Jay-Z caused a seismic shift in Hip-Hop by boldly declaring that no artist in his genre would withstand his barrage in a VERZUZ battle, via Twitter, and the dust still has yet to settle. This moment shined a light on Hip-Hop’s insufferable need to debate and caused an unnecessary divide between music fans regionally and generationally, but what does this prove in the end?
Hip-Hop has existed for nearly five decades and still shows signs of evolving from its early roots in the Bronx and enjoys dominance in the music industry due to its global impact. The passion fans have for their favorites is easily expressed via the free-flowing channels of social media, often derailing into unchecked bouts of opinion versus opinion that spiral out of control. The very subjective nature of entertainment should render some of these discussions moot, but the ego of the observer is typically stronger than the need for measured conversation.
Jay-Z’s confidence is rooted in the Brooklyn native’s early days as a gifted spitter in the late 1980s when he appeared on tracks with Jaz-O, solidifying an early promise that would fully be realized in the mid to late 1990s. Rappers of Jay-Z’s ilk and creed have always thought highly of themselves, and while few have the talent to back their claims of being the best, he is in a relatively small fraternity of rare exceptions.
This fact should be understood by fans, but somehow it misses the mark because as many learned this week, tastes across regional and generational lines are unique. Someone who spent their formative years in New York during the 1980s will have a different take on Hip-Hop than someone who grew up at the same time in Los Angeles or Houston. Yet, the common denominator here is Hip-Hop, and one’s appreciation for the artform is ultimately subjective.
Ask a person from any major American city with a Hip-Hop scene and they’ll surely rattle off familiar names along with the occasional regional star that had success out of their residential confines. Those views change greatly when you factor in the age of the listener, and nostalgia is a comfort that listeners will chase down when it comes to elevating their faves. When the views differ, this is where arguments are sparked and never truly settled.
Being privy to barbershop debates or friendly street corner banter, Hip-Hop often creeps up in these discussions. For every fan of The Notorious B.I.G., there is a 2Pac fan. If you meet a fan of Texas duo UGK, on the other side is a supporter of Tennessee’s 8Ball & MJG. If a person declared any of these acts their favorite, they shouldn’t get any pushback. However, the age of social media magnifies these types of debates, and none have been as asinine as the discussions around Jay-Z and Lil Wayne.
Lil Wayne, like Jay-Z, honed his rapping craft as a teenager and is certainly the busier rapper between the two. The VERZUZ quip from Hov got a lot of fans heated and Tunechi’s name was tossed into the hat as someone who would be a worthy opponent in the battle. It is documented that the men have admired each other’s talents and even taken swipes at each other, but it doesn’t appear that there’s any tension in existence today.
While no solo studio albums from either of these greats surfaced in 2021, both showed exemplary skill via features and guest appearances. And it should be assumed that both parties have their respective business affairs in order. So the question that needs answering is: why do we want them to go to war? What do these men gain from VERZUZ? Why is VERZUZ being treated like an actual battle instead of the celebration of art that Swizz Beatz and Timbaland continually say it is? Further, why is there bloodlust to see two Black and highly successful artists attempt to humble each other?
The simple answer is Hip-Hop has always been a competitive space, and we’re not arguing that. What we are examining is the incessant need to debate until veins pop out of foreheads over semantics, hypothetical what-ifs, closely-held biases, and personal preference. Hip-Hop debates might be fun for five minutes but they’re extremely boring and ineffective at moving the music and culture to a better place. Hot takes and ridculing one another over what is enjoyable to the ear is flat out stupidity.
There is no good rason that Jay-Z’s VERZUZ statement, in which he didn’t name anyone, should have people ready to delete folks from their friend lists. It’s his view and one he shouldn’t have to defend to a bunch of Internet strangers. The same goes for Lil Wayne, who has continued to mind his business, declaring himself the best rapper alive several times over, and living life to his standards.
Hip-Hop doesn’t need to witness how Jay-Z would fare in a VERZUZ battle, especially when he’s already said he doesn’t intend to do so. Lil Wayne, to our knowledge, hasn’t made a peep about the battle either. The better option here is to appreciate both of these titans of the culture and hope that whatever creative endeavors they engage in from this point on will be of the high quality we’ve come to expect.