(AllHipHop Editorial) First off, let’s be clear. Aubrey Drake Graham is one of the most gifted recording artists of the last 10 years. His ability to craft hit records is undeniable. That statement is proven by the fact Drake is currently in the Top 10 of artists with the most Billboard Hot 100 entries. The man is a bona fide hit maker, period.
Being among Elvis Presley, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and The Beatles in that exclusive Hot 100 club makes Drake one of the most celebrated music stars in history. But that honor does not equate to his rankings among the Hip Hop elite.
Hip Hop has always had a different set of rules than other genres. In Pop music, an artist’s ability to connect with a mainstream audience is an important trait for calculating their greatness. In R&B, a singer’s vocal talent reigns supreme when determining which performers are seen as being among the best. For Hip Hop, if you want to reach GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) status, the first thing people in the culture will examine is your lyrical genius.
Hip Hoppers’ Top 5/Top 10 emcees lists varies from person to person, but one main factor that is vital in most of those choices is that rapper’s pen game. Whether you’re talking about certified GOAT candidates such as Rakim, KRS-One, Kool G Rap, Ice Cube, 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Nas, Eminem, Andre 3000 or rising potentials like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Big K.R.I.T. – they all have been known to write their own rhymes. And do it well.
Of course, other things play a role as well. Flow, delivery, storytelling, stage presence, record sales, and cultural impact are cited during any GOAT debate. But the key stat has always been lyrics.
This is why if Drake hopes to be considered in the Hip Hop GOAT discussion he has to address these stories he re-recorded reference tracks for his own verses. Yes, anyone that is aware of how the industry operates knows a lot of artists get help in the studio. But having someone in your crew give you a couple of lines or even a hook is not the same as paying someone else to write entire 16 bar raps for you.
That is what Maybach Music Group member Meek Mill has accused Drake of doing, and that has always disqualified a rapper from being mentioned as one of the greatest of all time. (For the record, known “check writers” like Dr. Dre and Sean “Diddy” Combs are never brought up in the barber shop or in rap forums when it comes to GOAT rappers talk, despite their great contributions to the culture).
According to DJ Funkmaster Flex, Drake has Atlanta rapper Quentin Miller on retainer for $5,000 a month as a songwriter. The Hot 97 DJ has already released one alleged Miller reference track, and claims to have several others.
Miller has denied being a “ghostwriter” for Drake stating he was credited for his work on the OVO leader’s latest project If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Unfortunately, his statement still does not fully address the issue at hand.
If Q.M. chooses not to call himself a “ghostwriter” because his name is listed in the album credits, that’s fine. But that still does not answer whether he actually wrote complete verses for Drake like it sounded in the alleged leaked “10 Bands” reference track. That’s what needs to be confirmed or denied, not his concerns about the semantics of the word “ghostwriter.”
Of course all this is only important if Drake is even worried about being considered one of the greatest emcees. He did refer to himself as the “King of Pop” on Meek’s “R.I.C.O.” In defense of his friend, Drizzy’s longtime producer Noah “40” Shebib essentially tweeted that Drake was more than a rapper. It’s not my place to knock that assertion if that is how the artist truly views himself.
We go beyond the normal boundaries that rappers want to sleep themselves stuck in.
— Noah Shebib (@OVO40) July 23, 2015
On “What We Talkin’ About,” Jay Z said “I don’t run rap no more, I run the map,” effectively announcing he has grown bigger than the confines of rap music. Kanye West recently declared he is the greatest living rock star on the planet. There is nothing wrong with an entertainer wanting to expand their brand as far-reaching as possible, but again that’s a different conversation. Though you can be both, the qualifications to be a global icon and a Hip Hop GOAT are not one in the same.
Early in Drake’s career he seemed to be focused on being in the pantheon of emcees. In 2009, the Toronto native had yet to release his debut studio album, but he still opened his verse on the song “Forever” with “last name Ever, first name Greatest.” That was an extremely bold statement from a rookie, especially considering the other three guys on the track were Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Eminem.
Fast forward to 2015 and many fans, media personalities, and fellow rappers consider Drake one of the hottest in the game. He’s a platinum selling artist that hosts SNL and appears in movies with Will Ferrell. His resumé as an entertainer is very impressive.
Drizzy can lead the league in a bunch a categories. He can be the best-selling, the most popular, the most viewed, the most awarded – but he can’t be the greatest rapper if he has other people writing his whole 16s.
Barry Bonds holds the record for most career MLB home runs, but the outfielder will forever have an asterisk next to his name in the public’s mind, because it’s heavily believed he used performance enhancement drugs. If Drake did indeed use Quentin Miller or other people to pen his verses for him, then he will be stamped with an asterisk too. And rightfully so.
Drizzy has a very strong team of producers, writers, and collaborators that help create great music. A good number of rappers do. But if your teammate is providing most of the points during your championship run, then who should be getting the bulk of the credit for the title?
Michael Jordan had a team of players around him that contributed to the success of the Chicago Bulls. Let’s say during the Bulls’ 91-93 Finals run it was Jordan leading the team to most of those victories, but the second three-peat featured Scottie Pippen scoring 30 points a game while Jordan was putting up just 20. MJ would still have his six rings, but he probably wouldn’t be talked about in the way he is today.
That’s how Drake’s Hip Hop biography could end up looking if these writing allegations are true. A star with a lot of hardware, but at just 5 years into his career he lost his step a bit and another player had to carry the load. That’s not the story of a GOAT.
Some people have made the argument rap fans don’t care about who writes the rhymes anymore. But that wasn’t the case just four months ago when California rapper Skeme suggested he wrote the lyrics for Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” Hip Hop fans instantaneously pounced on Iggy for being “fake” and were convinced her career was over.
To be fair, many in the Hip Hop community had prior concerns with Iggy around allegations of cultural appropriation, but that still doesn’t negate the fact the “ghostwriting” tag was seen as the nail in the coffin for the female rhymer. And there wasn’t even a reference track for that controversy.
And if you feel fans aren’t bothered by rumors of other people writing verses for their favorite artists, best believe most emcees do care. That’s why Nicki Minaj told the audience at the 2014 BET Awards, “When you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it.”
That’s why when Dead Prez and Jay Electronica were accused of being ghostwriters for Nas in 2012, both D.P. and J.E. came out and clearly and vehemently denied the rumors. That’s why Kendrick Lamar added the line “I can dig rapping, but a rapper with a ghost writer… What the f*ck happened?” on “King Kunta.”
That’s why this entire Drake/Quentin Miller ordeal is even making headlines and trending on social media. The culture understands how damaging the label of “he doesn’t write his own rhymes” is to a rapper’s legacy in Hip Hop circles.
So if Drake wants to be viewed as the Muhammad Ali of rap like he implied on “Under Ground Kings” (“I’m the greatest man, I said that before I knew I was”) he has to come out from the shadows and speak on the accusations someone else wrote whole verses for him. If it’s not true, then Drizzy will get his due props as one of this generation’s best rappers.
Drake, you told us on “Light Up” that you “promise to always give you me, the real me.” Well, it’s time you present the real you about this matter. Or you leave it up to the culture to decide your rightful place in Hip Hop history, and that likely won’t be among the GOATs.