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Confession of a Nas fan: “Ether” vs “Takeover”

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Off rip, I need to  offer a disclaimer: in my debatable opinion, Nas is the G.O.A.T, almost divine from my point of view. His sophmore album, “It Was Written” may be my favorite album of all time. His second effort was laced with cuts like “Take it in blood”, “Shootouts” and “The Message”, which showed an elevation in his artistry in comparison to his immortal debut “Illmatic”. From Nas’ fashion sense, to his writing ability, all the way down to his mystique when dealing with some of the baddest women on the planet, the “only one Sade dated” has been an inspirtation to me in more ways than one. However, my admiration for Nas and opinion on the Jay/Nas feud creates quite the juxtaposition. With that said, I digress…

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In the darker years of Nas legendary career, circa 1998 to 2000, Jay-Z’s career really started to take off after going platinum 5 times over with his “Hard Knock Life” album. Up to this point, Nas was undoubtedly the  city’s golden pen, but the ink was running dry for Esco and the support seemed to shift in the direction of Hov. There was silent tension since the inception of Jay’s career, and escalated after the departure of B.I.G because it gave way to the King-Of-New-York conversation. Some will say Nas threw the first dart all the way back in 1996 on “The Message” when he said “Lex with tv sets the minimum”, after Jay was seen driving a lex, with tv sets, in a few of his early videos. That’s neither here, nor there. Some will also say it all started because of a proceeding subliminal exchange between Nas and Jay’s shooter, Memphis bleek, in 1999. 

“Ima ball til I fall what you think of that?”-Memphis Bleek (“What you think of that?”)

Re: “you wanna ball til you fall? I could help you with that”- Nas (“Nastradamus”)

Re: “ya lifestyle written, who you tryna be? Play your position” – Memphis Bleek (“Mind Right”)

Once again, that’s neither here, nor there. All the subs, resentments and tension would have it’s cover blown with one subtle line on that Hot 97 Summer Jam stage, in 2001. Hov used the platform to debut, what was really a Mobb Deep diss: “Takeover”. However, what caught the ears of the city wasn’t his jabs about Prodigy’s credibility or height, it was the line that ended the song: “Y’all niggas don’t want it with Hov, ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov”. It is said that Nas was reluctant to respond because, despite Jay’s success, he didn’t believe the Brooklynite was on his level. Thankfully, Nas had some honest people around him, who put him on game and said in so many words “regardless what you believe, this is the dude right now, if you don’t respond, it’s over”.

jay bleek

Nas initial response was “H to the omo” or the “stillmatic freestyle”. This was a flex in lyrical superiority over the break-beat from Dennis Edward’s “Don’t look any further”, popularized in the hip hop world by Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid in full” . Nas threw more than a few not-so-subliminal lines towards Hov, even calling him the rapper version of Sisqo, which un-intentionally made the Dru-hill singer the standard for soft in the rap world. The response was enough to make Hov go back to the lab to add an additional verse to “Takeover” solely aimed for Nas dome piece like Jerome’s niece coming from Jones Beach.

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The additional verse was all types of disrespectful and attacked Nas from every angle. Jay picked at his artistic and street credibility, and ended the verse by subliminally referencing that he fucked Nas baby mother, Carmen Bryan, who later used it to her advantage and made a tell-all book about it. It seemed quiet for Nas after that. Lo and behold, 6 months later, Nas drops “Ether” which is almost seen as the awakening of the beast, the resurrection and a far cry from records like “You owe me”. Nas also took it to record levels of disrespect and mockery, referencing him swagger-jacking Biggies style, his Hawaiian sophie days and made room to call him a “tae-bo hoe”.

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With everyone waiting for a response from Jay, he dropped a sub-par diss track “Super ugly” which just seemed like he was trying to be more disrespectful than creative. Nas’ biggest advantage, at this point, was representing the underdog . The game almost-unanimously labeled Nas the victor in this match of the titans. But here’s where the confession comes in, even as a Nas stan, I feel Jay won.

