The following is an excerpt from the book You Made It a Hot Line; The most influential lines in hip hop. The names are real. The lyrics are real. Enjoy!
Artist: P Diddy
Song Title / Album: Bad Boys for Life/ The Saga Continues
Label/Year: Bad Boy Records / Arista Records July 2001
Really Puff? Really P, Poppa Diddy, Dirty Money Pop? When Sean “P. Diddy” Combs publicly declared what many hip hop fans had known for years, it still came as a shock to the collective system. Ghost writing, a term that refers to having another writer pen your lyrics, is common practice in pop music and R&B but was always seen as the ultimate taboo in early hip hop music (and still is…sorta.) Unlike R&B and pop, where the artist is judged solely on delivery and their ability to carry a tune, one of hip hop’s unwritten rules regarding delivery is that whomsoever delivereth the message over the microphone shall also be the original author of said message.
Emcees are judged on the flow and delivery of their OWN words. The Meek may inherit the earth but they will certainly rise up and try to eat Drake’s cakes if they suspect him of plagiarism. Having another wordsmith pen your rhymes in hip hop is considered a prosecutable offense in a court of hip hop law. The esteemed judiciary committees that gathered ‘round corner stores, bodegas and park benches daily to litigate on behalf of their favorite emcee would have had all ghost written rhymes deemed inadmissible. As Justice “Supreme” Fuquan Johnson passionately argued in the trial of Rappers Delight, Gandmaster Cas v. Big Bank Hank et al; “Nah son, he ain’t even write that shit!” Ghost writing is truly an atrocity of Milii Vanilli-esque proportions. But not for Diddy.
What would have been considered a slap in the face to hip hop at one point in time was given a pass partly because of the individual who said it and partly due to hip hop’s industrialized status at that point in time. The genre had been firmly ingested by the mega corporations by 2001 and the focus was more on record sales and revenue and less on artistic merit. P. Diddy, whose career began as an A&R, was notably revered more so for his ability to R&D talent, sell water to whales and tuxedos to penguins than he was for “kicking wicked rhymes like a fortune teller.” Diddy was never considered an emcee in the truest sense of the word. Most viewed his lyrical efforts as more of an attempt to sell music than to artistically express his deepest thoughts a la Jack Handey.
What made Diddy’s brazen admission even more passable was the fact the Puffy does indeed have a love for hip hop culture and an overall understanding and recognition for talent and development. As Poppa Diddy Pop never professed to be more than he was when it came to lyrical supremacy, no harm, no foul. He has also had the wherewithal to cut a check for those most prolific at providing funky lyrical content… their OWN funky lyrical content.
It is fitting then (and oddly ironic) that the emcee most noted for calling out the transgression of ghostwriting in hip hop is not an emcee at all and was, in fact, calling himself out. Oh well. If you can’t beat ‘em… “Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Bad Boy. Come on!”
Janita – Three Songs She’d Love to Have Written
Janita’s newest album Here Be Dragons is another in a progression of finely crafted hymns for the empowered. Whether by love, as in the silky “I Do,” or by subverting expectations, in the Beatlesesque “Not What You’re Used To,” Janita draws on lessons learned during a positively unique career that spans decades and continents. We caught up with Janita on the heels of her latest single “When It’s All Up To You” to find out three songs she’d love to have written.
Elliott Smith — “L.A.”
This is one of my favorite songs by Elliott Smith. I listened to the full album Figure 8 a lot while I was writing the songs on my new album, and it was a huge influence on me both melodically and lyrically. This song in particular has also informed some of the production choices we made later, like the heavier guitars you hear on my song “Not What You’re Used To.”
“L.A.” is incredibly melodic, but there’s an elusive, haunting quality to it. It feels like you’re always trying to reach it, catch up to it somehow. The backing vocals accentuate that feeling. In my mind, the song paints such a vivid picture of the ephemeral, fickle nature of L.A., and the similarly transient nature of the main character. Elliott Smith himself? I don’t know exactly how he does (did) it, but I’m certainly in awe of it.
