A handful of songs in hip-hop has had the same impact and buzz as “Renegade” has. For one, the song unites two of the biggest names in hip-hop; Jay-Z and Eminem. Second, the song is a big FU to all the critics who have an opinion about everything including these artists’ music. Thirdly, in the song, Eminem is said to have far superior verses than Jay-Z’s even though Eminem was a guest on the track. Although this is still debated to date, we are going to dissect the song lyrics and find out what the artists are talking about.
“Renegade” is the twelfth track on Jay-Z’s sixth studio album ‘The Blueprint,’ released on September 11, 2001. This is the only song on the album with a rap feature, which says a lot about the level Jay put Eminem on. This song is also included in Eminem’s greatest hits album ‘Curtain Call: The Hits’ (2005). The song was written by Jay-Z, Eminem, and Luis Resto.
Eminem produced the beat to the song and was originally supposed to be a collaboration with his Bad Meets Evil partner Royce Da 5’9”. In an interview, Royce explained how Jay-Z ended up on the track instead of him; “Jay-Z was at a deadline and he had been asking Em to get on something. Em didn’t want to miss Jay’s deadline because obviously he respects him. I don’t think he had time to go in and do a whole new joint, so he called me and asked if I was cool with just giving Jay that one and we’ll just do something else. I was like, “Yeah, that’s cool.”
The word ‘renegade’ is used to refer to a deserter of a certain organization, culture, faith, or principles. In the context of the song, the word means an individual with unconventional or unlawful behavior. This can allude to the fact that Eminem has grown to be a very controversial rapper by the time of the song’s release. Jay-Z, too, had his fair share of rebellious past during the come-up in the music game. So, in the eyes of society, both Jay and Eminem are renegades who defy the social and cultural conventions. This song is their reply to all of these claims.
Listen to “Renegade” by Jay-Z ft. Eminem
Buy ‘The Blueprint’ Album by Jay-Z on Apple Music / Amazon
Jay-Z “Renegade” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
Verse 1: Jay-Z
Jay-Z starts off the verse aggressively setting the tone for what’s to come later. He lashes out at all the music pundits who claim that Jay-Z only sings about money, girls, diamonds, and drugs. Although Jay-Z has touched on these topics in his discography, it is not solely built upon these themes. So, Jay wonders if these critics really listen to his music or listen to what they want to hear. This is a common dilemma in any form of communication — a lot of people don’t listen to hear what the other person has to say.
Jay says that he sings about what he knows about this world — the society he grew up in. Jay-Z came from poverty, growing up in a ghetto part of Brooklyn, New York. In the beginning, Jay had to sell drugs to make a living. The systematic racism had already hindered Jay’s chances of making something from his life. But he did. Somehow music spoke to him and he kept at it until it saved his life.
The same dude you gave nothin’, I made somethin’ doin’
What I do through and through and
What he sings about is his life with a “ghetto point of view.” It is not his fault that he was imprisoned to this life early on.
Next, Jay-Z goes on to tell us some stories from the life he grew up in. Most of the kids grow up with their mothers. Hov is very specific about mentioning only the mother, and not the father. A common feature in these poverty-stricken communities is the lack of a father figure in most families. The kids end up growing with their mothers until age. These mothers are so busy working 3-4 jobs to make ends meet they don’t have time to look after their kids. This results in the kids taking to the streets.
On the streets, everybody is poverty-stricken and is looking for any means to make money. Hov says that these kids end up buying pretty expensive cars from the robberies they do. These robberies aren’t masterminded plans with precision equipment and foolproof. They just break-in and enter houses and grab the first things they can find. A lot of the time, these robberies don’t even go smoothly. A lot of the time, these kids end up in jail or even worse.
Hov also talks about how teenage girls end up getting pregnant out of lack of attention and care for them from their parents. However, the vicious cycle continues, and the guys responsible don’t stick around. Most times, these girls don’t even have money to get an abortion even if they wanted to and have to raise the child on child support money.
This is the unfiltered truth from the environment Jay-Z grew up in. He had to live it. We are only listening to it through his music. Why does the truth seem to bother some critics?!
In the last part of the first verse, Jay-Z says that these music gurus who blog about music from their air-conditioned rooms cannot relate to anything he has to say. So, he knows that he cannot expect them to understand his point of view and do justice for the message of these songs. They hear a bitter story and write it off immediately.
How you rate music that thugs with nothin’ relate to it?
I help them see they way through it, not you
Jay-Z also says that his music is for all the kids who struggle in the streets just like he did. He wants to be a beacon of light to show that there are ways to make it out of the systematic oppression that they have to go through. There are better ways than risking their lives every day for bread and butter.
Verse 2: Eminem
Eminem begins his “Renegade” verse by admitting that he has been fortunate enough to have a fanbase that listens to his music. So, he will use this platform to speak up his mind about the labels he has been slandered by you-name-it-who!
