Nas Ghostwriting ControvesyAugust 15th, 2012
By Gee King
Miscommunication leads to complication. The earth-shattering news that hip hop’s crown jewel of lyricism collaborated with other writers should not have broken like this. Whether you believe that it should have been revealed at all is another argument, but dream hampton’s flippant tweet-that-rocked-the-blogosphere was an irresponsible presentation of sensitive information. Not that the writer/filmmaker is Wiki-leaks to hip hop’s creative government, because honestly, this news isn’t a revelation.
The term ghostwriter has some hefty connotations in rap, but it should be clear that Hampton never said the word “ghost.” During a Twitter discussion about Harry Belafonte’s criticism of Jay-Z and Beyonce, Dream attempted to defend Jay’s political and social expression. “@dreamhampton I think Jay writes what he believes. Nas’ “Nigger” album was largely written by Stic of dead prez and Jay Electronica @JusAire,” she tweeted, replying to suggestion that Jay hadn’t made an album as radical as Nas’ 2008 Untitled, which was formerly-titled N—–, because he was afraid of risking his commercial standing.
Here is where some context about dream hampton is necessary. As an independent filmmaker and one of hip hop’s most revered writers, the close friend of Jay-Z, Jay Electronica and others is a singular character. While her work speaks for itself (she helped Jay-Z write Decoded, introduced Jay Electronica to Diddy and took on Dr. Dre and Suge Knight) her intellectually lively Twitter feed has been the source of numerous petty controversies over the years. Like the Nas debacle, they are no one’s fault necessarily, but dream’s reoccurring willingness to play troublemaker makes it seem like she knows what she’s doing.
To be clear, dream’s tweet seems to check out now that other accounts are rolling in. Dead Prez’s Stic.Man was not happy with her delivery of the message, but he did not deny that he helped Nas mold the album conceptually and musically. This 2009 account of the making of Untitled gives more validity to hampton’s claim, as does designer Frank William’s account on rappersiknow.com. “But then I got a call from Jay telling me that he was ghost writing for Nas,” recalled William, “Rap kind of died for me that day.”
There’s the issue. The distinction between ghostwriting, a forbidden practice for any serious MC, and collaboration, a regular practice for most creative artists, is crucial. The “writing” that everyone seems to be referring to seems akin to Kanye presenting entire concepts, complete with bridges and lyrics, to Jay on the documentary Fade to Black. There’s a difference between that and ghostwriting, which Snoop Dogg, Diddy, Dr. Dre and others have engaged in openly, in exchange for their credibility as true lyricists. But if word comes out that Jay Electronica and Stic.Man penned tracks on Untitled the way Nas wrote “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” for Will Smith, there may be a real reason for outrage.
Until then, everybody just chill. Life is Good is proof, Nas is not washed up. So really, this entire discussion is meaningless. Fans should focus on enjoying the music and not worry about how the wizards cook up the magic. dream hampton is not a villain or a victim in this situation, but in the future she could take greater responsibility for her influence.