For every melanated individual over the age of 35, Sunday night was slated to be the music version of boxing’s “Rumble In The Jungle,” the spectacular fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in Kinshasha, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in October 1974—arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century. (Ali won by an eighth round knockout using his now-famous rope-a-dope style.)
Teddy Riley and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, two musical titans who helped shape black music in the ’80s and ’90s and who are responsible for more hits (and careers) than you can shake a stick at, were set to go head-to-head in the new Verzuz music battle series started by super producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland. Well, that didn’t happen. For unknown reasons, we all got notice on Sunday afternoon that the battle royale was postponed, which under normal circumstances would have been a major blow except Saturday night happened.
What happened on Saturday night, you ask?
Well, at 9 p.m., Faheem Najm, better known to the world as T-Pain, and Jonathan Smith, better known as Lil Jon (and now “JONATHAN”), logged into T-Pain’s Instagram account for what would become the epic music battle that we didn’t even KNOW we needed. Reaching over 280,000 people at one point, T-Pain and Lil Jon treated everybody who watched to an entertaining two-plus hours of classics, edutainment and shenanigans. Anybody who joined into the fracas was better off for it. It was a music-off, which means there was a winner and a loser, but be clear, on Saturday night, everybody who was a part of the show won. T-Pain and Lil Jon won. The culture won. Everybody watching won. We all won.
Here are nine reasons why the T-Pain versus Lil Jon battle was the Saturday night show we didn’t even know we needed.
I have to start here because God works in mysterious ways, yo. Part of what made the T-Pain vs. Lil Jon battle so great was that these two dudes clearly like one another, respect one another (have worked together) and have extroverted, club-ready personalities. They’re both people you’d actually want to hang out with at the club, in the house, playing Spades, whatever. Basically, they’re fun so the event was fun. I don’t know shit about Scott Storch, though his partying stories are legendary. Mannie Fresh seems fun in general (and the few times I’ve been around him have been entertaining enough), but energy is a real thing, ESPECIALLY through a computer or phone screen. Pain and Jon? These two EXUDED fun and positive energy. I don’t think the same would have existed with Pain and Storch. God don’t make no mistakes, baby. God knew we needed THIS pairing.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how popular this battle was going to be. T-Pain and Lil Jon are certified hitmakers with all of the platinum songs between them for and with everybody. And oddly, I wondered if the upnorf faction of folks was going to want in on this. Granted, all of the musical folks from all regions were present and accounted for, as were all the brands. SportsCenter was in on this. Chipotle was. Netflix was watching them. I’m glad that my concern was unfounded since, as I said, at one point, over 280,000 folks were paying attention to the musical stylings and stories of these two hosts.
In the seventh round—I actually kept a running tally of each song—T-Pain dropped the song “Go Hard,” and then out of what felt like NOWHERE, Lil Jon dropped his remix to the Capleton’s 1994 song, “Tour,” and I feel absolutely confident in saying that about 98 percent of people watching (and those who got informed of all the goings-ons via social media) had NO idea that Lil Jon did that that mid-’90s remix. You know the one (if you know the Capleton song) it’s the one with the Slick Rick, “Children’s Story” beat, otherwise known as the version you’ve heard most in your life. This was new info for everybody, everybody. It was beautiful.
That’s it. That’s the story. It was so funny every time he yelled out “Jonathan!”
You know, it’s easy to forget sometimes just how big some of our favorite artists were in their primes, but Lil Jon didn’t even play some of his biggest songs. In fact, Jonathan has SO many bangers that in a hit battle, he played Usher’s “Yeah” as his SECOND record. Most folks would think that would be the final, “take it home” cut. For Lil Jon, it was No. 2. And T-Pain isn’t a slouch. He DOMINATED in the ’00s on the radio. In fact, these two gentlemen literally held down damn near a whole decade.
Which brings me to…
For one, Lil Jon has been making hits for decades at this point. He didn’t even play “My Boo” and I was WAITING for it. But that Capleton record, plus the Too Short record, plus “Shots” plus the Pitbull songs, plus his Trillville and Lil Scrappy songs, and then hits with the biggest artists in the game, Lil Jon does not get nearly enough props for the run he had in the 00s. He played E-40’s “Tell Me When To Go” as a bonus during the battle. Lil Jon has done WAY more than he gets credit for musically and for creating an actual cultural moment and a sound and presence that dominated for so long. Plus, people actually seem to like him and thus he’s still doing commercials and making money in an authentic way. Somebody do a documentary on that man.
T-Pain thought he’d get curb-stomped by Scott Storch and the whole time he was there with Lil Jon, he was having fun but was like ready to lose DESPITE being a necessary part of the soundtrack to so many club nights in the 2000s and early 2010s. I’m sure T-Pain won’t actually read this, but on the slim chance that he does, bro, “Buy U A Drank” is EASILY one of the best songs of the 00s. You KILLED the game and seem like the kind of person everybody would love to hang with. You made and are still making great music. That auto-tune backlash was nonsense. T-Pain, you made great music and fucking matter to black music, bro. You’re fucking awesome. Don’t forget that shit.
Also, never play no R. Kelly during a live battle again, bro.
And so did you.
All of us assume that the sound that runs through the song, “Some Cut” is a squeaky mattress. Do you know what that sound REALLY is? According to Lil Jon, that sound is actually an old ass squeaky chair he was sitting on in the studio that they ended up recording and throwing in the song. Talk about a revelation!!!! That one Significant Black History Fact made the entire, already enjoyable, event worthwhile.