Music

T.I. As Dr. Dre: “Topless,” “Shit Popped Off,” “I Am Hip Hop,” and the Glory of Being Ghostwritten

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We’re up to three or four reference tracks leaked off Dr. Dre’s Detox: “Crack a Bottle” (which 50 has now apparently taken for Before I Self-Destruct), “Topless,” “Shit Popped Off,” and maybe some other ones. “It Could’ve Been You,” on which 50 Cent shouts out a phantom D.R.E.: probably. Eminem did Dre’s verse on “Crack a Bottle”; “Topless” and “Shit Popped Off” were T.I.

This isn’t exactly a scandal–“no one cares if Dre writes his raps,” said a certain Vibe editor when I asked him. There’s maybe a real story behind how this stuff is emerging, Rihanna-mugshot style, from Dre’s notoriously locked-down studio, or maybe there isn’t. If these guys are trading tracks over email, then this was always a possibility. And ghostwriting’s not news, either: cf. probably the most famous line Diddy, another producer/impresario-type, ever spit (and yeah, never wrote).

Indeed, reaching the ghostwriter phase of your career might well represent your entry into the highest possible echelon of rap, the moment when you’re so much a part of the music that people who don’t even know you can plausibly speak with your voice. This is T.I. as Dre on “Topless”: “Look Eazy ain’t a damn thing changed/ I probably still live like we did back in Straight Out of Compton.” That’s a guy who was 14-years-old when Eazy E died addressing him in Dre’s voice. Maybe that’s why on some unarticulated level people really don’t care if Dre writes his own verses, because Dre’s whole myth, persona, and style are so much a part of rap that you could also plausibly argue Dre’s ghostwritten all of rap since 1988, very much including the guys now writing for him.

Nas, meanwhile, might think about employing a ghostwriter of his own, judging by his “Topless” verse: “Your skin’s a traveling bag of your existence/ Yours is shabby and scabbed, while mine’s glistening.” Maybe that Illmatic kid is available.

UPDATE: 2DopeBoyz post “I Am Hip-Hop.” Whoever DJ Prestige is, he better stay far away from Dr. Dre. On the plus side: T.I.’s writing this whole album I guess?

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