When the topic of a timeless song is brought up, it’s hard not to turn to those with certain qualities. It can be emotional resonance, as in the case of Nas’ “Dance,” Eminem’s “Deja Vu,” or Kendrick Lamar’s “Love.” It can be a compelling narrative, like Immortal Technique’s “Dance With The Devil” or Jay-Z’s “Meet The Parents.” There are plenty of reasons a track can not only withstand the test of time, but gain renewed life as it ages. Twenty-one years removed from its initial release, Method Man and Redman’s “Da Rockwilder” has never sounded better. There’s a strong case to be made that it’s a perfect rap song; perhaps even one of the greatest duets of all time. Yet it shines without pushing any particular boundaries, rather making the most of its simplicity through an excellent beat and electric performances from Tical and Reggie Noble.
Clocking in at two minutes and twenty-six seconds before it was cool, Red and Meth’s Blackout single barely has room to breathe. And still, there’s more content to unpack here than in many songs twice its length. That’s largely in part to the three main contributors, beginning with the track’s namesake. Songs are barely, if ever, named after the producer that laces them. So the story goes, Method Man christened the track in Rock’s honor, after he was inspired enough to write his verse on the spot. Speaking with Complex, Meth explained that Redman didn’t actually feel the instrumental at first, fueling him to double down and lead by example. “Red didn’t like the beat, that’s why the record’s so short. When I first heard it, I was like, ‘Fuck that!’ Wrote my verse right there and spit on it and I was like, ‘You know what? We gon’ call this shit ‘Rockwilder’ after you.”
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It’s hard to imagine someone having a negative response to the production. Opening with a tense build-up, wailing alarm bells over cinematic synthesizers, the soundscape proceeds to unfold into a steady pulsating groove. Rockwilder’s restraint goes a long way, his strategically placed drums landing precisely where they need to be. It’s mainly Method Man who benefits from this heightened anticipation, his words dexterously keeping stride with Rock’s rhythm. When the drums do land in full, with all the force of several rampaging elephants at that, Method Man uses the opportunity to flex his flow with a clever segue. In fact, Method Man’s entire opening verse is a masterclass in emceeing for a variety of different reasons.
Consider that Method Man’s solo career at that point consisted of two albums, Tical and Tical 2000; the first hailed as a classic, the second not so much. He was also a key contributor to the Wu-Tang Clan, who had already asserted their dominance with records like Enter The Wu-Tang and Wu-Tang Forever. As such, his artistic history was already rich with lore, which he quickly alludes to in his opening “Rockwilder” lines. “Microphone checker, swingin’ sword lecture,” he spits, calling back to his Shaolin lineage. “Closing down the sector, supreme neck protector.” In the following lines, he also makes reference to another one of his personal classics, the DJ PremierLimp Bizkit duet “N 2 Gether Now.” Like a bard immortalizing their accomplishments through song, Meth peppers “Da Rockwilder” with enough unique references to make it feel special for his longtime fans.
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If understanding Meth’s verse to the fullest requires a casual familiarity with his legacy, Redman’s verse requires something far more potent. There’s a reason why Eminem, himself a master of the reference, so deeply admires the pen game of Reggie Noble. Not only does his pivot into his own verse with flair, but he does so while firing off layered and vivid bars; though his effortless flow is highly acceptable, his lyrics are not designed to be skimmed in the slightest. “When I grab the broom, Moonwalk platoon hawk, my goons bark, leave you in a blue lagoon lost,” he spits, a threat that in itself requires a thorough examination to unpack. Not many rappers conjure such specific imagery, but Redman’s unique vernacular is full of surprises. “All channels, lift my shirt, all mammal,” he boasts, always opting to take the linguistic scenic route. A feat all the more impressive given that his verse is only active for about thirty seconds. Still, both parties still manage to fill their verses with more personality than countless rappers could ever dream of doing.
Of course, Redman and Method Man are two larger than life emcees, exuding charisma with every line. By the time Blackout released in 1999, both men were already accomplished artists in the game — the fact they managed to deliver one of their most energetic and memorable tracks so deep into their respective careers should not be undervalued. Not only did “Da Rockwilder” help propel Redman and Method Man into the conversation of great hip-hop duos, but it helped further launch the career of the producer who tied it all together. It wasn’t uncommon to see Redman and Method Man play the track multiple times in the same concert, not unlike Kanye and Jay-Z used to do with “N***as In Paris.” In fact, both songs seem to share a similar appeal; lyrical bangers brimming with personality and held together by an instantly infectious instrumental. There are really no flaws to be found, and those reckless enough to actively go searching are destined for the lagoon. Show some appreciation for one of rap’s great duets, a classic that undeniably gets love — but not nearly enough.