A dull moment is never something one would associate with Rick Ross. With his eighth studio album, Black Market, on its way, slated for release December 9th, Ross has been very vocal about one of the album’s tracks, “Ghostwriter.” Naturally, the song discusses its namesake and its author’s role as an uncredited writer of many of today’s top rap verses.
Recently, in an interview with Time, Ross elaborated on the topic. The hip hop mogul states, “I finally wrote a record telling the way it feels for me to be a ghostwriter, and not only a ghostwriter, but one of the biggest in the rap game.” He goes on to put his role as a ghostwriter in the context of his one career, justifying the practice as something that made sense due to his status. “Because of my own personal success I’ve always been able to keep that in the shadows. On this record, I just felt it was so current. It was needed.”
Ross further added his take on the discrepancy between ghostwriting in pop music versus that of traditional hip hop. In his eyes, the practice is more acceptable in the former, which places its emphasis on the music as an entire entity as opposed to the latter. Specifically citing the rap of artist, DMX, Ross claims ghostwriting is less morally sound to its focus being on the lyrics–words, which in this case, aren’t authored by the stated performing artist.
To put the issue in the context of record label operations, at the end of the day, the artist who performed the lyrics will be the one making the bulk of the song’s consequent revenue. In the Rick Ross conceptualization of ghostwriting perhaps this is only fair with some artists as lyrics solely contribute a piece to the puzzle that is the song as a whole. However, imagine a rapper who’s main selling point is the craft and wit of his lyricism. If these lyrics are not truly authored by that artist, it would seem that the artist’s publishing and recording earnings should be split between the performer and the writer. At least that’s how it works in traditional songwriter scenarios. With ghostwriting, the compensation is different. It is not dependent on the revenue generated from record sales, but rather the compensation is awarded in a one time lump sum prior to the record hitting the shelves. With some artists, such as MF Grimm, who in an interview with Forbes revealed, “I think I set a rate, every bar a thousand dollars”, the payment could be severely disproportionate to the song’s eventual earnings. Additionally, aside from the the money, an artist builds their fan base on the records under their name. If an artist is only writing songs for other artists, how can their own performance career come to fruition?
All this said, I am approaching this from an outsider perspective. In no way have I ever been involved in the hip hop industry and thus, perhaps their are legitimate benefits to being a ghostwriter. Maybe this is the ultimate sign of credibility in terms of hip hop lyricism? Maybe this is the only way to break into the business? Whatever it is, the tradition of ghostwriting is certainly as prevalent as ever with the biggest artists in the world–i.e. Rick Ross–taking part in the practice.