The topic of ghostwriting can be a sensitive one.
Everyone knows about the whole Drake/Meek Mill saga when Meek found out Quentin Miller wrote Drake’s verse on Meek’s song “R.I.C.O.” and lost his shit on social media.
A few years ago, Kendrick Lamar spoke to Rolling Stone about the idea of ghostwriting in rap, saying that ghostwriting is fine and all, but it really depends on the art form you’re trying to express.
Kendrick said of ghostwriting:
“It depends on what arena you’re putting yourself in. I called myself the best rapper. I cannot call myself the best rapper if I have a ghostwriter. If you’re saying you’re a different type of artist and you don’t really care about the art form of being the best rapper, then so be it. Make great music. But the title, it won’t be there.”
I think Kendrick is probably right in this case.
Rap is all about what you say, rappers are judged off the content and quality of their bars. Whereas other genres, like pop music, are mostly defined by who is singing and how they’re saying it.
Huge pop artists are not criticized when they have a song written for them, that’s just part of the business.
It is interesting to see which popular artists write for other artists as a sort of side hustle.
Artists like Ne-Yo, The-Dream, Frank Ocean, and PartyNextDoor just have a particular knack for writing hit songs and that can be one hell of a profitable skill.
Here’s a list of hit songs written by other artists.
PartyNextDoor wrote Rihanna’s “Work”
PND has his own catalog of fire R&B, most of which he produced himself. Dude is a talent.
But the Toronto crooner also has a solid list of songs penned for other artists. Not only did he write “Work,” he also wrote “Sex With Me” for Rihanna, as well as “Preach” and “With You” for Drake, and DJ Khaled’s Jay-Z and Beyonce duet “Shining.”
But as for “Work,” PartyNextDoor didn’t write it as a club song and despite his own moniker, he has trouble writing “party songs.”
PND told Rolling Stone about writing party songs, specifically “Work”:
“I tried this year to make the party songs. It wasn’t in me. People think [“Work” is] a party song. It’s a breakup song. It’s blues. I went from braggadocious to blues.”
Rihanna damn sure turned it into a party song. Peep the reference track for “Work” below, I don’t care what he says, dude knows how to pen a hit.
Kanye West wrote Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name”
The lead single off Alicia Keys’ 2003 album The Diary of Alicia Keys was an absolute hit.
I’m sure many of you remember the music video, starring Mos Def as the love interest of Keys’ that doesn’t know her name.
Just goes to show Kanye’s ridiculous talent, spinning a sample of the song “Let Me Prove My Love To You” by The Main Ingredient and pairing it with Keys’ own piano skills.
The sample is vintage Kanye, but of course Alicia Keys was the exact right person for the track and her album would go on to win the Grammy for Best R&B Album.
Jay-Z wrote Dr. Dre’s verse on “Still D.R.E.”
For anyone that’s seen The Defiant Ones, Dr. Dre isn’t one to hide the fact that he has songs and verses written for him, his skills are suited to the production side.
So on “Still D.R.E.” Dre turned to Jay-Z to pen his verse.
When you listen to Dre’s verse, you can hear some Jay-Z trademarks laying out in plain sight.
We got an official Dre and Jay collaboration on “The Watcher 2” off The Blueprint 2.
Swae Lee wrote Beyonce’s “Formation”
As the story goes Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd was freestyling on the drive to Coachella and spit “O.K. ladies, now let’s get in formation,” and producer Mike Will stopped him. Mike Will told the New Yorker he knew they had something:
“I’m like, ‘Dog, we got to do that “get in formation” shit.’ That could be a hard song for the ladies. Some woman-empowerment shit. Like, ‘Ladies, let’s get in line, let’s not just fall for anything.’”
The song would become the lead single off Beyonce’s smash album Lemonade.
The-Dream wrote Rihanna’s “Umbrella”
The-Dream is one of those stars of the music world behind many of the hits of other artists.
One of the lead singles off Rihanna’s transformative 2007 album Good Girl Gone Bad, “Umbrella” was actually initially written for Britney Spears, but her label wasn’t down.
Shouts out to that label for causing Rihanna to take “Umbrella” instead.
Peep the reference track from The-Dream above.
Otis Redding wrote Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”
The great Otis Redding initially wrote and recorded “Respect” in 1965 with some pretty different instrumentation.
Redding’s version had a very different tone, almost of desperation. When Aretha got her hands on the track, she spun it into a feminist anthem and a much bigger hit.
Both versions have their merits, but Aretha’s takes the cake as one of the greatest soul songs of all time.
Ne-Yo wrote Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”
Ne-Yo is one of the industry’s great pop writers. Ne-Yo gifted Beyonce with one of her biggest hits in “Irreplaceable.”
Just switch around some pronouns and you have a tailor-made hit.
Bruno Mars wrote Cee-Lo Green’s “F*ck You”
While this was a slightly collaborative effort, Mars wrote much of Cee-Lo Green’s 2010 smash-hit “F*ck You.”
Mars, while a massive star in his own right, also has quite the collection of songwriting credits including Adele’s “All I Ask,” Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire,” Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” and Flo Rida’s “Right Round.”
That’s quite the list.