans are mystified by the range of her vocal runs, Eminem fans are awed by the complexity of his metaphors. Hip-hop fans are fascinated by rapper’s minds. We are impressed by clever, witty, one liners. And when a rapper says something that we can relate to, we are honored to be on the same wavelength. We connect with these artists on a personal level. We invest in their stories. We care about their words. We hear psalms in their songs. We hear scripture in their verse. And when we are presented with evidence that these sacred verses are not written by our beloved authors, but are instead penned by mysterious spirits, or “ghost writers,” our faith is shaken. We become lost. And our 6 Gods become unholy.
On Tuesday night, Meek Mill set the rap world ablaze when he tweeted a few fateful words.
“Stop comparing drake to me too.... He don't write his own raps! That's why he ain't tweet my album because we found out!”
The response was massive, instantaneous, and diverse. Rap purists and hardcore hip-hop fans were appalled. Artists were offended. Casual listeners were apathetic. And while Drake's haters celebrated, his stans rushed to his defense. Within minutes timelines were flooded with debates and memes, both artists were slandered. While some rap fans took issue and demanded answers, others simply wrote the tweets off as a reach for attention. Per his track record, Drake opted not to respond publicly. Despite the fact that his character and credibility were being assaulted on a public forum, his only response has been in the form of an Instagram conversation with fellow rapper Hitman Holla where he stated, “I signed up for greatness. This comes with it.”
Drake loyalists have defended their savior with a slew of irrelevant arguments, including the fact that he has sold more records, has more money, and is more popular than Meek. None of these points, of course, have anything to do with whether or not Drake has employed a ghost writer. Not too long after the allegations were made, DJ Funk Master Flex reignited the fire with the release of the alleged reference track for the IYRTITL cut, "10 Bands." This version was performed by no-name artist Quentin Miller, and with the exception of a few words, was identical to Drake's album version. It was nothing spectacular, but it was the same. As a fan of Drake's work, it was disappointing. Others, however, feel differently.
One person in particular whose response has garnered some attention is Noah “40” Shebib. Known for his work as Drake's personal engineer and producer, 40 is also a close friend and confidant of the 6 God. So it wasn't long until he took to Twitter to write an impressive, well-worded essay in defense of his friend.
“I don't work with many people. And there's a reason. No one is as talented as Drake. It's not worth my time. I need someone who understands song writing on a higher level. Sometimes that skill is used to recognize other great songs. Like in all forms of music. Except rap. Rap has a stigma about writing your own lyrics and rightfully so... its a very personal art form and its rooted in speaking truthfully. Thankfully for me, Drake isn't just a rapper. He's also a musician and a producer and a creator. We go beyond the normal boundaries that rappers want to sleep themselves stuck in.”
40 certainly delivered some fine points. Drake is immensely talented. As a fan, I'm proud to say that he's one of the great song makers of our generation. But I also understand that rap is different from other genres. Within rap, their exists a culture of constant competition. It is a perpetual battle for supremacy. Every artist wants to be king. Rappers rap about rapping. They make diss tracks. They brag about their ability to put pen to paper, and they claim to the best at it. There are even RAP BATTLE LEAGUES FOR CHRIST'S SAKE. These cultural stamps are what separates rap music from other genres. The essential skill of a rapper is his ability to write his own verses and lyrics. Rap does not have a “stigma” about writing your own lyrics; writing your own lyrics is what makes rap beautiful. I don't know exactly what 40 meant when he said, “We go beyond the normal boundaries that rappers want to sleep themselves stuck in.” But what I do know is that a rapper's responsibility to write his (or her) own verses is not a boundary-- it is an unwritten commandment that has been obeyed, defied, and understood since hip-hop music's inception. So as a fan who both admires and respects the art that 40 and Drake have put into the world (Take Care will always have a special place in my lovesick, 16-year-old heart.), I must humble myself and admit that 40's argument, although philosophical and poetic, was inherently flawed.
Another person who had quite a bit to say about the situation was U Guessed It author, OG Maco. Offended but not surprised, his stance on the matter was the complete opposite of 40.
“Some of us been knew. Meek just put it in the air. Sucks to have to compete with 6 ni**as and get compared to 1... The only reason I spoke up is so my friend could finally get his credit. But he being a punk ass ni**a and won't say a word. Still truth.”
Coincidentally, OG Maco happens to be tight with Drake's alleged ghost writer, Quentin Miller. Despite the fact that he created a record like U Guessed It, which he admitted was intentionally “the dumbest song he could possibly make on a beat full of bass,” Maco has produced music that contains strong lyrical content. So when he expressed his grievances from the perspective of a hip-hop purist, I understood him. Although his tweets were not as philosophical or poetic as the perspective that 40 presented, his argument contained a genuine simplicity that made him more sincere. When he said, “F*ck these stupid ni**as on Twitter and the lame ni**as deceiving Em. It's been time for hard work to count most,” I understood him. He knows that money and fame have never been the scales that were used to measure an artist's greatness. There is a certain honor among craftsmen that exists among rappers. They are admired for their skill with the pen. And regardless of other irrelevant factors, when a rapper is exposed for using “ghost writers,” a certain amount of respect is lost.
Perhaps the most important response to this scandal was Lupe Fiasco's open letter, “The Haunting,” which was essentially a message to rappers everywhere explaining the concept of ghost writing and the importance that originality and credibility bear in the rap game. As he instructed rappers to simply, “write your own rhymes as much as you can if you are able,” he also explained that “Ghostwriting, or borrowing lines, or taking suggestions from the room has always been in rap and will always be in rap.” As a rap veteran who has been in the game for over a decade, Lupe creates a perspective that you won't find in the tweets or memes. For the stans who attempt to defend Drake by talking bout his record sales, Lupe explained that sales have “never been an accepted metric in terms of quality or level of skill.” Lupe's letter is important, not only because he addressed both sides of the issue with the maturity and wisdom that only an old-head can provide, but because he also expressed love and admiration for both Drake and Meek, creating a sense of optimism that helped me to put everything in perspective.
Ultimately, the reason people care about whether or not Drake writes his own songs is because this is hip-hop. This is rap music. It's raw. It's personal. It's gritty, and it comes from the heart. Poetry is always linked to the poet. We admire our favorite artists not only because their music sounds good, but because their stories resonate with our own. Through each song and lyric, rappers present a piece of themselves, and share it with the world. As fans we collect and cherish these pieces like diamonds, using them to create the sacred bond that every fan has with their favorite artist. When these bonds are damaged by lies and deceit, we react. Some of us walk away, too scorned to ever trust the artist again. Others make excuses and stay, too devoted to the artist to leave, regardless of their betrayal. And some of us step away, examine the situation, and wait for the artist to remind us why their music is so important to us. The third reaction is where I have found myself in this Drake ghostwriting scandal. I didn't say anything at first because I didn't know what to say. As a fan I felt betrayed, lied to, bamboozled. But after using a couple of days to reflect I am optimistic. Drake has been exposed. The evidence has been made public. And there is good reason to believe that he did not write his verses for "R.I.C.O." and "10 Bands." Compared to other, more valuable pieces of Drake's catalog, however, both records are mediocre at best. This is the man who made his presence felt on "Say What's Real," cemented his dominance on "Lord Knows," and made bullets fire backwards on "5AM in Toronto." What we have here is another pivotal hip-hop moment. Drake is on top, but his credibility, originality, and integrity have been put into question. As a Drake fan and hip-hop junkie, I am excited to see how he will respond on wax. This is where the great rappers are separated from the legendary ones.
Cement your place in history, Drake.
By Vinnie Johnson,you can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: houseofdxwn