This iteration of the quarantine-induced VERZUZ style battles organized by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz made it the center of the Hip Hop community for the weekend as its viewership peaked at 850,000.
Legions of fans and Hip Hop comtemporaries and icons, celebrities and entertainment industry executives including Drake, T.I., Method Man, Stephen Hill, Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody, Run The Jewels, DJ QBert and countless others tuned in for the three-hour euphoric experience.
Premier and RZA went deep to diversify their playlists and trade backstories about the 30 hit records and fan-favorites that span nearly 30 years since their releases.
This includes latter producer’s 24 cuts he co-created for Wu-Tang Clan and his fellow Brooklyn and Staten Island swordsmen’s solo albums. While DJ Premier comparatively finessed eight Gang Starr Foundation member-affiliated songs among his cache of underground masterpieces and radio-friendly tracks ranging from Nas, JAY-Z to Christina Aguilera, the Wu leader stuck closely to his fellow Brooklyn and Staten Island swordsmen’s solo albums.
Because RZA and Preemo didn’t have time to play all of their classics, here are 10 extra monster tracks from each producer’s catalog that missed the turntables to give you an extra jolt of nostalgia.
GZA f. Method Man – “Shadowboxin”
From Liquid Swords, the GZA’s seminal sophomore album, “Shadowboxin'” is laden with RZA’s rock-solid production and layered with two of the Killa Bees in their prime.
Gang Starr – “Full Clip”
After Big L and Fat Joe’s “The Enemy” got some shine, Premier and RZA reminisced on their connections to the Harlem legend and his indelible mark in the rap game before his 1999 murder. Preemo’s commemorative opening lines “Big L, rest in peace” before his reverberating five-note jazzy bass loop and bluesy guitar plucks, airy crowd applause samples with punchy snares and Guru’s first verse would’ve been great to represent the memory of both late greats.
Raekwon f. Ghostface Killah & Masta Killa – “Glaciers of Ice”
In the midst of the battle, RZA and DJ Premier paused to pay respects to the magnanimous impact of Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, or as it is more widely regarded, The Purple Tape. “Glaciers of Ice” is backed by a sophisticated and undeniably raw RZA beat, complete with wafting sampled vocals.
Gang Starr – “Take It Personal”
“Take It Personal” from Gang Starr’s 1992 album Daily Operation is among Premier’s underground masterpieces. Its lead single’s rumbling opening layered drum loop and booming bass drum smacks with Guru’s tale of being jilted by an ex-lover and declared is na enduring banger among rap savants.
Ghostface Killah f. U-God, Masta Killa, Cappadonna & Raekwon – “Winter Warz”
“Winter Warz” is an unstoppable lyrical onslaught with Wu-Tang Clan members Ghostface Killah, U-God, Masta Killa, Cappadonna and Raekwon seamlessly handing off verses. The snake-charmer flute which fades in with the song highlights RZA’s diverse range of influences.
Nas – “Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)”
Among the three flawless tracks that Premier produced on Nas’ magnum opus Illmatic, “Memory Lane” is Preemo’s most ebullient and intimate which sports thunderous drums, heavy snare and bass drum slaps that bring a Phil Spector-like wall of sound.
Ghostface Killah f. Method Man – “New Wu”
The only track on this list from 2009’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, “New Wu” contains some of RZA’s most soulful and delicate sounds. It helped usher in the new era of Raekwon and the Clan.
Gang Starr – “Work”
In this Gang Starr fan favorite from their Moment Of Truth released in 1998, Premier’s towering horns and thumping bass line with piercing sirens in the background sync with Guru’s resounding yet signature monotone cool about reaping the benefits of his decades of devotion to the art of MCing and achieving success in the rap industry.
RZA – “Holocaust (Silkworm)”
In 1998, the world was introduced to one of RZA’s alter egos, Bobby Digital. “Holocaust (Silkworm)” from Bobby Digital in Stereo, RZA’s debut solo project under the name RZA, features the super-producer’s tendencies towards grand, orchestral sounds and vibrating synths.
