It’s the conversation the internet can’t stop talking about. Could anyone compete with Jay-Z in a Verzuz battle? And if he were to actually do it, who would be his toughest competition?
Well, Jay finally weighed in on the Verzuz conversation this week during a Twitter Spaces talk with Genius’ Rob Markman and Alicia Keys. Hinting that he probably wouldn’t participate in a Verzuz battle, he said, “It’s not a chance in hell that anyone can stand on that stage with me.”
Of course, this sparked a massive debate. Many agreed with Jay’s comments, but there were others who brought up names like Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Drake, and Future, as artists who could beat the legendary New York rapper in a battle. Lil Wayne, specifically, was brought up more than most, and his name has been trending on Twitter ever since.
So, as we head into the holidays, members of the Complex Music staff (Andre Gee, Jessica McKinney, and Eric Skelton) weighed in on the debate. Is Jay-Z right? Who would be his biggest competitor? Would he actually do it? We dive into all these questions and more below.
Andre: Jay has spent 20 years telling us that no rapper’s resume can compare to his, so it makes sense that he’d feel this way about Verzuz. Listen to the last stretch of “What More Can I Say.” With his catalog, he deserves to feel that way.
Eric: At first, my only thought was, “He’s right.” I think Jay-Z would be the favorite to win any Verzuz match he was in. He’s had a longer run in the commercial spotlight than anyone, and he’d be able to pair nostalgic, Verzuz-friendly hits (‘90s Reasonable Doubt-era classics) with more modern records (Watch the Throne hits and other 2010s standouts). But my issue is, he didn’t just say he could beat anyone. He said no one could even stand on a stage with him, which is wrong. Drake, Kanye, and Lil Wayne would be really interesting matchups for Jay-Z, even if Jay would ultimately beat them (depending on song selection).
Jessica: I didn’t have a huge reaction. That’s exactly how he should feel, and he definitely has the catalog to back up his statement. Hov has an extensive discography that dates back decades. He has the radio hits, b-side cuts, and the chart-toppers. There aren’t a lot of artists who can compete with that. I understand where he’s coming from and wouldn’t necessarily fight him on this.
Andre: Wayne. It’s close between him and Drake, but Wayne can parse through disparate eras the same way Jay can. His sound shifted over the years, which intensifies the nostalgia factor. He can pull from 98-04, 04-08, or 08-11 (and beyond). There are classic Cash Money tracks, mixtape tracks, freestyles, features, and Young Money era hits that give him more than enough to parse through 20 strong picks. There’s no “you don’t have this kind of track” snipe at Wayne, he has the capability to take it wherever Jay takes it round-to-round. If only he, Drake, and Kanye are realistic opposition (commercially), Wayne’s the only one of the three who has enough street appeal to attempt to match the tunnel banger-type tracks from Jay’s 96-01 era.
Eric: Drake (and Wayne is a close second). This is a hit for hit battle, and Drake literally has more hits than anyone. He’s broken records for having the most Billboard top 10 hits (in any genre) and the most Billboard Hot 100 hits overall. Drake has the range to compete with Jay when it comes to shifting from pop hits to lyrical-heavy rap records (although I think Jay would ultimately win, because of his longer career span, street records, and the fact that the Verzuz format caters to artists who can pull out legacy hits across decades). Kanye and Wayne would be great matchups, too, but Drake would be the toughest challenge in a hit-for-hit.
Jessica: Jay’s biggest competition is Lil Wayne or Kanye. Similar to Jay, Lil Wayne has a large catalog. He has radio hits that could go toe to toe with Jay, like “Lollipop” and “Mrs. Officer,” but he also has the mixtape cuts from No Ceilings and Da Drought series, which may hold more weight with some listeners. Let’s also not forget that Wayne has remixed and freestyled a lot of Jay-Z’s songs, and some of them have been deemed just as good as the original. Jay could play “Show Me What You Got” and Lil Wayne could hit him with “Dough Is What I Got.” Some might say that Jay-Z would ultimately win the battle against Wayne, but Weezy would definitely give him a run for his money. The other tough competitor for Jay would be Kanye. Leaving out his production credits (he has some Jay records in that bag), Kanye has a lot of eras to pick from. His Graduation, 808s, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy eras are just the beginning of what he could choose from. He also can dip into different genres, moving from the experimental rap on Yeezus to gospel on Jesus Is King and Donda.
