Titled Verzuz, we’ve seen heavyweight matches among legendary music titans, but Saturday’s showdown (April 11) featured two revered luminaries in the production world in RZA and DJ Premier. “They made the calls, and we said ‘yes,'” said Premier on Instagram Live minutes before his battle with RZA took place. “I’m not even a battle guy, but I am today.”
Scheduled for 9 p.m. ET, within the first three minutes, 100,000 people were on DJ Premier’s Live anxiously waiting for the match-up to begin. Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Nas, Shaq, Ludacris, T.I., Killer Mike, OVO 40, and more arrived early before tip-off and made their presence felt with their buzzworthy comments. By 9:25, RZA and Premier locked in and unleashed their greatest jams.
Sound issues plagued RZA’s set early, and both producers seemed to lose track of how deep they’d gotten in the battle before the 20th and final official round rolled around. But they still whipped social media into a frenzy with their choices of wall-to-wall bangers, giving everyone an extended history lesson in ’90s New York. The two fed off their own momentum so much that they continued to take turns spinning well past the 20th song — each dropping a number of classics they neglected to pull out during regulation.
Check out how Billboard scorecard Saturday night’s bout between RZA and Preemo below.
Round 1: GZA’s “Liquid Swords” (RZA) vs. Jay-Z’s “A Million & One Questions/Rhyme No More” (DJ Premier)
“You went platinum,” says RZA after Preemo storms out of the gates with his first entry. Both legends land haymakers, but this Preemo/Hov collabo was a harder strike.
Round 2: Method Man’s “Bring the Pain” (RZA) vs. M.O.P.’s “Breakin’ The Rules” (DJ Premier)
The sound system for RZA isn’t crisp yet, which takes away from him dropping that atomic missile fans are looking for early on. Point goes to Preemo.
Round 3: Wu-Tang’s “Maria” (RZA) vs. Mos Def’s “Mathematics” (DJ Premier)
Preemo’s counter-punches are proving to be lethal. It’s hard to outclass Mos’s remarkable record.
Round 4: Raekwon’s “Wu-Gambinos” (RZA) vs. Big L’s “The Enemy” (DJ Premier)
RZA finally has his sound system together and comes with a heater from Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx classic. Let’s see if he can get a run going.
Round 5: Ghostace Killah’s “Run” (RZA) vs. KRS-One’s “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” (DJ Premier)
RZA is picking up steam. He lets a hollow tip fly with this one, especially after giving Jada’s verse extra leg room to breathe and play through. Even Preemo loves it.
Round 6: Wu-Tang Clan’s “Shame on a N—a”(RZA) vs. Das EFX’s “Real Hip-Hop” (DJ Premier)
The spirit of ODB enters the chat. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a ball-game.
Round 7: Wu-Tang Clan’s “Protect Ya Neck”(RZA) vs. Group Home’s “Livin’ Proof” (DJ Premier)
We have a lead change! Preemo needs to protect his neck before he gets blown out of the gym with this fiery comeback led by RZA.
Round 8: GZA’s “Cold World” (RZA) vs. D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” (Remix) (DJ Premier)
Brrr. It’s getting cold out here. GZA is a genius, but how can you deny the sweet goodness of “Devil’s Pie?” Plus, this song made Belly what Belly is today.
Round 9: Wu-Tang Clan’s “Method Man” (RZA) vs. Gang Starr’s “Just to Get a Rep” (DJ Premier)
“That was the blunt anthem. That and a 40 [and] there was nothing stopping it,” Preemo raves, accurately, after RZA’s latest record.
Round 10: Ghostface Killah’s “Motherless Child” (RZA) Vs. Jay-Z’s “D’evils.” (DJ Premier)
’96 Jay-Z was a different breed. He and Preemo were a cheat code on this Reasonable Doubt gem. Welcome back, Preemo.
Round 11: Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse” (RZA) vs. Nas’ “Nas Is Like” (DJ Premier)
The battle for Nas supremacy. Of course, Esco slaughtered the first verse on Rae’s record, but here, Preemo rediscovers his counter-punch with “Nas Is Like.” Probably one of the filthiest beats Nasir ever floated over.
Round 12: Ghostface Killah’s “Buck 50” vs. Gang Starr’s “The ? Remainz” (DJ Premier)
“We come from the B-side era,” dishes out Preemo after playing the “The ? Remainz.” The question remains, who’s taking this battle because it’s getting pretty darn close.
Round 13: Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” (RZA) vs. Biggie’s “Unbelievable” (DJ Premier)
RZA goes for the gusto with a staggering slam in Round 13, after Preemo enjoyed his brief run. Just when you thought Preemo was stunned with “Ice Cream,” Biggie tries to save the day, but even the Notorious one falls short in this match-up.
Round 14: Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Brooklyn Zoo” (RZA) vs. Jeru the Damaja’s “Come Clean” (DJ Premier)
Brooklyn repped heavy here. Two masterpieces, but ODB has the crowd in a frenzy right now. (We’ll forgive that True Master technically produced “Brooklyn” with ODB, not RZA.)
Round 15: Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” (RZA) vs. Biggie’s “Kick in the Door” (DJ Premier)
ODB attempts to pull a Drizzy by going back-to-back, but he’s robbed of that opportunity by his BK comrade. This one is a draw.
Round 16: The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Long Kiss Goodnight” (RZA) vs. Gang Starr’s “Above the Clouds” (DJ Premier)
Biggie’s ghost is enjoying his fourth-quarter surge during this battle. P.S., he still sounds great in 2020.
Round 17: Ghostface’s “Assassination Day” (RZA) vs. Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind” (DJ Premier)
You can’t outduel Nas and this Illmatic banger. The crowd knows it. “Classic masterpiece,” says RZA.
— 3030 (@jose3030) April 12, 2020
Round 18: Raekwon’s “Criminology” (RZA) vs. Gang Starr’s “Dwyck” (DJ Premier)
RZA bobs and weaves his way with an uppercut, but then Preemo gets back up with this summertime scorcher. Still, anything off OB4CL is a flamethrower.
Round 19: Raekwon’s “Incarcerated Scarfaces” (RZA) vs. Royce Da 5’9”’s “Boom” (DJ Premier)
“Me and the RZA connect!” As previously said, anything from OB4CL is undeniable, but Preemo detonates a nuclear bomb with “Boom.”
Round 20: Method Man’s “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By” (RZA) Vs. Biggie’s “Ten Crack Commandments” (DJ Premier)
Where’s Triumph?! Or “C.R.E.A.M?!”
Wider Catalog: Premier
Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, Royce, Gang Starr, and Group Home? That’s pretty nice company. Here, Premier stretched his catalog, while RZA relied on his Wu-Tang compatriots to slug it out alongside him.
Biggest Snub: Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” (Point: Premier)
RZA wasn’t paying attention to the time and made the errant mistake in choosing to go with Method Man’s “I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need”) as his final record. He also could have went with “Triumph” here — both of which he eventually got to, as the two legends kept spinning classics after the final bell, but too late for our official scoring.
Best Banter: TIE
Two class acts who genuinely love and admire each other’s craftsmanship. They both provided great tales about the origins of their records and enlightened us with hip-hop factoids we were more fortunate enough to hear about.
Biggest K.O.: Premier
To play Hov off the rip was a daring way to start the battle, especially since RZA’s sound system was out of whack. It built momentum from Preemo early on.
People’s Champ: TIE
Both men served up dominating performances. It got so crazy that they decided to keep the party going after playing their 20 records. The culture won tonight.
FINAL SCORE: 14-9-2, DJ PREMIER