Gang Starr f. K-Ci & JoJo – “Royalty”
Premier’s New York block party dub-style bass and scintillating bells, one of 90s R&B most seminal duos and Jodeci alums K-Ci & JoJo and Guru’s smooth diatribe about their timeline of ascending to rap’s pantheon is as equally danceable for an old school Hip Hop block party and inspirational as a powerful church sermon.
Ghostface Killah – “Stroke of Death”
The production on “Stroke of Death” is aggressive and off-putting. The sound’s texture is jagged and the turntable scratching displays is RZA at his hardest. Ghostface’s delivery is razor sharp and the track even features a belligerent verse with Larry Johnson ramblings from RZA himself.
Gang Starr f. Big Shug & Freddie Foxx – “The Militia”
During the battle, Premier and RZA played the first verses of each song in their set list and “The Militia” has a laconic yet sinister opening verse from Big Shug. The battle was an important history lesson, and playing this cut from the Moment Of Truth album would’ve been a history to Gang Starr’s original member and its Boston roots.
Wu-Tang Clan – “Uzi (Pinky Ring)”
Wu-Tang Clan’s fourth album, Iron Flag, may have been released in 2001, eight years since the Wu’s iconic 36 Chambers, but the project sounds like a polished rendition of any number of classic Wu tracks. RZA’s inclusion of a booming brass section is the finishing touch on this track.
Bahamadia f. K-Swift & Mecca Star – “3 The Hard Way”
There were no tracks from female rappers played but Bahamadia’s underground classic “3 The Hard Way” featuring K-Swift and Mecca Starr from the Philadelphia-based Gang Starr Foundation affiliate’s first-rate debut album Kollage holds it down for the ladies with their dexterous wordplay over Premier’s melodic keyboards with 80s and 90s Hip Hop’s oft-sampled “The Champ” over and boom bap swing.
A$AP Mob f. Zombie Juice, Meechy Darko, Playboi Carti, Joey Bada$$, Kirk Knight & Nyck Caution – “What Happens”
The most contemporary track to be featured, “What Happens” is a hard-hitting collaboration between the old and new generations of New York rap. With most of Beast Coast appearing on the track (and Atlanta’s Playboi Carti), RZA is the passing of the torch to the leaders of the new New York era.
PRhyme – “U Looz”
Producer and jazz musician Adrian Younge made his presence felt in the comments during the battle. Younge contributed his smorgasbord of samples for frequent collaborators Royce Da 5’9″ and Preemo on their debut joint album and 2014 DX Album of the Year PRhyme, including its home run single “U Looz.”
GZA f. RZA, Killah Priest & Ghostface Killah – “4th Chamber”
A surefire way to ignite a crowd, “4th Chamber” sounds far ahead of its time. With a beat that oscillates between heavy synths and a classic boom-bap format, the listener awaits each moment of the track on the edge of their seat.
Gang Starr – “Code Of The Streets”
DJ Premier played Gang Starr’s biggest hit “Mass Appeal” from their fourth album Hard To Earn. The Houston native’s wormy Morse code twists in his scratches to color in the vertices for the latter song’s intro and chorus over his four-bar somber, orchestral strings and throbbing acoustic bassline sample loops on “Code Of The Streets” is Premier at the height of his powers.
Ghostface Killah f. Cappadonna & Raekwon – “Daytona 500”
“Daytona 500” from Ghostface Killah’s Ironman is a staple of New York Hip Hop. RZA’s beat-shattering scratches are made complete with a militant verse from Cappadonna and the iconic one-two punch that is Ghostface and Raekwon, it’s a timeless classic born from Staten Island in 1996.
KRS-One – “Outta Here”
The simplistic yet incendiary two-bar jazzy bass loop and opening lyric “Back in the days I knew rap would never die” on “Outta Here” from his first solo album Return Of The Boom Bap reinforces that the real winner of this battle it brought one Hip Hop nation under the ‘Gram.