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There are a number of reasons why a lot of people feel that Jay lost. One, they didn’t expect anything from Nas at that point in his career, but he came out like a bear from hibernation. Two, Jay responded with  “super-ugly”, which gave room for general perception to compare a weaker response to “Ether”, rather than pinning it against “Takeover”. Three, “Ether” became a verb for shitting on people after Nas dropped it. However, outside of the moment and in retrospect, Jay came with more fact and “Ether” seemed more like a game of dozens.  Nas clowned Jay, attacking his physical misfortune, homosexual references, unrealistic threats. Nas also criticized him for taking from Big, which could also be considered Jay paying homage to a fallen friend. What could be the most potent and transcending critique in “Ether” was about Eminem “murdering” Hov on “Renegade”, which gave birth to barbershop analysts everywhere debating verses on any track which featured two or more prominent spitters. In contrast: Jay, being sharp in the art of war, played on the collective’s opinion of Nas at the time. Though a Nas fan such as myself doesn’t agree that he never lived up to the potential of “Illmatic”, there is a large amount of hip hop fans who feel that way. Jay also pointed out instances like the questionable “Karl Kani” ads and “oochie wally” appearances. Hov shot at Nas with facts, for the most part he avoided joking and bullshit threats. Here are some of the jabs Hov dropped that Nas should’ve addressed:

  1. He attacked “oochie wally”: Another questionable move on Nas behalf and is almost cringe worthy to listen to Nas stretch for fame in that fashion until this day.
  2. “I showed you your first tec, on tour with Large Professor, then I heard your album about the tec on the dresser”: this line would just be another aimless jab of credibility from Jay, but Large Professor spoke on this as well.
  3. “So yeah I sampled your voice…you ain’t get a coin, nigga, you was gettin fucked then/ I know who I paid, God- Serchlite publishing”: attacking Nas on a business-level and him getting duked out of money by bad contractual terms. Serch did say that there was some fact to this on “The Champs” podcast, though that wasn’t the name of his publishing company at the time.
  4. “You’ve been in this 10, I been in it 5- smarten up, Nas”: From a level of progression, Nas was not where he was supposed to be with the sub-par “Nastradamus” and the good (but not IWW/Illmatic level) “I AM”, he wasn’t where most would’ve thought judging from how the queensbridge emcee shot out the gate. In the meantime, Jay was going no-where but up.
  5. “Because you know who-did you know what-with you know who”: Jay referencing the more-than-alleged sexual encounter with the mother of Nas first born. Super disrespectful and confirmed.

So yeah, as a fan of fact-based personal attack, I feel Jay took this battle. Regardless of what your opinion is, we can all agree: this is one of the best back-and-forths hip hop as ever seen. The kings clashed and kept it on wax. They provided pure entertainment and classic material, that we still talk about nearly 15 years later.

As I stated in my disclaimer, Nas is still my favorite emcee of all time. He was 2 top 5 albums for me (IWW & Illmatic), while Jay only has one (Reasonable Doubt). As he stated on “Ether” he did influence a whole generation of rappers and reigned as the cream of the crop, in an era of hip hop when your pen had to be sharp to survive. Though Nas has had his inconsistencies, he’s always managed to bounce back and he proved that with his 2012 album “Life Is Good”, the moet-drinking-marajuana-smoking- street dweller can still do it, regardless of where he’s at in life.

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Sidebar: The beat to “Ether” was awful.

Sidebar II: If you say Jay won, on the basis of Nas signing to Def Jam, you’re a corn.

 

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Knowledge, God: Why isn’t Raekwon held in higher regard?

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The debate for the “King of New York” in hip hop is an unresolvable, pointless & compeltely subjective argument, but it’s fun none the less. It’s a conversation that’s been going on in barbershops since the days of Krs-One, Rakim & Big Daddy Kane. Nobody is ever going to change their mind whether they believe it’s Nas, Biggie or Jay, when it’s all said and done, opinions will remain unshaken and everyone will stick to their guns. That’s mainly because there are different reasons and standards regarding people’s opinions. My standard for the best in the town is based in longevity, as well as quality penmanship and product, for other’s it may differ. For instance, most people who say Jay owns the crown will support their argument with his accolades, how much he’s done not only for hip hop but on a business level too. For those who go the Biggie route, they’ll speak on him (and Bad Boy records) irrefutable dominance of Hip hop in the 90s, and his ability to crossover to the mainstream, while simultaneously maintaining his credibility on a street level. For those who say Nas, they will most likely bring up how his 1994 debut shook the grounds of hip hop, his uncontested pen game, How he ethered Jay and how he was regarded as the top rapper, lyrically, in the Golden-era of the 90s, when everyone had to be nice to survive. Regardless, it’s a cold case. Since the 90s other’s have been thrown into the discussion, but those 3 remain the top guns even in 2015. 50 cent, who specialized in the destructive competitiveness of New York Hip Hop, made the argument relevant again in a new era when he went on his tirade in the early 2000s going at everyone from Ja Rule, to Dipset, to The Lox, and Fat Joe, pretty much everyone in New York who was even remotely relevant. However, something that always amazes me, is that after the decades of debating and all of these bullshit back-and-forths I’ve been involved in or witnessed, nobody has ever brought Wu-Tang’s top swordsman up, The God, Raekwon.

