Saturday night’s (March 20) Verzuz battle between two of Wu-Tang Clan’s star members, Raekwon The Chef and Ghostface Killah, was clearly one of the best out of the two dozen match-ups that have taken place over the past year. Starting in March 2020, during the very on set of the quarantine lock down, Swizz Beatz and Timberland (legendary music producers of Jay-Z, DMX, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce) founders of Verzuz -the tune tussle platform – had an impromptu trading of tracks they produced, going song for song for nearly five hours. Their intense competitive energy spilled into the the comment section of the Instagram Live feed they had this duel on. What happened next were words of encouragement to get other musical artists to compete in the format as well. The two businessmen knew they were on to something and started lining up battles (DMX vs. Snoop Dogg, 2 Chains vs. Rick Ross, even the infamous Teddy Riley vs. Babyface) that kept the locked down social media loving audience entertained for months.
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Fast forward to March 2021, with the national stay at home orders lifting and with spring upon us, Verzuz finds its self in the best of positions as Swizz and Timbaland have turned a friendly rivalry into a mega branded business. A business that has attracted tens of millions of social media views and past partnerships (Apple Music), to more cultural touch points (meme generating central) and shareholding in the digital app Triller. The latter is the curveball as most would have thought that if any deals were to be made with the powerhouse stage for celebrating great artists, it would have been with their co-producing partners in Apple Music. Yet, a few weeks ago, Swizz and Timbo announced the sale to the music video clip app, which also gave all previous Verzuz participants stock in the Triller brand. Pretty good pick up for some generational production geniuses.
All of that leads up to the latest battle between the Wu-Tang swordsmen, Raekwon and Ghostface. Their highly anticipated face-off didn’t come without scrutiny, where some die-hard Wu fans argued that the famed duo should have been going against the likes of other Hip-Hop tandems like Smif-N-Wesson, CNN’s Capone and Noreaga and even two-thirds of The Lox’s Styles P and Jadakiss. Understanding the excitement that those battles would have brought, there was something uniquely special about Rae and Ghost going head up this time. Without spoiling any plots in the Hulu series based on the lives and formation of the Staten Island, New York nine (sometimes 10) member rap group titled Wu Tang: An American Saga, there are parts that state these two guys were once enemies, but grew into brothers. They are linked collaborators to the highest degree, with tons of classic tracks, verses, skits and interludes on their albums and others. So the stories that would be shared were of epic realness and deep relevance to their careers and brotherhood.
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After a few days of playful digs and well promoted taunts of torture, last night they burst onto the screens of the Instagram and Triller apps with that trademark fly guy energy. If you’ve ever seen them perform live, they literally feed off of the other’s life force, finish the other’s sentences and come up with the most remarkable ways to describe anything. For example, there was a moment in the show where Ghostface needed his mic level raised in the speakers, Rae turns to the sound person (like at a concert) and demands on behalf of Ghost that the tech “lift him up, lift him up!” You gotta love that…and love was shown throughout the night, even as the oft thrown competitive dagger sliced the air amongst the poisonous darts of masterclass rhymes.
Straight out the gate Ghost and Rae hit round one of 20 with vigor, choosing to offer feature gems in Ghost’s “Special Delivery (Remix)” verse on Bad Boy Records artist, G. Dep’s early 2000s club hit. Rae opted to sling his scorcher of a 16 with Outkast’s “Skew It On The Bar-B.” Tough round to judge, but most of the rounds were like that. The forth set was a monster with, “Mighty Healthy” by Ghost ringing off right before Raekwon’s steely, “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” Rae exclaiming, “You ready for me to boil you, man?” and Ghost replied with, “That was a leg shot! I had to sit down,” only scratches the surface of how tense the records were, but how cool they baited one another.
That type of energy flowed through the night, as the best friends traded war stories, both shared and separate. Some were rooted in how hard it was to follow certain verses when one flamed the track, to how they jetted out the country to craft the universally acknowledged magnum opus album from 25 years ago, Only Built For Cuban Linx…. To carry forth that comrade aura, some guest stars dropped by in Wu-Tang founder RZA, who toasted to the brothers and gave them their flowers. The always witty and sensei slangologist, Cappadonna came through for his “Ice Cream” verse and to crack jokes, as did Klan marksman, Inspectah Deck who flowed marvelously on the ultimate Wu banger “C.R.E.A.M.” There was also a brief visit by the colorfully outfitted oldest son of Old Dirty Bastard in Young Dirty Bastard. His unhinged spirit is always appreciated, a king’s salute was given to ODB’s soul.
While the night grew on (which started on time for once), the fellas were feeling the massive effects of some of the lively drinks they were sippin’ on provided by Ciroc. There was even a wardrobe change by Ghostdini, at the tenth round/halfway mark, where he returned in a full-length mink, which he strutted then shed to exposed a leather New York Yankees jacket matched to the blue and cream Wallabee Clark shoes he spoke so heavily about on various tracks. Let’s not leave out Raekwon’s exclusive kicks that Ghost had to give some shine to (along with Rae’s all-black leather cargo pocketed pants…straight G style).
The guys got in a groove and started to ponder about life and statements such as Ghost’s, “This pandemic…I pray more. I been in touch with the most high more and he’s showing me things. The most high put this on us…it’s a reset. He then traveled to a seemingly more futuristic realm and declared that the world may only have like, “…a buck 50 or 200 years left.” A sobering thought, but one that falls inline with the many themes that Wu-Tang covers in their “lessons.” Raekwon steered the moment back into present-day and balanced the tone.
Bringing the night to another deep moment was the approach to the ending of the night as the more somber “All That I Got Is You,” by Ghostface, which is a sure-fire tear-jerker. They both explained how they didn’t want to cry during the track’s play. Love was expressed in all forms and then the DJs picked up the pace to old school R&B park jam music to close the night out…rightfully so, with the guys shouting out loved ones and crew members and two-stepping the night to an end. But not before they both got to announce new projects (Ghost saying he’s putting out five albums and a sixth being Cuban Linx Part 3 “We shuttin’ the trilogy,” said Rae) and preview new tracks each, they may have been lit off the liquor, but not slow on the draw to get more mileage out of a terrific night of honor and grace and praise. Triller, Verzuz (Swizz and Timb also dropped the flyer with some upcoming matches on deck, including Earth, Wind & Fire vs. The Isley Brothers!) and the people won this battle of battles. Check the tracks from this showcase in order below, courtesy of Tidal.