A Few Thoughts on Nas, dream hampton, Ghost Writing & Hip Hop Losing Integrity
The controversy around writer dream hampton (she spells her name in lower case) sending out a tweet where she asserted rappers Stic.man of dead prez and Jay Electronica were ‘ghost writers‘ for Nas is interesting on several levels. First, a lot of folks saw the tweet or heard about it and immediately jumped up to defend the Queensbridge emcee claiming that him having a ghostwriter is an assault to the ‘integrity of Hip Hop’ and that dream is somehow a bad journalist who should be tossed under a bus. I’ll let folks marinate on that for moment..
For those who aren’t up on what happened, here’s the tweet that dream sent out a few days ago…People went ape shyt over this..
I found the angry reaction curious because what Dream tweeted wasn’t uncommon knowledge. Back when Nas was working on the Untitled album, there was lots of banter, speculation and hope that because he was working with dead prez, they might pen some tracks for him..Many felt such a move would give Nas sharper and harder hitting political content in his songs.
Ain’t nothing wrong with that when you consider over the years we’ve seen percussionist Duke Bootee do this for Grandmaster Flash & Mele-Mel with the landmark song The Message. We recently saw Bay Area rapper Paris do this for Chuck D of Public Enemy on the album ‘Rebirth of a Nation‘. No one would ever deny Chuck or Mel’s writing abilities or political prowess…In the case of Nas and Sticman, whether what resulted was co-writing, producing where hooks, ideas and a few bars were provided, scoring of tracks to model for Nas or ghostwriting in the technical sense where full songs were penned minus public credit, none of that seemed shocking, out of the ordinary or a bad thing. There’s a long tradition from Billy Holiday’sStrange Fruit penned by Abel Meeropol to Stevie Wonder penning songs for Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & even Michael Jackson to Ice Cube and DOC penning songs for Eazy E and NWA to Prince penning songs for everyone from Chaka Khan to Sheila E to Rhymefest penning Jesus Walks for Kanye West.. Hip Hop and music in general has not lost its integrity because of it.
Over the years, I been in enough recording sessions with artists big and small to see first hand how the process plays out..People share ideas, verses get traded, shifted around, reassigned, some are written and then rewritten, some are imposed etc.. How things get publicly credited and monies divided up in the end is one aspect..but for the most part, the end game has been to put out the absolute best product. The bottom line is no matter what folks like to believe, not everything recorded is written by the one spitting verses. That applies to folks who some might consider the very best and it applies to some who are relatively unknown.
We see similar process in beat production. Not everyone who is deemed ‘the producer‘ works the drum machine and craft the melodies. By now its common knowledge that revered producer Dr Dre is not in the studio coming up with every single drum track, it doesn’t mean he’s not capable nor would anyone deny is skill as a producer?
On a side note, we also know that over the years everyone from Eminem to Jay-Z have penned raps for Dre.. Have we stopped liking him because it or do we give him dap for doing great records and using the best talent around him..
When you’re making records and you have money invested, in particular major label money, it becomes a team effort. It’s very collaborative where lots of folks have a hand in it. I don’t think the recording process as I’ve seen/ experienced takes away from the writing prowess of an artist, especially someone of the stature of Nas. If anything, one getting co-writers etc is a smart move especially if you’re trying to bring fresh perspectives or push boundaries musically or subject wise.
With all that being said, at the end of the day both Jay Electronica and Stic.man have denied ghostwriting for Nas and unless we were there in the studio with them, we’ll have to take their word for it… Sticman has been particularly humble in terms of expressing his long time admiration for Nas and further explains their recording process in a recent Vibe Magazine interview.
From where I sit, I think folks instead of getting upset at the possibility that they ghostwrote for Nas, they should’ve seen such a move as monumental. Stic and Jay working with Nas, that’s a powerful team. People are acting like these guys are some Johnny-come-lately slouches or some no-name rookies to scoff at..They are not.. They are top shelf artists. If someone like Stic is penning songs, whether it’s for Nas or the guy down the street, its worth a listen especially if it’s on the political tip. Very few do it better.
