Ghostwriting site Rap Rebirth lends a hand to emcees with writer’s block
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Rap Rebirth founder Jesse Kramer did what any fame- or spotlight-averse rapper might do: he became a ghostwriter.
The 24-year-old self-professed hip-hop head began writing lyrics as a hobby but balked at the idea of becoming an emcee because he “never wanted to be an entertainer,” he said, despite being urged by family and friends to pursue the craft.
After researching, he decided to put his education -– he was a business major at USC at the time -– to launch Rap Rebirth, a site for emcees that need help crafting their next verse, song or album. Launched in 2008, it’s a one-stop shop for rappers looking to purchase customized lyrics.
Kramer has verse ($99.99), song ($349.99), hook ($49.99) and album (price varies) packages available for purchase, and ordering is simple. Tell Kramer your expectations, rap style, subject matter, level of obscenity, artistic influences and regional slang preferences and he does the rest.
The site offers sample verses in the style of rappers such as Drake, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Nas.
His stab at a Jay-Z lyric: ‘Pac and Big my man, on an alternate plane / You Ra, and I’m sorta like Big Daddy Kane / We reign, we past beefin’, past drink and reefin’ / Hold ya applause, Nas, explain to these heathens.’
And business is booming, though he remains tightlipped on his clientele. Naming names defeats the role -- and future employment -- as a rap ghostwriter, he explained.
“Ninety percent of the time it’s completely confidential. I won’t give out their name. Sometimes we share credit. Sometimes we don’t,” Kramer said. When asked about his customer base, he described it is a mix of up-and-comers putting together mixtapes and demos -- though he claims that 10% of his work is “things that you’d hear on TV or on the radio now” from recognizable names -- though he declines to offer specifics.
Kramer understands his job treads a fine line, and for a genre like rap in which authenticity remains paramount, the news that a rapper has employed a ghostwriter often leads to ridicule. To this day rappers like Diddy, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Bow Wow have never been able to escape rumors of hiring ghostwriters.
“In hip-hop, a lot of what’s perceived to be good music is perceived to be authentic and personal. In the ‘90s it was all about credibility. That has changed a bit,” Kramer said. “Diddy once said, ‘Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks.’ Early on the stigma of the ghostwriter was strong. It’s been part of hip-hop to keep ghostwriting on the down low.”
Kramer admits the job is tricky. If a song he writes becomes a multi-platinum smash, he doesn’t cash in since “all rights are transferred to the artist” and he makes absolutely no claims on royalties. He promised business is lucrative, despite not claiming royalties.
He does, however, have his limits and he said this has led to him turning down work.
“If it’s overly violent, overly misogynistic or homophobic in its content I won’t do it,” Kramer said. “If somebody doesn’t have an artistic vision, I generally don’t work with them on that. I’ve also been hesitant to write diss songs since we know that sort of thing can escalate.”
— Gerrick D. Kennedy
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Top photo: Screenshot of the Rap Rebirth website.