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…
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”.
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.
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”.
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.
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:
- 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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
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.