At the time of this song’s release, Eminem had three studio albums out of the oven; ‘Infinite’ (1996), ‘The Slim Shady LP’ (1999), and ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ (2000). All of these were very successful albums and had sparked controversy over blunt lyrics. Eminem openly talked about racism, corrupt politicians, degraded women who have all been negative influences in his life, drugs, homophobic lyrics, and outright bizarre topics. ‘The Slim Shady LP’ specifically pushed the limits of themes that were considered unconventional. Despite these controversial themes, Eminem gained a mass following. (And to think that ‘Relapse’ album was not even out by this time. LOL).
‘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
A ‘menace’ is possibly the least of what Eminem was called at the time. Em says that if the shoe fits he will wear it and if it doesn’t, all these critics have to shove it up their… So, he goes on to prove what he can do and has done musically.
Eminem is widely regarded as the most talented rapper — writing rhymes, storytelling, rap delivery, and the whole works. So, he is the king of “rude, ludicrous, lucrative lyrics.” He has proven this many times over throughout his discography. He has been able to attract both casual listeners and hip-hop heads with his diverse styles.
However, there was a massive outrage against Eminem and his music back then. People literally protested against him. But Em feels like most of these people did not get the message. They just heard his songs. They did not listen.
Maybe it’s beautiful music I made for you to just cherish
But I’m debated, disputed, hated and viewed in America
As a motherf*ckin’ drug addict, like you didn’t experiment?
On top of his outrageous lyrics, Eminem became a drug addict at this time in his career. He almost lost his life. But he pulled through and has been sober since April 2008.
However, the irony of the fact is that most people throw stones at Eminem from their glass houses. When these people go home from a good day of Eminem-thrashing and look at themselves in the mirror, they see the Slim Shady in themselves from their childhood. They all experimented with drugs and booze, talked smack about oppressed groups, degraded women, and the whole works. But they were good at keeping the skeletons hidden. Eminem consistently cleaned his closet. Eminem just had the guts to speak up his mind, which is also a running theme in this song.
Eminem’s last message in the second verse is that he is not responsible for the failed marriages that created broken homes that lead the children to be listening to Eminem. He touches on this topic in detail in one of his most iconic songs “Sing for the Moment.”
‘Cause here we go, he’s Jigga-Jur-Jigga-Jih-Jigga
And I’m the sinister Mr. Kiss-My-*ss is just a
These final lyrics just smoosh a handful of Slim Shady right in the faces of haters. Pronounced ‘jigga jigga’ here as an ode to Jay-Z, the ‘chika chika’ sounds are synonymous with Slim Shady persona, popularized by his song “My Name Is” from the infamous ‘Slim Shady LP.’ Em admits he is the sinister sinner and all the haters can just kiss his white behind.
Chorus: Jay-Z & Eminem
A lot of the hatred that both Jay and Eminem have received is for their music. There is absolutely zero evidence that Eminem or Jay have acted in ways that are sung in their songs. In fact, Eminem has been an amazing father despite the fact that he could not make things work with his ex-wife Kim. He never left his kids stranded.
Renegade, never been afraid to say
What’s on my mind at any given time of day
Eminem grew up in an absolutely horrible home. His father left when he was a kid and his mother was a drug addict. He got bullied at school and never had any real friends. His best friend, Proof, was shot dead, leaving him devastated to date. Eminem poured all this frustration and anger into his music. If he had kept all this stuff bottled in, he probably wouldn’t have made it to today. His drug abuse back in the day was also a result of the stresses he had to go through.
Watch Jay-Z and Eminem Perform “Renegade” Live on a rooftop
Verse 3: Jay-Z
In the third verse, Jay-Z drags us back to more lessons from his touch upbringing. He starts off by saying how his back was against the wall for most of his youth. This is a reference to being cornered and cut off from options in life. Back in his day, being born black took out half the opportunities others get, being born poor seriously put a dent in the remaining opportunities, having a broken family was just the cherry on top of his hardships.
Jay-Z draws a picture of him wearing rags and trying to make a few dollars by hustling in the streets. He had pockets void of cash but full of hopes. “Iron under my coat” is a reference to the gun he carried in his pockets to protect himself. As he used to deal drugs, he must have gotten himself into dangerous situations pretty often. He also adds that a lot of lives in the streets were lost on the street benches where these people used to hang out and deal drugs around.
An orphan, my pops left me
And often my mama wasn’t home
Could not stress to me, I wasn’t grown
Jay-Z’s childhood has not been a lot different from the usual stories we hear from the underdeveloped communities in the USA. Jay grew up without a father figure and a mother figure as she was too busy working several jobs to feed the kids and pay the rent. So, Hov had to grow up beyond his age. He, too, had to get into the streets and hustle for money. His mother probably did not like this at all. She probably shouted at him for it. But on the nights he did bring in some money, she felt silent. She probably felt a load lift off her shoulders. They enjoyed a nice meal that night, in silence.
Hov says that he did not have a childhood as a child should have. He did not have other kids to play with, grab an ice cream, and play with his dog. He was on the streets going head to head with gangsters and drug dealers. This is probably even before he hit 18. So, it makes sense when Jay says that his demeanor was 30 years older than how old he actually was at the time.
But he did it! He found himself out of the streets and it was music. Today, Jay-Z is a multi-millionaire and one of the most influential people in the entertainment and entrepreneurship games. How did he do it?
