While the alleged ghostwriting controversy between Canadian rapper Drake and Memphis spitter Kia Shine over the hit single “Best I Ever Had” proved much ado about nothing, there are still plenty of instances of anonymous producers, songwriters, and rappers who have contributed to some of the biggest hits from pop to hip-hop. Here are a few. —Keith Murphy
“Get It Up”
Written, produced, and composed by Prince
This explicit, outrageously funky 1981 track, 12 years later covered by R&B-hip-hop trio TLC, attributed production and songwriting credits to a mysterious Jamie Starr. Who was Prince trying to fool? In actuality, the Time, at least on record, was really the charismatic, too-cool-for-school front man Morris Day and his criminally gifted, diminutive Minneapolis cohort, who wrote, engineered and arranged the music, played all the instruments, sang back-up and made pancakes. Show off.
A Tribe Called Quest
“Jazz (We’ve Got)”
Produced originally by Pete Rock
During a visit to Pete Rock’s recording studio in early 1991, acclaimed A Tribe Called Quest frontman and producer Q-Tip apparently liked one of the Chocolate Boy Wonder’s beats so much, he jacked it for his group’s hypnotic single “Jazz (We’ve Got)” “He was like, ‘You making this for CL?,’ and I said ‘I was just f*cking with it,'” Pete recalled to Wax Poetics in 2004. “But he knew what I used and took the same elements, and made it the exact same way.” The result, which was featured on Tribes’ classic 1991 release The Low End Theory, found Tip making amends of sorts for the misunderstanding by giving the respected soul brother a shout-out (“Pete Rock for the beat ya don’t stop…”). Just cut the check.
“Getting’ Jiggy Wit It”
Written by Nas
While it’s been well-noted in hip-hop folklore that lyrically acclaimed, two-fisted rhyme icon Nas was a ghostwriter for this 1998 Will Smith pop-rap mega-hit, it still remains one of popular music’s most bizarre collaborations. To be clear, PG-rated Big Willie’s hip-hop credibility should never be questioned given that the rapper-turned Hollywood behemoth is one-half of the popular and groundbreaking rap duo Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (really, in the fuck-the-police age of NWA, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was an aberration!). But can you imagine Pablo Picasso ghost-painting Norman Rockwell’s Mother Tucking Children In Bed?
Mary J. Blige
Rap written by Jay-Z
Sure, over the years Jay-Z has anonymously written verses for everyone from Lil’ Kim (“Big Momma Thing”) to Dr. Dre (“The Watcher”). But if it wasn’t for that pesky 2008 song-theft lawsuit involving Mary J. Blige, the Jigga Man and producer Rodney Jerkins, it’s most likely that fans would have never known that Shawn Carter was the pen behind the feisty queen of hip-hop soul’s rapping alias Brook-Lyn.
Co-written by Ne-Yo
When the ever-omnipresent Beyoncé introduced her kick-him-to-the-curve 2006 anthem “Irreplaceable,” the superstar performer proudly noted that she wrote the sassy empowerment track for “my girls.” This was news to singer-songwriter Ne-Yo. “I wrote all of the lyrics and Beyoncé helped me with the melodies, harmonies and the vocal arrangements, which makes it a co-write,” a miffed Ne-Yo told MTV in 2007. Yet, the usually soft-spoken crooner immediately came back to his senses, prompted no doubt by disturbing visions of a none-too-pleased Matthew Knowles paying him a little visit. “I know her personally and I know she would not do me like that.” Great save.