With respect to dream hampton sending out a tweet which was directed to someone whether right or wrong is not an indictment on journalism-its a tweet. Yes it came from popular person who is a journalist, but a quick look at Dream’s twitter time line, will quickly reveal everything she tweets is not a news story. Far from it.. She shares many opinions, debates folks, shares speculations and gets snarky at times.. Who hasn’t on twitter? It’s barbershop/ beauty shop talk..Media types should not be mining twitter for news stories unless they tend to do due diligence, put things in context and journalistically follow-up.
Dream’s penning of Jay-Z‘s Decoded, her brilliant columns and insightful articles over the past 15 years covering everything from rape to Too Short and sexism to her film on Black August all go out the window over a tweet?? Really?
If folks are really concerned about the Hip Hop journalism and faulty information being passed along to the masses, before going at dream hampton how about we go after those multi-million dollar corporate radio giants that run commercial sponsored gossip/ entertainment reports on the daily. Seems like I’ve heard more foul stuff said about Nas and his failed marriage to singer Kelis and his child support payments on those outlets then I ever seen Dream tweet or write. How many of those stories were accurate? Was Nas really a dead beat dad? How many ran to the bank on those stories without checking to see if it was true or not? Was Hip Hop’s integrity destroyed over those claims or only when it was asserted that Nas may have had some stellar artists pen songs for him?
The harsh and sometimes threatening response to dream was over the top and to be quite honest, cowardly. Was this really because she suggested Nas had ghost writers or because she was a woman? I didn’t see a whole lot of folks getting froggy a few years back when Suge Knight made unsavory remarks about Nas appearing on the song Thug Mansion on 2Pac’s album.. Where was all the ‘you’re a bitch’ and ‘you’re groupie’ rhetoric then? Are we silent when it folks making remarks who are not afraid to talk greasy and mix it up physically with those who are opposed?
Seems like it was just a few short weeks ago when many were coming down on Nas for defending actress Gwyneth Paltrow and giving her a pass tweeting the N word.. Quite a few folks went in on Nas after he claimed Paltrow was a ‘real nigger’, some accused him of falling off and selling out. Some said they’d never listen to a Nas album again..Where was all the tough talk in response to those critiques? This is not to say that folks can’t get at dream hampton and express disappointment or disagreement over her remarks..She is not above criticism. I’m simply suggesting that all of us can come at things a different way.. We can be passionate without threatening, vicious and over-the-top demeaning on the misogynist tip.
For those who feel passionate about Nas and feel he needs to get more shine, here’s something to consider..I checked the recent issues of Billboard, their August 25th Rap Charts and their August 25th Top 50 R&B/ Hip Hop Charts, and you know what was missing? A song from Nas. The man just put out a brilliant album and thus far it seems to be shunned for a whole lot of mediocre stuff..
Outside of Hot 97 in New York and a handful of station here there, most stations according to their playlist ain’t rocking Nas at all..Many feel Nas is a stellar lyricist who helps raise consciousness, so how is that Nas is news worthy enough to be gossiped about when his marriage fails and he’s deemed a dead beat dad, but now worthy enough to be played on some of those same outlets? That’s where people’s anger should be directed..
Let’s not make excuses for these public airwaves to not have songs like Nas’ Daughtersbeing heard 8-10 times a day. We should be angry that young impressionable minds that tune in, are not being exposed to a song that gives encouragement for men to step up and be present for their kids. Why can’t these outlets show any love for the incredible joint he recently did with Knaan called ‘Nothing to Lose‘? Was there no songs off the dope album ‘Good Life’ to expose to the masses?
If folks are gonna ride for Nas, ride for him on some real impactful stuff..Like I said earlier, sure folks can call out dream for being wrong, but how about calling those folks out who really influence and shape minds? If we concerned about the integrity of Hip Hop, get mad and shut those outlets down.. Call those owners and program directors who talk to millions of people at every given moment to do right by Hip Hop if that’s really the issue..Lets’ push to make sure Nas is performing at the next Grammy or BET Award vs someone who has a fraction of his talent.. There’s simply no comparison between dream hampton’s tweet and the powerful forces at work day in and day out systematically undermine Nas and Hip Hop. Let’s get mad at that..
Something to Ponder..