Diddy's Little Helpers

Why hip-hop ghostwriting is an art now, and an actually respectable one

Which brings us to Diddy. On Press Play, he turns to Jayceon Taylor (a/k/a the Game) for West Coast signifiers, though nary an Eazy-E namecheck emerges among the recycled rhymes of "We Gon' Make It." Of course, Diddy knows delegation. When Dr. Dre split from Ruthless Records, Eazy wallowed in bitterness. Diddy's feelings when Biggie Smalls died, as articulated by Sauce Money, were Grammy-winning.

On a lot of the other records, to be honest, I didn't do a whole lot of writing. On this one . . . I exposed myself with everybody's most sensitive subject, and that's the subject of love. —Diddy, to People

Be thankful he only writes checks.
photo: AFP/Getty Images
Be thankful he only writes checks.

Such a confessional spin on Press Play's conception warrants a Clio, if not a Grammy. Ripping a few pages from Chuck D and scandal-plagued politicians, he apologized to purists for past transgressions and made saccharine pledges to be authentic now. Diddy neutralized ghostwriting's shame and stigma by affecting complete openness, magnanimously letting prospective writers bask in his reflected glory: Common was honored to work with Diddy on a heartfelt record about his (that is, Diddy's) father.

Prospective writers' identities generated guest-list hype well ahead of the official track listing's release—for example, Roots mastermind Questlove told XXL that Black Thought was on board for three tracks. Diddy sponged off this credibility, but he also elevated them from assembly- line workers to collaborators. What was that about Chuck D? He's a busy man too—Public Enemy's Rebirth of a Nation was written and produced by Paris. Could Paris become the Linda Perry to a disillusioned pop rapper's Pink? Could we hear Bow Wow talking openly about shopping for political verses the way he'd rave about beat selection?

This is the man who provided more jobs for blacks than armed services. —Diddy, as written by Pharoahe Monch, on "The Future"

Of course, we were hustled a bit. Among the writerly ringers who materialize in the Press Play liner notes: T.I. ("Wanna Move") and Royce da 5'9" ("Tell Me"). Hangers-on like Da Band's Ness see credit. Leroy Watson and Jacoby White—a/k/a Bad Boy apprentices Aasim and Jody Breeze—show up more frequently, though their precise roles are unclear: Watson is credited with "vocal arrangement for Diddy" throughout. Seems like a euphemism for "copy editor and flow aerobics instructor."

Knowing they weren't collecting an anonymous paycheck, did the writers feel the urge to leave calling cards that ring out as sharply as "Ether" from Diddy's mouth? Did Nas imagine himself several hundred millions richer—I am the honorable Diddy—claiming the heart of the city? So it's Diddy who knows a "chick from Watts with Bad Boy tatted on her breast," huh? Did writing "We Gon' Make It" allow the Game to work through angst lingering from his debut album The Documentary's own contested authorship?

Pharoahe Monch (Thanks for the New Perspective) — Press Play liner-note shout-out

Comparing Diddy's flow to Jay-Z's is as fair as comparing Jay-Z's jump shot to, say, Jordan's. Yet on Press Play's most compelling tracks, "The Future" and "Hold Up," hearing Diddy grind out a fair Monch facsimile rap is like watching Jay leap from his courtside seats into a Nets game: "Shit, he's kinda hustling, playing D, and passing all right." Those highlights present Puff as both patron and apprentice: a latter-day Medici who happily colored between Pharoahe-Monch-as-Michelangelo's lines, eventually purchasing the work for home-gallery display. Jay-Z borrowing flows for more than a few bars? Unseemly laziness. Diddy, a hundred-millionaire marathoner, straining to emulate a lifelong asthmatic? Absolute reverence.

So Puff, which Monch track hooked you? Even if it was "Simon Says," thanks for giving him some shine. Oh, and about "If I Was Diddy," that Termanology track that just dropped. He auditioning for some work? Did I miss something in the liners?

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