Nelly and Ludacris were two of the defining hip-hop artists of the early 2000s, expanding the genre’s sound while representing St. Louis and Atlanta, respectively. Their personalities were undeniable; they each collected more hits than most mainstream pop heroes of the time.
On Saturday night (May 16), the two chart-topping greats went head-to-head on Instagram Live, in arguably the most high-profile battle in the Timbaland- and Swizz Beatz-curated Verzuz series to date. “It’s gon’ be a historic night!” Ludacris, rocking a giant chain and an Dominique Wilkins Atlanta Hawks throwback jersey, declared prior to the showdown while combing his afro with a pick. “I feel the energy from around the world!”
After Nelly initially signed on, Luda also mentioned that this year marks the 20th anniversary for both of their debut albums — Back For the First Time for Ludacris, Country Grammar for Nelly, both of which sold millions of copies while setting up prolonged runs of success. As Nelly put it to his compatriot and Verzuz competitor in between bites of chicken, “Your longevity is impeccable!”
After Nelly experienced some early technical difficulties, the two superstars started rolling out the hits. Check out how Billboard scored Saturday night’s hip-hop duel between Ludacris and Nelly.
Round 1: Jermaine Dupri feat. Ludacris’ “Welcome to Atlanta” vs. Nelly feat. Jaze Pha’s “Na-NaNa-Na”
After describing Nelly as an honorary ATLien, there was no better way for Luda to launch the battle than with his top 40 Jermaine Dupri team-up. Nelly dedicated Sweat highlight “Na-NaNa-Na” to his sister, Jackie Donahue — it was the last video she got to style for him before passing away — but the emotional moment was marred by WiFi issues.
Round 2: Ludacris feat. Shawnna & Lil Fate’s “P-Poppin’” vs. Nelly’s “Tip Drill”
Luda shouted out strip club food after grooving to his Chicken-n-Beer single… and then Nelly’s Internet became untenable, causing an extended delay. When he returned to the battle, though, the head St. Lunatic did so triumphantly with his BET Uncut classic, and scored a win while avoiding a battle postponement.
Round 3: Ludacris feat. Nicki Minaj’s “My Chick Bad” vs. Nelly’s “Pimp Juice”
When it was time to shout out the ladies, Luda went straight for a latter-period classic (and entertained Tiffany Haddish, who was having a ball in the comments). Too bad for him that a reinvigorated Nelly rolled out one of his most undeniable landmarks in Nellyville, and took an early lead in the battle.
Round 4: Ludacris’ “Ho” vs. Nelly’s “Flap Your Wings”
“What’s a pimp without a ho?” Ludacris posited when following up Nelly’s “Pimp Juice” with one of his early staples… and then Nelly dropped out again, which allowed Luda to play Chingy’s “Holidae In” while waiting for his challenger to sign back on. “Flap Your Wings” remains an eternal jam and the superior single in this matchup, but it was increasingly difficult to drop down and get your eagle on amidst such WiFi frustration. Call it a draw.
Round 5: Ludacris’ “Saturday (Ooooh! Ooooh!)” vs. Nelly feat. City Spud’s “Ride Wit Me”
“I’mma switch the tempo real quick!” Nelly announced, after Ludacris dropped a true Word of Mouf gem and appeared ready to chalk up another W… but you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, and “Ride Wit Me” is too heavy of a gun to lose against “Saturday” (or any other day, for that matter).
Round 6: Ludacris feat. Shawnna’s “What’s Your Fantasy” vs. Nelly’s “Country Grammar (Hot S–t)”
Perhaps sensing that Nelly was dipping into his bag of classics and collecting a string of victories, Luda went straight for his unassailable breakthrough single to settle his competitor down — but then Nelly did the same, tossing out “Country Grammar” without hesitation. There’s no way there’s a loser here.
Round 7: Ludacris’ “Rollout (My Business)” vs. Nelly feat. Ashanti’s “Body on Me”
Ludacris dedicated another early hits to its producer, Timbaland; nearly two decades after “Rollout” blew up, they’re still making records together, as Luda demonstrated when he debuted “Silence of the Lambs” earlier in the evening. Nelly countered with the 2008 Akon/Ashanti collaboration “Body on Me,” but the song for the ladies couldn’t match the street anthem.