I drove by the fork in the road and went straight
A fork in a road is where the road splits into different directions. Jay-Z got into the music route and it is never easy to start out in hip-hop. So, his streets would have constantly called him back, flaunting quick cash, drugs, and women. Hov was not swayed by these forks in his road. He kept going forward and on and on.
Verse 4: Eminem
The fourth and final verse of “Renegade” is performed by Eminem and he goes back to his theme of being labeled as the devil of the music industry.
See, I’m a poet to some, a regular modern-day Shakespeare
To some, like ourselves at Justrandomthings Music Community, Eminem is the closest thing to a genius in music. His pen game continues to baffle us with every new piece of music that he puts out. William Shakespeare is an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. We have no objections in placing Eminem in a similar level in music as William Shakespeare is to English playwriting.
Eminem has been a favorite target by the Church amongst many other groups. So, Eminem says that these Latter-day Saints are here to paint him in the worst possible light, comparing him to a spreader of hate against everything holy, a brainless atheist, and Satan himself. All very high ranks in the ladder to hell.
And with one line, Eminem destroys all these critics;
But that ain’t the case, see, it’s a matter of taste
Music, as part of the arts subculture, is as subjective as it gets. And unlike taxes, listening to music is not mandatory. There are enough ways to block it out if Eminem is not your cup of tea. Music is a matter of personal taste. Some will be able to relate to Eminem, and others will be able to appreciate the skill Eminem brings into music. The rest of them will hate no matter what.
However, Eminem says that only the people can decide if Slim Shady is bad as they say. Who are ‘they’? The many organizations that have picked up torches against Eminem all his career. From churches to feminists to activists to music critics to parents to politicians to other rappers, Eminem has faced them all.
Media scapegoat who they can be mad at today
Back in the day, the media tried to pin every crack in society on Eminem’s music. A child fights with another child at school because he was aggravated by Eminem’s music. A child shouts at their mother because Eminem sings about burying his own mother. A husband hits his partner because Eminem had an abusive relationship with his ex-wife. Some maniac shoots up a school because Eminem’s music fueled his rage. The list goes on. Eminem was the scapegoat for all things bad in society at one point.
Following on the same religious theme, Eminem says that he was the arch-enemy of the Latter-day Saints Mormons and Christians alike.
Go to war with the Mormons, take a bath with the Catholics
In holy water, no wonder they tried to hold me under longer
A common practice among most religions is to bathe or wash away the sins of a person with holy water. Catholics follow a similar practice. However, Eminem says instead of just dipping him in the water for cleansing, these people try to keep him underwater for longer, implying that these groups want him gone from the face of this world. This is most likely not an exaggeration, although Eminem says it in a tone of ‘whistling a dixie’ which is an idiom for a far-reaching fantasy.
Eminem also compares himself to one of his idols, the rapper Ice Cube. As part of the hip-hop group N.W.A., Ice Cube made a name for himself as one of the most notorious gangster-rap writers and performers. The whole group received a lot of backlash from similar groups as Eminem did for speaking out their minds, mostly about racism and oppression of the minorities.
Eminem finally asks “What did I do?” If you really think about it, Eminem just sang songs. At first, he just wanted to earn money and be respected. He did that soon. Now he raps for just the love of the game. How we interpret his music and how we internalize what he says is all up to us.
In the entertainment industry, any publicity is good publicity. When these different groups took torches against Eminem, it probably shed even bigger light on him. Eminem says he is just a kid from the gutter who is earning his butter from these leeches that leach off of him all the time.
Jay-Z and Eminem go back-and-forth on “Renegade” tackling two entirely different topics that culminate in one theme in the end. The TLDR of the song; leave them alone!
Who had the better verse on “Renegade”?
Rapper Nas was the pioneer in bringing up this idea that Eminem “washed” Jay-Z on “Renegade.” Nas has had a lifelong beef with Jay-Z and in his song “Ether” (2001) sings “And, Eminem murdered you on your own shit,” referring to “Renegade.” Since then, the quest to find who had the better verse on “Renegade” has surfaced.
Music is as subjective as it gets. So, in our subjective opinion, we believe Eminem had more technical structures, rhymes, better cadence, and better story on “Renegade.” Eminem’s ability to tell a story while maintaining his genius command of the English language and pack not only simple rhyming schemes, but multi-syllable rhymes is just beyond us.
However, it is also understandable that Jay-Z’s verse would be more relatable to some than Eminem’s perspective in the song. As Jay-Z himself said in the verse, his music isn’t for the music critics to chew on. His music is for the people like himself who have shared the same struggles as he has.
It is also noteworthy that Jay-Z has been humble enough to admit that Eminem had the better verse on “Renegade.” He admitted to this in an interview on Rosenberg Radio once, and also mentioned in the lyrics of “A Star Is Born” from 2009. Hov sings;
…but what Em did was silly
The white boy blossomed after Dre endorsed him
His flow on “Renegade,” f*cking awesome
Despite whoever ‘won’ on the track, Eminem and Jay-Z gave all of us an iconic hip-hop duet for generations to come.
Let us hear your thoughts on this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics of the song on Genius.