Renegade Revisited by @ACaseOnline
The year is 2015 and I’m still having a hard time with one of the biggest questions in hip-hop; who got the best of who on Renegade? I can’t even lie and say that it’s an even contest when you poll the people, just look at the YouTube comments for yourself. Eminem quite frankly, is heavily favored on the track that he produced, and flowed effortlessly on. If you are like me and debate hip-hop heavyweights past, present, and future, the conversation of who bodied who, when it comes to Eminem v. Jay Z goes several different ways for many reasons. Both artists were destined to be on a collision course as their respective stars grew brighter by the moment. This unlikely collaboration wasn’t on everyone’s radar, so you can imagine our surprise back in 2001 when Jay released “The Blueprint” and track 12 featured Eminem. Immediately talks of Eminem besting the Brooklyn emcee and current king of hip-hop flooded the streets and main stream media alike. Even though Jay Z had another classic entry under his belt, the real takeaway was Eminem not only had a place in hip-hop, but he may have taken the throne.
What inspired me to even tackle this track nearly 14 years later was a twitter debate about race in hip-hop. While Eminem wasn’t the first white guy to ever rock the mic, he is the best. And what set him apart was not his third album, “The Marshall Mathers LP” going diamond, but the fact that he bested one of the great rappers in hip-hop at the time thus solidifying his place in rap. You would think winning a Grammy for Best Rap album was enough but Eminem still didn’t have everyone convinced. There was one final mountain to climb and it came in the form of Jay Z. Jay Z, fresh off an epic Summer Jam, set the stage perfectly for his sixth studio album, “The Blueprint” to be released. What was expected was the long awaited battle between Jay Z and Nas, but on the back end we had a dynamic under-card. So I had to revisit the famous Renegade track and listen over and over again to determine who had the verse(s) of the ages…
“And Eminem murdered you on your own sh*t” – Nas – Ether
That exact sentiment was echoed loudly throughout the hip-hop world. Did Jay Z get bodied on Renegade? A lot of people would say an astounding “yes” while others would claim that Eminem had the unfair advantage of white privilege. By then it was too late to close your eyes and imagine Eminem being anyone else. So one had to simply put on headphones and let the music take its course. Eminem’s flow and cadence was unmatched. He waved his famous middle finger all over the track with awkward metaphors, punches, and embodied the term “renegade” from the word go. Jay Z’s classic, laid back, metaphoric, double entendre filled flow sang sweetly on the string laden Eminem produced track but not as swiftly. While Eminem bobbed and weaved effortlessly through his two verses Jay seemed to fade a bit in spots. For me, that’s where things stop. When it comes to flow, it’s easy for the listener to get lost in a trance with how someone sounds over what is actually being said. It was time for me to now digest the lyrics fully. While both rappers held their own lyrically, I feel what Jay Z said on verse one was more important to hip-hop on a whole. Now before you accuse this Brooklyn born writer of any bias, let’s just remember the times we are in. Jay Z’s verse in 2001 wasn’t as powerful or truth telling as it is now to the state of hip-hop today. And while Eminem’s verse is dope, it’s more about how he was personally viewed in the media on a whole but has no relevance to anything present day. The climate of hip-hop always changes but the theme remains the same. The goal of the artist was almost political, to paint a picture of their struggle without you ACTUALLY having to live it. That alone led me to believe that Jay dropped one of the most important verses on Renegade, but it was completely over looked by some. Here’s why; Eminem was not only the underdog in real life but he was a voice for a different generation. While Jay spoke to the hustlers, players, and bosses, Eminem spoke for the broken and the bullied. Not everyone could relate to the rags to riches story of defying the odds of street living, compared to the more realistic livelihoods of the poor or lower middle class. Street life isn’t everyone’s code while not fitting in is. On top of that while locking horns in battle with Nas, Jay was now made an easier target for critics to second guess his lyrical prowess thus making his verse even less important to the masses. Fast forward to present day when the beef between Jay and Nas is no longer existent and both Eminem and Jay Z are on two separate career paths. All factors aside the song doesn’t yield the same effect.
“See I'm influenced by the ghetto you ruined
That same dude you gave nothin', I made somethin doin'
what I do through and through and
I give you the news - with a twist it's just his ghetto point-of-view
The renegade; you been afraid
I penetrate pop culture, bring 'em a lot closer to the block where they
pop toasters, and they live with they moms
Got dropped roasters, from botched robberies niggaz crotched over
Mommy's knocked up cause she wasn't watched over
Knocked down by some clown when child support knocked
No he's not around - now how that sound to ya, jot it down
I bring it through the ghetto without ridin 'round..” – Jay Z
“Since I'm in a position to talk to these kids and they listen
I ain't no politician but I'll kick it with 'em a minute
Cause see they call me a menace; and if the shoe fits I'll wear it
But if it don't, then y'all'll swallow the truth grin and bear it
Now who's these king of these rude ludicrous lucrative lyrics
Who could inherit the title, put the youth in hysterics
Usin' his music to steer it, sharin his views and his merits
But there's a huge interference - they're sayin you shouldn't hear it
Maybe it's hatred I spew, maybe it's food for the spirit
Maybe it's beautiful music I made for you to just cherish
But I'm debated disputed hated and viewed in America
as a mother*****n drug addict – like you didn’t experiment?” – Eminem
When we talk about both verses we have to remember the parallels. Which eye or ear rather are you using when you listen to Renegade? Are you the fan who values lyrics over flow or vise versa? Is there bias, that we are all capable for one artist over the other? One thing for sure both of them did their thing, and no matter how we personally feel the song was an instant classic. In my eyes I gave Eminem’s flow and aggression a nod over Jay’s. However lyrically, I think Jay’s verse was more important and timeless. Either way it’s a win-win for us the fans.
It’s safe to say that today’s hip-hop doesn’t resonate quite as deeply as it used to. Times have changed and so has the genre. Hip-hop is now “safe” and more diverse than it was then. Eminem’s outstanding lyrical presence pushed the doors open to where they are today. As the world quickly evolves so will the music. As much as I pine for the days of lyrical aggression I have come to the realization that music has now become a safe zone. We may not get an epic clash of the Titans THIS diverse in another 15 years. Two lyrical giants at the top of their game unaware of the collision course they are on and the effects it may leave behind. For now let’s just call it a draw.