Round 8: Ludacris’ “Splash Waterfalls (Whatever You Want Remix)” vs. Nelly feat. Jaheim’s “My Place”
“We had to go to the ladies,” Ludacris noted when he followed up Nelly’s “Body on Me” with one of his signature jams, and Nelly decided to follow it up by getting more “sentimental” with his rock-solid Jaheim team-up. A nice change-up from the St. Louis star, but the number of “splash emojis” in the comments gave this W to Luda.
Round 9: Ciara feat. Ludacris’ “Oh” vs. The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge and Avery Storm’s “Nasty Girl”
Battle of the features! Before pressing play on Ciara’s “Oh,” Ludacris described his guest spot on the track as one of his favorite verses ever — and then he proceeded to act out some of the lyrics while listening, including miming a camera on “take a flick-flick-flick-flick!,” which was incredible. Then Nelly flexed while playing “Nasty Girl,” from the 2005 Notorious B.I.G. posthumous release Duets: The Final Chapter, which is… not one of Nelly’s best verses.
Round 10: Nas feat. Ludacris and Jadakiss’ “Made You Look” (Remix) vs. Beanie Sigel and Freeway feat. Nelly and Murphy Lee’s “Roc The Mic” (Remix)
After a Biggie cut was played in the previous round, Ludacris decided to keep the battle in NYC with his ferocious remix of Nas’ “Made You Look”; Nelly then brought it down the turnpike to Philly for the “Roc The Mic” remix, on which fellow St. Louis native Murphy Lee joined Beanie Sigel and Freeway. Both worthy remixes, but Nelly gets the slight edge for the unexpected heat.
Round 11: Nelly’s “1000 Stacks” vs. Shawty Lo’s “Dey Know” remix (feat. Ludacris, Young Jeezy, Plies and Lil Wayne)
With the order switched up, Nelly moved the battle briefly into the 2010s with his 5.0 track “1000 Stacks,” which features Diddy and the Notorious B.I.G., while Luda came back with the 2007 “Dirty South” remix of ATL native Shawty Lo’s breakthrough single. As the MCs shouted out collaborators no longer with us, “Dey Know” got the party started with more jubilance.
Round 12: Jagged Edge feat. Nelly’s “Where The Party At” (feat. Nelly) vs. Usher feat. Ludacris & Lil Jon’s “Yeah!”
It’s easy to forget that “Where the Party At,” from R&B collective Jagged Edge, was one of an ascendant Nelly’s biggest commercial moments in the early 2000s, peaking at No. 3 on the Hot 100 and positioning him as a must-have featured artist. Want to know what was even bigger, though? Usher’s unstoppable “Yeah!,” which is arguably the biggest hit of Ludacris’ career. So close to a win, Nelly, and Luda thwarted you yet again.
Round 13: Nelly feat. Paul Wall, Ali & Gipp’s “Grillz” vs. Ludacris feat. Shawnna’s “Stand Up”
After Ludacris unfurled “Yeah!,” Nelly applauded the Hot 100 chart-topper — and then unveiled one of his own, grooving to his 2005 smash “Grillz” and shouting out “the homie Paul Wall.” Credit to Ludacris for countering with yet another No. 1 single to follow suit, and at least eking out a tie in the round.
Round 14: Nelly feat. Kyjuan, Ali & Murphy Lee’s “Air Force Ones” vs. Ludacris’ “Southern Hospitality”
“That’s probably one of my favorite records,” Ludacris gushed after Nelly dropped the influential St. Lunatics cut “Air Force Ones,” acting like he was going to cede the round to his competitor… but then he played one of his own favorite singles, the face-melting Neptunes classic “Southern Hospitality,” and once again knotted things up. How can either of these songs lose? They simply cannot.
Round 15: Nelly, P. Diddy & Murphy Lee’s “Shake Ya Tailfeather” vs. DJ Khaled feat. Ludacris, T-Pain, Snoop Dogg and Rick Ross’ “All I Do Is Win”
“All I Do Is Win” will make the hands go up, sure, and Ludacris’ verse has the posse cut’s most kinetic bars, but when that siren started sounding off on “Shake Ya Tailfeather” — an even stronger mash-up of hip-hop styles — Nelly had this one in the bag. Bad Boys II for life.
Round 16: Nelly’s “Just a Dream” vs. Ludacris feat. Nate Dogg’s “Area Codes”
Ludacris had to be saving this one for when he really needed it, right? Nelly professed a desire to switch it up to “some stadium s–t” and played his 2010 pop hit “Just a Dream,” and then Ludacris one-upped him by wanting to “go global” and dropping one of his signature singles. Rush Hour 2 for life.
