Unlike other genres of music, in rap there’s an unwritten rule that the lyrics that you spit were written by you. Other unscripted laws are artists have to be authentic, speak honestly about their lives, and no biting of someone’s rhymes and style. Old heads would have you think that the current generation is the first at breaking some of rap’s golden rules but “Rapper’s Delight” featured Big Bank Hank stealing rhymes from old school icon Grandmaster Caz. Some of the most seminal albums in the genre were created just like in pop music where someone gives you lyrics and a vocal display of how the words should be performed for the best quality. A great ghostwriter can capture the essence of an artist based off their previous work and train them to execute the song in their own identity. That said, it’s usually not heard the traces of someone in another artist’s song. With that in mind, here are some of the best albums that were ghostwritten by someone else.
Goin’ Off by Biz Markie (1988)
Key lines: “Reagan is the Pres but I voted for Shirley Chisholm/ It might sound confusing, the style that I’m using/ But in the end I’m sure that you will find it quite amusing,” – from “Nobody Beats the Biz.”
The clown prince of hip-hop was first known for his beat boxing and personality. When the label decided it was time for Biz to make an album they enlisted fellow Juice Crew member Big Daddy Kane to provide the rhymes and he gave “The Diabolical One” solid records including the classic “Vapors.” Throughout the album, Kane’s multisyllabic style, punchlines, and flow are prevalent.
Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A (1988)
The Compton crew changed rap forever by showing the rest of the world how things happened in the hood with palm trees. They didn’t invent gangsta rap, but they perfected it for their time. MC Ren penned his own lyrics while Ice Cube wrote the rhymes for Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. If you pay attention, you’ll realize that Dre and Eazy follow Cube’s rhyme template throughout the record. These days it’s hilarious that Cube gave Dre the rhymes “I still express, yo I don’t smoke weed or sess/ Cause it’s known to give a brother brain damage/ And brain damage on the mic don’t manage nothing” because of how much that changed four years later.
Eazy-Duz-It by Eazy-E (1988)
A month after Straight Outta Compton was released, the Ruthless Records ringleader dropped his debut. This time Ren wrote the majority of the record. Accordingly, it’s not a coincidence that he’s featured on half the album, while The D.O.C. and Cube pitched in to make Eazy become the star of the group. This album is unique because it might be the first spinoff record from a rapper who was still in the group where he rose to popularity.
Niggaz4Life by N.W.A (1991)
Key lines: “Whoever thinks that what I say and betray is negativity/ Need to come kick it in the city with me/ And find the black and crack de fact/ And take that shit back cuz they don’t wanna fuck with that,” – Dr. Dre on “Appetite For Destruction.”
Many wondered how the group could replace Ice Cube. In 1989, The D.O.C. got into a brutal car accident which severed his vocal cords and made his voice a raspy baritone. While D.O.C.’s rap career was on hiatus, he took the role of lead ghostwriter and added N.W.A’s vulgar style to his lyricism to help Dre and Eazy to improve as rappers. Meanwhile, Dre’s production ascended to another level and they made a darker record arguably better than their debut.
The Chronic by Dr. Dre (1992)
Key lines “Never let me slip, ’cause if I slip, then I’m slippin’/ But if I got my Nina, then you know I’m straight trippin’/ And I’m a continue to put the rap down, put the mack down,” – from “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang.”
If you’re keeping score at home, notice the trend of ghost scribes following the face of Beats Electronics. This time as a solo artist, he kept The D.O.C. around to compose raps while newcomers Snoop Dogg and RBX gave him the flair and grittiness of the new generation. Marley Marl’s In Control, Volume 1 started the trend for super-producers to have their own albums but the leader of the Juice Crew never attempted to rhyme whereas Dre would spit on most of the album and then let the Death Row artists showcase their skills on their own.
Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version by Ol’ Dirty Bastard (1995)
Key lines: “Approach the school nine thirty, you’re late/ This time happy the solution was my date/ Get in your class, walk to your chair/ Pop is all you see and then occasionally stare/ At the teacher, more, tune in to we’re clocking ya,” – from “Don’t U Know.”
Following RZA’s five-year plan of domination, the wildcard of the Wu-Tang’s released his debut album. Unsurprisingly, Ason Unique took a long time to record it, so RZA and GZA wrote a lot of the rhymes for Big Baby Jesus to harness it in his chamber. Method Man told Complex.com in 2011 “Dirty took all their shit and made it his own and GZA ain’t say shit. Most of [Dirty’s verses] was GZA’s shit. I remember GZA and ODB got in an argument one night and GZA was like, ‘Nigga most of that shit on your fucking album is mines anyway!’”
Hard Core by Lil Kim (1996)
Key lines: “If Peter Piper pecked em’, I betcha Biggie bust em’/ He probably tried to fuck him, I told him not to trust em’/ Lyrically, I dust em’, off like Pledge/ Hit hard like sledge-hammers, bitch with that platinum grammar,” – from “Queen Bitch.”
Like Prince, The Notorious B.I.G. also had a female foil that he wrote for to create his perfect image of a woman. While Biggie was working on Life After Death, he took the time out to make Lil Kim the breakout star of the Junior M.A.F.I.A. Big’s next protégé Cam’ron wrote Lil Cease’s rhymes on “Crush On You” and unfortunately the world will never know how much swag/pizzazz/gusto Cam and Biggie would’ve blessed the world with.
No Way Out by Puff Daddy & the Family (1997)
Key lines: “Out of this world like Mars, when I spit these bars/ Come fuck with these stars up in luxury cars/ We built them radars to stay free from the cops/ Crucial choices to make, like A-C or the drop,” – from “Young G’s.”
Before The Notorious B.I.G. died, he let people know he was an executive producer on Puff’s debut album. Diddy took the songs that Biggie wrote for him, along with other records penned by Ma$e and the rest of his label to make one of the defining albums of the Jiggy era. Jay Z’s homie Sauce Money wrote “I’ll Be Missing You” after Jay said he was too sad to write the record himself. Sauce used the experience of losing his mother and made the best tribute song in rap history.
2001 by Dr. Dre (1999)
Key lines: “All you niggas that said that I turned pop/ Or The Firm flopped/ Y’all are the reason that Dre ain’t been getting no sleep/ So fuck y’all, all of y’all/ If y’all don’t like me, blow me/ Y’all are gonna keep fucking around with me and turn me back to the old me,” – from “Forgot About Dre.”
Guess who’s back again? After seven years and another label switch, Dr. Dre had more talent to contribute in the writing process to ensure he avoided the sophomore slump. Jay Z wrote the lead single “Still D.R.E.”, Eminem scribed “Forgot About Dre”, and Snoop did “The Next Episode.” These singles made sure the album sold very well and helped Dre create another masterpiece.
Yeezus by Kanye West (2013)
It’s ironic that the album many say is the worst lyrically from Kanye had the most people helping him construct his rhymes. G.O.O.D. Music members Malik Yusef helped write eight songs and Cyhi the Prynce contributed to nine of the 10 records on the album. Rhymefest aided on the intro “On Sight.”, Lupe Fiasco contributed to “Black Skinhead”, and even Fonzworth Bentley helped write three songs. This album will be remembered as Ye’s darkest and most polarizing body of work.