I almost forgot it was the night that The Lox would be facing Dispet until one of my boys texted, “y’all got your baggy white tees and Tims on yet?” This battle was one of the most anticipated in Verzuz history — which is a webcast series created by music producers Swiss Beatz and Timbaland that pit two hip-hop artists in a 20-song round match — and we had been discussing it in the group chat for weeks. I poured myself a rye with some ginger ale on ice, punched in the Verzuz live stream on my laptop, and opened the group chat on my phone that included three of my closest boys. “This shit ‘bout to be crazy, fellas.”
Both The Lox and Dipset competitively jabbed at each other until Jadakiss, The Lox’s undisputed lead man, told his DJ to cut the first beat on and started rapping to one of their classic, grimy tracks, appropriately titled, “Fuck You.” I sat there hyped over the energy that Jadakiss brought to the stage at Madison Square Garden. As the rounds went on I felt a bit nostalgic listening to both groups play hit record after hit record but it was something about Jadakiss, his delivery, his energy, his lazer focus that made the songs he was rapping sound better now then when they first came out. Compared to Dipset, who basically played karaoke with their songs and, at times, could barely remember the words to even sing along, The Lox looked like a group that was in their prime. A trio of men that seemed to be in the middle of a 30 city tour run. But they weren’t. In truth, these were three men in their mid-forties.
I watched the three men that comprised The Lox work in unison for hours: sweating while remaining composed and present, controlling their breath in order to rap lyrics they had written fifteen, twenty years ago, intuitively knowing when a group member was running out of air and stepping up to rap a bar or provide an ad-lib. After a while I started to feel sorry for Dipset. I remembered back to my high school days, when they were an integral piece of curating hip-hop culture. When their aura, charisma, style and raps told you everything you needed to know about a place like Harlem, New York. I felt a bit sad as I watched these three men try to regain something that had left them over a decade ago. Juelz came on stage looking like he thought it was still 2001. Cam, unfortunately, didn’t. And at one point I saw Jim Jones fall. Like, fall right off the stage. It was getting ugly.
I watched the Verzuz to the very end not only because the music brought back a time that still sat indelibly in my mind but because of what these two iconic rap groups were projecting right there in front of my eyes. The contrasting visual that both groups reflected spoke to the importance of Black men to maintain healthy habits both mentally and physically. Without having any culturally significant tracks in years, The Lox showed me what longevity looked like. Dipset lip-singing over bangers proved that neglect and excess are a toxic mix better to be left alone. That we have to truly “live and maintain,” and not just speak those words.
And at points while watching The Lox Dipset Verzuz I assumed that things would inevitably take a turn for the worse. But they never did. In fact, there was an almost unspeakable essence of Black brotherhood that existed on the stage even through the dichotomy that both groups represented. Despite all the jabs and disses and one-ups, there was a unity that prevailed. Black men who represented thuggish existences for decades hugged each other and commenced in celebration rather than competition. It was beautiful to see. It was the Verzuz we needed. You had to be there. Or at least, for me, had to see it.
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