Round 17: Nelly’s “E.I.” vs. Ludacris’ “Money Maker” (unreleased remix featuring Nelly)
Holding up an award commemorating his diamond-selling debut Country Grammar, Nelly waved his arms and lovingly grinned throughout “E.I.”; then, Ludacris waxed poetic about how he and Nelly had never collaborated, except they had collaborated, apparently, on an unreleased version of his No. 1 hit “Money Maker.” The surprise was so exciting that Nelly was asking Luda to send him the track after he signed off!
Round 18: Nelly feat. Nicki Minaj and Pharrell’s “Get Like Me” vs. Ludacris’ “How Low”
Fun fact (that’s not a fact): “Get Like Me,” a percolating 2013 Nelly single featuring Nicki Minaj and Pharrell Williams, still rules, and should have been much bigger upon its release! Meanwhile, “How Low” is yet another still-potent top 10 hit in Ludacris’ arsenal. Underrated can topple ubiquitous in the right circumstances, but not in this one.
Round 19: Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” vs. Ludacris’ “Move B–ch”
Nelly finally played the best card in his hand. “Move B–ch” continues to go off in clubs, but the still-enormous “Hot in Herre” was never getting beat, no matter what Ludacris countered it with (although credit to the man for letting the Mystikal verse play and ring out properly).
Round 20: Nelly’s “Dilemma” vs. Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz’s “Lovers and Friends” (feat. Usher and Ludacris)
“All my couples out there!” Nelly shouted into the camera when the “Dilemma” beat dropped — the Kelly Rowland-assisted jam replaced “Hot in Herre” atop the Hot 100 chart in 2002, and in similar fashion, Nelly notched back-to-back victories late in the game while Ludacris trotted out the “Yeah!” follow-up “Lovers and Friends” with Lil Jon and Usher.
Wider Catalog: Nelly
Ludacris has a boatload of hip-hop hits and mostly stayed true to them as his artistic foundation; meanwhile, Nelly seemed a bit more playful in his song selections, opting for some latter-period singles, unexpected pop deviations and surprising remix choices. Not every decision was sound, but Nelly deserves a point for creativity.
Biggest Snub: Nelly (Point: Ludacris)
Because of Nelly’s spotty Internet connection, Ludacris was able to sneak a few leftover cuts of his into the livestream, including “Holidae In” and “Pimpin’ All Over The World,” but in the 20 rounds he didn’t neglect anything as glaring — or as musically impactful! — as “Over and Over,” the Nelly-Tim McGraw collaboration that reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 and paved the way for future rap-country crossovers. Hard to fault Nelly for playing a few more traditional hip-hop tracks, but that one was too big to ignore.
Best Banter: Ludacris
Aside from his rapping and acting careers, Ludacris is an excellent master of ceremonies, hosting TV shows (like the rebooted Fear Factor) and awards galas (including the Billboard Music Awards in the past). That skill shone through on Saturday night, as his interplay with Nelly was respectful, fact-filled and generally silky-smooth — always thinking on his feet, Luda would often find ways to segue from Nelly’s song selection to his own. Nelly may have shown the most passion as the hits rang out, but Ludacris was quick to lead the conversation.
Biggest K.O.: Nelly
Ludacris delivered some absolute body blows during the battle, but when “Saturday (Ooooh! Ooooh!),” one of his most effervescent jams, was followed by “Ride Wit Me,” Nelly essentially elevated the competition and challenged Luda to break the glass on his biggest hits a little earlier than expected. Even when Ludacris was eventually delivering hit after hit, the “Ride Wit Me” beat kicking into full gear was the evening’s most instantaneous victory.
People’s Champ: Ludacris
Forget the early WiFi issues, which appeared to be chalked up to stormy weather in St. Louis and turned Twitter against Nelly; when this battle started rolling and Ludacris came correct with his A-grade material, the Internet could sense who was winning this fight. Luda countered several of Nelly’s most unflappable tracks with top-notch singles, and a late run of “Area Codes,” an unreleased version of “Money Maker” with Nelly himself on the track, and “How Low” ultimately became a murderer’s row that sealed the deal. This bout wasn’t a rout, but a decisive W for Ludacris nonetheless.
FINAL SCORE: 12-9-4, Ludacris