Nas Lost (Ghostwriters)

By August 13, 2012 music, Opine, Real Life Comments
© Cognito Gregory Barr

Autumn, but maybe Winter, 2007 was a weird time of life for me. I was one and a half years into my 4 year stint at HOT 97 where I would low key plot on how to somehow have whatever “backpacking” rapper I liked that quarter getting 150 spins a week (hey, I was young and naive, and didn't understand what Radio Business was actually about). One of the gods had fallen.

The day Jay called me at work to tell me he was ghostwriting for Nas was a hard day for me. On one hand, I was happy that a friend of mine that seemingly no one cared an iota for a year or two prior was quickly ascending through the ranks of hip hop as a voice to pay attention to and a career in the making to watch. Earlier that summer we’d posted and artworked Act I and word was quickly spreading that he was a one to watch. Not too long after began that yearly teasing at Christmastime that Act II: The Pledge would be dropping for free as a download that would surely overload my server and shut down my site from traffic. It’s 2013 and we’re still waiting.

Since 1993, Nas has been (no pun intended, but I chuckled anyway) my barometer for what emceeing was supposed to sound like. Even with all the criticisms you could lob at him, whether it be his choice in beats or producers, The Bravehearts, faux mafioso rhymes, affinity for loose cannon women—any fan of Nas could always respond with “but he raps better than you(r favourite rapper), so what is we talkin' bout?”, (basically a “but can you whoop my ass, though?” style of reasoning) and you'd pretty much be left alone. Where other MCs would have odd voices (Jay Z), gimmicky deliveries (Busta Rhymes), overwhelming rhyme patterns (Pharoahe Monch), or were more products of great marketing and affiliation than skill set (Biggie), Nas had that no nonsense, technically dense and descriptive style of writing, that somehow didn't come across as dry as say a Gza might. Clearly this is all matter of personal taste. But for me, Nas was in that small pantheon of rappers, who when they rapped, there was no one else I would rather have rhyming at that moment. Big L, Pharoahe Monch, Snap, Posdnuos, DOOM, Mos Def/Yasiin Bey, Tash from The Liks, Pun, Sean Price, Black Thought. When these cats, rap, I just want everyone else to be quiet and let them do their thing. Each I like for different reasons, but when cats like Nas rap, it's a beautiful use of the English language.

Most of the newer rappers that I like and have used this site and my countless hours of message board arguing and trolling to promote, with few exceptions (Baatin, ODB etc), are definitely branches off the Nas tree or at the very least come from the same same forest/school of rhyming that Nas does.

The crazy part for me was that the mythology of Nas being that 16 year old wunderkind, single handedly making an entire genre of music attempt to step up (with varying results) its lyrics amazed me. The production was no slouch either.

© Cognito Gregory Barr

© Cognito Gregory Barr

I don't recall specific dates, because I actively avoided listening to any of it, but we were either at the tail end of or in the middle of the ringtone era when I got this call from Jay. Rapping was in bad shape on a mainstream level, and that's why the New York DJs as I would witness for the months surrounding any new Nas release would be giddy as hell hoping that the Soulja Boy and Tity Boy songs they are handcuffed to play day in and day out, would come to some sort of balance when a new Nas single that would hit.

You gotta ask yourself, how many times has Nas let you down with a record, and yet you still check the next one? Here’s an equation for you.

X = Total Number of Nas Albums
Y = Illmatic
Z = How Many Times Let Down By Nas Albums

X – Y = Z

I’m good at maths.

You check because despite his inability to put together an album that's pound for pound the quality you (perhaps irrationally) expect from him, at the end of the day he can still out rap the majority of other rappers with major label deals out there doing it.

But then I got a call from Jay telling me that he was ghost writing for Nas. What does that mean? What does that do to your legacy? What does that mean for any of your future recordings?

This is why, I say I am unmoved when I listen to a song where Nas is rapping positively about raising his daughter. After all, this is the same guy that has the absolute worst and most disturbing, while trying not to be, sex raps out; may I never hear another rhyme talking about pentagrams in a woman's vagina or ass play with a beer bottle (“a real joker!”). No really, I'm good.

Or when, after wasting the bulk of his prime years rapping about ice, and cars, and women owing him like 40 acres to blacks over subpar and often trendy production, he turns around and is rapping about free masons and space ships while stutter stepping over verses penned by Jay Electronica in a cadence not his own, I'm confused.

When he finally has a half decent record like Life Is Good, how much can you really trust it? After 3 or 4 listens, I can hear at least 4 or 5 times where he's woefully off beat or out of pocket with the music much like he was when rapping Jay's lyrics in “Queens Get The Money.”

Is Nas just lazy?

When it's public knowledge that the 'greatest lyricist' of our era, has ghost writers, what does that mean? Like, he has the ability to write crazy raps, but it's like doping in the Olympics, how can we ever trust the good results again? This ain't pop music, so it matters if you write your own raps or not. For at least 6 albums, that was the only currency Nas had; his lyrics. How long has he been using ghost writers?

I had an existential crisis that day. I was happy for Jay Elec, but he basically speared a childhood music hero and make a sock puppet out of him.

“Niggas is still Hatin', talkin' that 'Nas fell off with rhymin'…”

You did Nas, you did.

I've been carrying this hurt for years now. I took that call from Jay down the hallway from HOT 97's on-air studio overlooking Hudson St, 7 floors below me. Rap kind of died for me that day. Ironically, HOT 97's tagline at the time was “Where Hip Hop Lives.”

