Fat Joe and Ja Rule took the stage at the theater at Madison Square Garden and went head-to-head on the latest edition of VERZUZ. It was a solidly New York affair, with several guests, an intermission, and lots of smack talking. Check out the full playlist of the tracks they performed below, on TIDAL.
From almost the jump, the two MCs traded barbs in between songs, despite the friends and collaborators having no real beef between them. Joe teased Ja for his current relevance (“Where you been the last ten years?”) while Ja postured as if his short run in the spotlight still eclipsed Joe’s multi-decade track record of hit-making.
Fat Joe’s strength in the battle clearly lay in his high profile collaborations—he brought out Remy Ma (“All The Way Up”), Dre (from Cool & Dre), and Nelly, who inexplicably played “Hot in Here.” Joe’s braggadocio extended to the artists he put on (DJ Khaled, Big Pun) and how rich they are. And while Ja seemed to take issue with Joe’s tangential connections to songs like “Still Not a Player” (Ja: “That’s not your record!” Joe: “I was the executive producer” Ja: “That don’t count!”) he seemed to have no issues with the white latino MC’s frequent use of the n-word. When Joe teased Ja for doing more singing than rapping, Ja reveled in the acknowledgement that he was ahead of his time (“I’m the singing rapper! I started this shit! You getting bodied by a singing rapper!“). Joe made frequent references to Ja Rule’s disastrous Fyre Festival, mocking the “Baloney sandwiches” from infamous reports about the festival’s catering.
The comments section was as lively as the crowd at the Garden, with appearances from Diddy, Khaled, and many many more. There had been rumors of a 50 Cent appearance—50 and Ja have had a long and documented beef—but it never materialized. Murder Inc co-founder Irv Gotti felt compelled to respond to the spectre of the Queens rapper regardless, saying: “All y’all talking that 50 shit. All good. He got beat up stabbed up. Shot up. And sued us. That’s all I’m gonna say. Your hero ain’t what you think he is. Period. And Facts.”
Each artist had chart-topping hits to hang their hats on, though they tended to feature high-profile collaborators that would have been tough to wrangle. Ja did his massive J Lo collab “I’m Real” without her, and Joe did the strip club anthem “Make it Rain” without Lil Wayne. But the women who were there—Remy Ma, Lil Mo, Vita, and Ashanti—were buoyant, keeping the show from sinking under the weight of its two massive male egos. Ashanti made quite a splash in particular, guesting on both Ja Rule’s “Mesmerized” and the Ja Rule-featuring “What’s Love,” which prompted Ja to express remorse for giving Joe the song’s chorus: “Out of all the hooks I ever wrote, I wish I had kept that one,” he said. And before sliding into a rendition of his No. 1 hit “Lean Back,” Joe stopped the show to gift Ashanti and Remy Hermes handbags onstage.
Despite the massive amounts of smack talk, the mood at the show’s end was congenial. Throughout the show, Ja would give Joe props on some of his biggest songs: “That’s one of my favorite records!” he said, more than once. Joe made a point to say he picked Ja to battle on VERZUZ because everyone else was afraid to go against Ja and all his hit songs. “I want my brother to get the props he deserves,” he said. “I fuckin love Ja Rule, with all my heart.” And when they brought out Jadakiss for their joint collaboration “New York,” it became clear that everyone on stage was on the same team. “I love this nigga like my brother,” Ja said.
Read about VERZUZ in Pitchfork’s “How Music Persisted During the Pandemic” and check out “Searching for Answers in Fyre Festival’s Viral Disaster” on the Pitch.