Andre: In terms of narrative, both of them embody a “king of their era” status among hip-hop consensus. Wayne openly aspired to supplant Jay-Z while becoming the hottest rapper in the world at one point, which became a part of his narrative. Drake did the same thing, but not as intensely and consistently as Wayne. So for Wayne, it only makes sense that his Verzuz boss fight would be to see if his body of work could actually beat out his idol’s.
Eric: It’s a generational thing. There’s a whole generation who grew up with Jay-Z as their idol, and a whole other generation who grew up worshipping Wayne. The same thing goes for the regional differences. Depending which part of the country you grew up in, you’ll see their respective impact differently. The reaction says more about generational and regional differences than it does about Jay-Z or Wayne. The fact that Wayne’s name is brought up before anyone else in his era, though, shows you he made a bigger impact during his run than anyone.
Jessica: Lil Wayne has one of the most diverse fan bases. There is something there for everyone to enjoy. There are the radio hits that the suburban kids will go crazy for, but there are also the mixtape cuts that are hits in the streets. Though Lil Wayne may not be regarded on the same level as Jay when it comes to his business acumen, Wayne can definitely go toe to toe with Hov when it comes to rap skill alone. Even Jay had to give Lil Wayne his props after Wayne released “Dough Is What I Got.”
Andre: We’ve never had a Verzuz where almost every song would be “final song” iconic. It feels like almost every Verzuz battle has some filler rounds where the artists drop a weird deep cut or a lukewarm single. But Jay and Wayne would have to work hard not to each pick 20 tracks that would turn up the whole crowd. I’m on the fence on who I think would win, but I’ll say Jay because I think he’d be more strategic. Given that you might have to tell Wayne what Verzuz even is and how it works, there’s a chance he’d mis-execute some obvious counterpunches or forget particular songs that everyone wanted to hear. As far as their interplay, I think it would be a fun, competitive back-and-forth. They have mutual respect, but enough of a history of sniping at each other that they’d talk their trash. They’re both funny, witty guys. The atmosphere for this one would be unprecedented. It would probably be in a stadium, and a who’s who of the entertainment world would be there. The possibilities for guest appearances onstage are limitless. We’re talking about two beloved icons with access to anyone.
Eric: It would be the best Verzuz yet. It would probably start wild late, and viewership records would be broken before they even took the stage. Jay and Wayne would be friendly with each other, but their competitive sides would come out by the end. I think Wayne would have an edge midway through, after getting into a mixtape bag that Jay might fumble with the wrong counter-songs, but Jay would ultimately pull out a victory at the end with a few unbeatable songs that leaned on the nostalgia of his early-era hits.
Jessica: I’m not sure this would be the most entertaining Verzuz in terms of moments (Jay is known to forget lyrics here and there, and Wayne hasn’t actually made it to a set in a while). With that being said, if all goes well, this could be one of the most legendary Verzuz and concerts—on the same level, if not higher, than Kanye and Drake’s Free Larry Hoover concert.
Andre: I couldn’t see it. During most of the ’90s, you couldn’t play as Michael Jordan in NBA video games. I think Jay likes to embody that dynamic in the rap game. He relishes being “above” or “beyond” certain things. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If your catalog and career choices afford you the privilege to be able to be exclusive while still ubiquitously discussed, why not take advantage of it? Greatness earns perks. I think the only way he’d perform under the Verzuz banner is if it was a Jay-Z and friends, or Jay-Z vs Beyoncé concert that they allowed Timbo and Swizz to brand as a favor.
Eric: In the Spaces conversation, Jay implied that he would never participate in a Verzuz, but I do think it’s a possibility someday. He has a good relationship with Swizz and Timb, and he’s clearly paying attention to the Verzuz conversation. I think if they somehow got Wayne, Drake, or Kanye to agree to do it for charity, he might agree someday. We already saw the impossible happen with a Kanye and Drake concert this year. Why not Jay-Z in a Verzuz? J. Prince, do your thing.
Jessica: No. Sure, Verzuz is meant as a celebration of legends while they’re still here, but there is still an element of competition to each battle. And frankly, Jay doesn’t have anything to prove. He could say whatever he wants and at the end of the day, no one is going to check him. It’s also worth mentioning that hip-hop holds him on such a high pedestal, so I doubt anyone (with the exception of maybe Kanye) would actually agree to go up against him. I think his will just have to stay a fun conversation that the rest of us debate amongst ourselves.