Jay Smooth: Rappers should be free to collaborate

By Arturo Garcia
Monday, August 20, 2012 15:11 EDT
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Hip-hop DJ and activist Jay Smooth called for rappers to be allowed the same freedom to work together that lyricists in other genres enjoy, as he weighed in on the debate over whether Nas, one of rap’s preeminent MCs used ghostwriters years ago.

“For the hip-hop world, this is a cataclysmic, earth-shattering revelation,” Jay said on his webseries Ill Doctrine Monday. “According to the rules of the traditional hip-hop purist, no MC is ever supposed to recite any lyrics that somebody else wrote.”

The debate started last week, when journalist Dream Hampton tweeted that Nas’ 2008 album, “Untitled,” was “largely written by [fellow rappers] [stic.man] of dead prez and Jay Electronica.”

Blogger Frank Miller Jr., aka “FWMJ,” then corroborated Hampton’s statement on his blog, Rappers I Know, saying he received a phone call from Electronica saying he was writing for Nas.

According to MTV, Nas denied the allegation in a radio interview.

“You know who is my ghostwriter?” Nas said. “My friends, people I meet on the street. People say something and I get something from that. Somebody will say something and that sparks something in me.”

The allegations come about two months after Nas’ appearance in rapper/actor Ice-T’s first directorial effort, The Art of Rap, which takes pains to show the craft of rap lyricism as a singular pursuit and frames Nas as one of the masters of the genre.

Things took a nasty turn when Hampton accused producer Just Blaze of saying she should be “bled out” on her tumblr.

“I am done with hip hop and men who collude to silence women,” she wrote. “And done with women who are happy they’re not me.”

Blaze defended the Aug. 15 tweet (“You give us up one more time .. I’ll bleed you…real quiet..and leave ya here”), a line from the sci-fi movie Predator, by tweeting, “I’m pretty sure you don’t follow me. If you did you’d know I quote random 80′s movies all the time.”

In addressing the revolving door of accusations, Jay Smooth was quick to defend both Hampton and Miller’s credibility, while saying he would not have brought the ghostwriting issue up himself.

“They’re not just gonna make this up out of thin air,” he said. “There might be some gray area as far as what, exactly, they’re describing in terms of the collaboration that went on, but they’re not just gonna make this up out of nowhere.”

At the same time, he asked why even collaborating in the first place would automatically stain Nas’ 15-year career, when renowned artists like Duke Ellington or Billie Holiday were known to have worked with others or performed someone else’s songs.

“Why do we hold rappers back from that freedom and tell them they always have to do things one way?” Jay asks. “Is that a rule that really helps everyone make the best music they can make, or is that a rule that helps us fill out our scorecard when we’re playing Rapper Fantasy Sports and arguing about who’s the greatest? The purpose of any rule or tradition in an art form should be to ensure that you have the best art you can make.”

Jay Smooth’s commentary, posted Monday, can be seen below.

Ill Doctrine: Can Ghostwriters Keep It Real? from ANIMALNewYork.com on Vimeo.

Arturo Garcia
Arturo Garcia
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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