Radiohead — “There There”
So hypnotic. So badass. Could the production possibly be any cooler? The melody is intricate and beautiful, and I can relate to the lyric from every which angle: as the singer, as the one being sung to, and whether in love relationships, friendships, or with total strangers. The subject matter simply comes up in life in so many ways all the time… I recently tried to express similar notions as I was writing a song, only to remember that it was already done here perfectly. Goddammit.
Punch Brothers — “Julep”
This song is simply magical to me. It’s made me bawl my eyes out at a Punch Brothers concert two separate times. It’s like that viral video that was circulating some years ago of a baby moved to tears when her mom sings a sad tune. I’m that baby when it comes to this song. It simply hits some sort of primal button in me and keeps pressing it until the very end.
While you’re at it, check out Janita’s video for “Digging in the Dirt,” a funky and faithful rendition of the Peter Gabriel classic.
New Music – Bachelor
Jay Som’s Melina Duterte and Palehound’s Ellen Kempner join forces as Bachelor – a musical powerhouse whose new record Doomin’ Sun drops May 28th on Polyvinyl.
Kemper and Duterter recorded the album during two weeks of mutual appreciation in California. Three visceral singles have been released in the lead-up, including the Pixies-flavored “Stay in the Car” and the sprawling “Anything At All.”
Bachelor has also announced the Doomin’ Sun Fest, a one-day livestream featuring Tegan & Sara, Courtney Barnett, Adrianne Lenker, Jeff Tweedy, Japanese Breakfast, Julien Baker, and more.
Self-Serving Interview with Electronic Device Does Little to Advance Musician’s Career
Two men that look suspiciously alike meet outside a fictitious Brooklyn hot-spot – six feet apart.
MC Krispy E: Very nice to meet you. (squints) Have we met before?
Electronic Device: Maybe?
MC Krispy E: Is the rest of the band joining us?
Electronic Device: (pause) I am the rest of the band.
MC Krispy E: You are Electronic Device? What’s that about?
Electronic Device: Uhm, yeah, it’s like a pen name. You know what that is, right?
MC Krispy E: I have some idea.
Electronic Device: It was actually the name of one of my dad’s companies back in the day before…
MC Krispy E: (looking at his watch) Wonderful. So… it says here you have a new single called “All Things Come to an End” inspired by the death of your brother.
Electronic Device: Yeah, after my brother died I recorded songs as a form of therapy in his old bedroom in Staten Island.
MC Krispy E: And now I read that you have cancer. Am I supposed to feel extra sorry for you?
Electronic Device: Uhm…
MC Krispy E: It sounds like this album is going to be super depressing.
Electronic Device: It’s not, I swear. I was looking for some happiness while recording these songs, there’s not much of an agenda beyond that.
Electronic Device: I wasn’t really thinking about influences while recording, but listening back I hear some Concrete Blonde, some Cracker.
MC Krispy: So bands no one is interested in?
Electronic Device: What the hell, man?
MC Krispy: Sorry, it’s almost like I can’t help it. What’s the single about?
Electronic Device: I hate saying what a song is about because everything is up for interpretation.
MC Krispy E: Humor us.
Electronic Device: I can say that “All Things Come to an End” has multiple narrators, some of which are unreliable.
MC Krispy E: (stares)
Electronic Device: And that one day I was at my Dad’s house and when I turned the corner into the hallway my Dad thought I was my brother for a moment, which was super sad because of course I couldn’t be.
MC Krispy E: And then you wrote a whole song about that.
Electronic Device: I guess so. When you put it that way…
MC Krispy E: (yawning) Tell us when the single come out.
Electronic Device: The single is out now. The album comes out in 2021.
MC Krispy E: Well, good for you. And good luck with that cancer thing.
Electronic Device: Yeah, you too.
MC Krispy E: Thanks. What?