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I won’t even use Rae’s countless amount of contributions on Wu-Tang projects as evidence to why he should be in the argument, I’ll focus solely on his solo career. Off top, the Purple Tape, his solo debut, the 1995 Classic “Only Built For CubanLinx”, widely regarded as one of (if not the) the best hip hop albums to ever bless the culture. It was more than an album, it was a moment, a turning of the tide in hip hop with an impact that is only rivaled by albums like Nas’ “Illmatic” or Dr.Dre’s 1992 masterpiece, “The Chronic”. The album established Raekwon (& Ghostface) as trail blazers, the influence was immediate, from the content to the slang Rae & Ghost were using. The album introduced a new subgenre in hip hop which was labeled mafioso-rap, the black Gambino. It’s the cross between Mob movies such as “The Godfather” and “Good Fellas”, intertwined with inner-city New York street life of the 80s and early 90s. The story-telling was vivid (Slick Rick/Kool G Rap esque) and RZA’s production was vintage. Aside from that, this album spawned a bunch of “A.K.A’s” such as Lex Diamonds for Rae and Tony Starks, for Ghostface, which set another trend in hop hop. Every major hip hop album that came out following OB4CL had traces and elements of Rae’s classic solo-debut. That includes Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt”, Nas’ “It Was Written” and Big’s “Life After Death”. All 3 of those albums, undeniable classics (Stop hating on IWW), had some of Ghost & Rae’s recipe in them. For starters, the street narratives started to become more of the norm, with artists detailing violent, often drug related, tales heavily based in cinematically-influenced imagination (Biggie “Niggas bleed”, Nas’ “The Set Up”). Along with that, the nicknames that started to pop up (Nas “Escobar”, Biggie “Frank White”, Jay’s “Cashmere Brown”), as well as the Gambino talk. The influence didn’t go unnoticed, even Cappadonna stated on Wu-Tang’s “Little Ghetto Boys” (1997):

                                                          “You not a real brother you just a fake type
                                                          That get on the mic then throw your cliché
                                                           Half the East coast sounding just like Rae
                                                            If you a Gambino, give credit to the flow”

That’s a shot that could’ve gone in plenty of directions, but, I digress. Some will say, “Well, Okay, that’s one album”, true, and it’s absolutely the stand out of Rae’s 5 album catalog. Every artist has that one album that outshines the rest of their work, regardless of how much quality material they’ve put out . Rae has had his slip-ups, sure, like his second album “Immobilarity”. Though the penmanship was still there, the overall feel and quality wasn’t. The 1999 release had no Ghostface features or RZA production and the story telling wasn’t as sharp or abundant but the album still had it’s moments. His 2003 release “The Lex Diamond story” was another dent in the catalog because of a lack of cohesivness, giving it more of a mixtape feel, and a tracklist which should of been narrowed down. Rae should be granted his 2 mishaps just as Jay was with “Blueprint 2” and pretty much every solo album after “The Black Album” (minus “American Gangster”). Nas was excused of his 1999 fail “Nastradamus” and 2004’s “Streets Disciple”. While on the other hand it’s hard to judge Big on a level of consistency, when he had two releases (both classics, though) and in hinesight we barely had 3 years from him (unfortunately, Rest In Peace). Rae’s 2 most recent releases, the sequel to OB4CL (2009) and “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” (2011) are both high-quality albums in an era when we saw plenty of our favorite rappers from the 90s completely fall off.

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Rae’s longevity speaks for itself, he’s still everywhere you look, he’s still relevant, and he’s still dressed dip (Follow him on Instagram). Raekwon has had impressive features on some of the biggest projects in the modern era, such as Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (“Gorgeous”), French Montana’s “Excuse My French” (“We go wherever we want”), Schoolboy Q’s “Oxy-Moron” (“Blind threats”) and ASAP Mob’s “Lords” mixtape (“Underground Killa”), to name a few. He’s still sharper than his competition, even these days, and he’s more tangible to the younger generation of artists than anyone of the same legendary status. He’s not afraid to step in the box and hang with the new guys, which is testament to his consistency. All this to say, there is no reason why Raekwon should keep getting disregarded in the Mt. Rushmore of New York’s hip hop history, he has the albums, the penmanship, the timeless-influence, and the longevity to back his case up. I’m not saying he doesn’t get credit, because everyone respects Rae’s craft, but he’s not held on the pedestal that he’s supposed to be with the rest of the elite.

Sidebar: Raekwon’s sixth solo album “F.I.L.A (Fly Internation Luxurious Art)” is slated to drop this year, be on the look out.

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