I designed some subway and billboard advertisements that said so.

P.S.

Stic.man on the “controversy”

As far as the rumors about myself and jay electronika ghost writing for Nas, let me say this. Nas is one of the if not the most prolific original lyricist to EVER do it. My contributions to his album was a collaboration and an honor and under his direction of what he wanted to convey and say. Haters cant discredit that man's genuis. Nas is the Don.

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About FWMJ

Founder of Rappers I Know and Art Director to the Stars...of the Underground. Follow him on Twitter @fwmj.

Comments

  1. Zero says:

    It’s no secret that Jay Electronica produced QGTM. They even credit him on the Album, but to claim that Nas’ “Life is Good” album is sub-par, well that’s your opinion but the ratings speak for themselves as they almost directly mirror “Nigger” and neither of them had Jay Electronica or Stic Man as producers. I’m seeing a lot of accusations, with no real validation other than Jay Electronica MAY have written QGTM which I wouldn’t even consider it one of the best tracks on the album so whether or not he wrote it, does it take away from credibility of Nas’ lyricism? No.

    She employed a red herring. Rather than just saying: “I think that Jay writes what he believes,” and leaving it like that I felt that she was offended by the initial comment she was responding to and took a shot at Nas to discredit the commenter.

    Either way evidence is against her; too many inconsistencies to believe that they ghostwrote the majority of the album.

    1. How did she hear these reference tracks? She isn’t a DJ, she isn’t a producer, and she isn’t a emcee.

    2. How would she be anywhere close to the studio or anything coming from it?

    3. Why did she not list the songs in question that she heard were ghostwritten if there were six of seventeen? Especially when she was put under heat and everyone even industry people were saying that she was lying.

    Until these questions are elaborated on with a specific answer then I’ll take all of this as speculation and her attempt to save Jay-Z at Nas’ expense, which, I doubt Jay-Z himself would appreciate.

    I’m not a fan of B.I.G. but what takes away from the credibility of your article is that you say the thing that made B.I.G. so famous is P diddy’s marketing strategy which is a fact, but that’s only exposure. B.I.G’s multisyllabic, story-telling rhyme-schme made him popular. P-diddy only made him known. That’s the purpose of marketing. You have no facts, even less than she does, more so, speculations.

    I’m not taking jabs at you, on contrary, I hope if you respond to this comment you’ll come with adequate clarification as to how you believe that “Untitled” was ghostwritten along with actual comparisons and analytical content.

    As far as the ratings go, let’s compare.

    “Life is good”

    Allmusic: 4/5 stars,
    The Independent: 4/5 stars,
    The Observer: 4/5 stars,
    NME: 8/10,
    Pitchfork: 8.3,
    Rolling Stone: 3 1/2 /5 stars,
    Slant Magazine: 4 1/2 /5 stars,
    Spin: 7/10,
    Entertainment Weekly: B-,
    The A.V. Club: A-,
    Metacritic: 81/100,

    “Untitled”

    Allmusic: 4/5 stars,
    Robert Christgau: A-,
    Entertainment Weekly: B+,
    The Independant: 5/5 stars,
    The New York Times: Mixed,
    Rolling Stone: 4/5 stars,
    Pitchfork Media: 3.8/10,
    Slant Magazine: 3 1/2 /5 stars,
    Spuntnikmusic: 2.5/5 stars,
    Metacritic: 71/100,

    Life is good and Untitled are both good albums but since we are talking opinions here you can clearly see that Life is Good is the more balanced album ratings wise, and reasonably high as well. She is unfamiliar with the album and can’t distinguish the difference between collaborating and ghostwriting.

    The fact that she didn’t call Jay-Z a satanist, one of the main perpetrators of using the word “nigga” and “bitch” with her being such a “feminist” and “revolutionary” this should majorly offend her, also a habitual rhyme biter. It tells me that she was deliberately dick riding him in order to receive brownie points. There is major bias here as I noticed that she consistently name drops Jay-Z telling people how she reviewed his debut album and co-wrote “Decoded”.

    No other stories of conquest.

    Another thing I noticed was how she implied that the majority of Nas album was ghostwritten, as she heard six reference tracks. Even if this was true, there are seventeen songs on the album in total. Let’s do the math shall we, since you love math so much, 17 – 6 = 11, I’ll humor her for a moment and say that she “did” hear reference tracks, 6 of 17 ISN’T a majority.

    There are too many inconsistencies in her claims, not enough proof. So what Jay Electronica and Stic Man don’t exactly say whether or not they ghostwrote tracks for Nas. Even if they did it’s the minority of the tracks even on the Album. Nas’ DID deny having ghostwriters, he didn’t dance around the issue, and Jay Elec and Stic Man even said that Nas’ didn’t require a ghostwriter.

    Jay Electronica: “Nas is one of the Greatest Ever. Never has and never will need a ghostwriter. That man’s pen and legacy is without question.” If that isn’t him blatantly implying that he didn’t ghostwrite for Nas then I don’t know what is.

    As far as Stic Man not being specific on whether or not he wrote for Nas: http://www.vibe.com/article/dead-prez%E2%80%99-sticman-dismisses-ghostwriting-nas-%E2%80%9C-didn%E2%80%99t-happen%E2%80%9D

    That seems pretty specific.

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