For decades, Virginia lyricist Mad Skillz has been a ghostwriter for some of your favorite MCs. While he keeps his clients close to the vest, he has a lot to say about the taboo topic. The rapper opens up to XXL about the stigma surrounding writing for other rappers, what the new generation thinks and the leaks that get people talking. 

I got into [ghostwriting] by accident. So, I can't really speak for anybody else's journey of how they end up in these sessions with these well-known rappers. Sometimes, it might be somebody hearing a song or hearing a few things. You might hear somebody, you want to sign them, and then see them, and then don't want to sign them. Like, Oh, he might have the talent, but he ain't really marketable, or he's not what I was looking for. But the pen, you know, the pen is always something that can help get you to the next level.

I wasn't paying much attention to anything outside of being in front of the microphone, and being in front of the camera. And then I realized that, you know, it was the people that weren't being seen were pulling some strings. I was like, Oh, I could do that. I don't gotta be in the front all the time. That's how it happened for me. But, I don't know how a person would get into ghostwriting right now. You can't even really come up to somebody like, "Yeah, I'm a ghostwriter." That s**t sound crazy.

I would say it comes off now as taboo. I probably would feel the same way if I looked up and found out that some of my favorite songs weren't written by the person that I thought wrote it. If you tell me Rakim didn't write f**king "I Ain't No Joke," I probably would start crying right now, ’cause that's one of my idols.

And also, sometimes, these people are, you know, businessmen, they're moguls. They got companies, and they don't have the time to sit down and craft what they think is, you know, the perfect 16, for real. So that's where people like me come in. I will sit down in the studio and spend all that time trying to construct something that's amazing, ’cause I love creating something out of nothing. I get a kick out of it.

I don't think these kids really care [if a rapper has a ghostwriter]. The funny part is, every time they start talking about ghostwriting, that's when I literally reverse. ’Cause when people are talking about ghostwriting, I don't make no money. It's almost like pulling the curtain back. I realized a long time ago that people like what I say, they just don't necessarily have to know that I'm the one that said it.

[Reference tracks] been around for years. If you go in and you listen to certain demos and references and then you hear the actual song, sometimes you can listen to a reference and know the final product and go, "OK, that's the reason why this person is a superstar." Because where they took that to from where it was, you know, only stars and good artists can do that.

Sometimes it's engineers [that leak reference tracks]. Sometimes it's the artists bringing some attention to their name. And sometimes it's totally not even true. Like when this whole Kendrick and Drake thing started, when the first track came out, everybody was questioning whether or not it was AI. I could leak a reference track tomorrow of me rapping Drake songs that I didn't even write. And because of who I am and what I'm known for, I could get people talking to say, "Oh man, the Drake-Skillz track reference leaked." It wouldn't even be true. I never wrote for Drake.

The information now, it ain't even about whether or not it's right. It's almost about who got it posted first. People don't even fact-check no more. That's why I miss hip-hop journalism. Don't get me wrong, I love what social media has provided us with, but it also put us in a place of discomfort. We questioning everything. Is this true? Is this real? But it's also a gift and a curse, because why believe the truth when a lie is more entertaining? It's crazy, man.

See Rappers' With a History of Ghostwriting