Although they have never collaborated together, the relationship between Nas and Jay-Z dates back to the mid-90s. In 1994, even before the release of Illmatic, Nas, from Queen, was already seen within Hip Hop as the promising child of New York rap. All the greatest producers of the time wanted to provide a beat for the album, we find besides Q-Tip, DJ Premier, Large Professor or Pete Rock. The album strongly acclaimed by the critic, Nas becomes instantly a star and one of the best rappers of his generation, his second album It Was Written will confirm, in 1996.
While Nas was already a star in 1996, Jay-Z, on the other hand, was just a young drug dealer who started rapping, trained a little earlier by Jaz-O. With this desire to elevate and become rich, the Brooklyn rapper created his own label, Roc-A-Fella, and released his first album without any real hope of success, rap to make rap. Yet Jay-Z shows great technique on the mic, with sharp lyrics, while using the freestyle technique of Notorious BIG, rapping in the studio without writing the lyrics. Reasonable Doubt was finally a success and Jay-Z continued his career as a rapper.
What is the relationship between Jay-Z and Nas you may ask? Well, you have to know that the two were seeing each other occasionally, Jay-Z invited Nas to rap on Reasonable Doubt, on the track Bring It On. However, although he accepted, Nas never showed up. But, at the time, things will remain there. Jay-Z is probably a little disappointed and angry, but does not start the hostilities for all that, although there are some disguised references in their songs in the years that will follow.
It was in 2001 that Jay-Z attacked Nas in a much more direct way on the song Takeover that he performed at Summer Jam. The song contains a rhyme implying that Nas is over, that he no longer has the success of the 90s. With this punchline, he implies that he is now the only representative of New York. Jay-Z proclaims himself as the worthy successor of Biggie and the King of New York.
Jay-ZI know you miss it, Nas, the (Fame)
But along with celebrity comes ’bout seventy shots to your frame
– That’s why your (Lame), career’s come to an end
It’s only so long fake thugs can pretend
Nas responds almost instantly with the track Ether, directly attacking Jay-Z from the first lines with 2pac saying “Fuck Jay-Z”. Nas will claim loud and clear that he is still present among the greatest rappers, that he is back, and that he is indeed the King of New York. In response, Jay-Z reworked Takeover to include an entire verse dedicated to Nas. At this point, the fans declared Nas as the big winner of this beef, with much more vicious and ruthless lyrics.
NasThe king is back, where my crown at?
– It’s like an AIDS test, what’s the results?
Not positive, who’s the best? Pac, Nas and Big
– When these streets keep calling, heard it when I was sleep
That this Gay-Z and Cockafella Records wanted beef
– You been on my dick nigga, you love my style, nigga (“Fuck Jay-Z”)
The battle of the King of New York begins. Nas and Jay-Z will focus their future albums, respectively Stillmatic and The Blueprint on the beef. Nas appears on the cover above New York. The name of his album is a direct reference to Illmatic, implying that his glory years with Illmatic are still alive. The Illmatic engraved in stone adds to this idea of stability: Illmatic is and will always be a classic. On his side Jay-Z appears as the boss, sitting on a desk smoking a cigar, he is now the businessman who holds the strings in New York.
Afterwards, Jay-Z answers to Ether with a freestyle on the instrumental of Got Ur Self… by Nas. During this freestyle, later named Supra Ugly, Jay-Z directly attacks Nas’ girlfriend and daughter, spitting insanities at the two close to the Queen rapper. Outraged by the obscene lyrics of the song, Jay-Z’s mother forced him to publicly apologize, which he did a little later, marking the end of direct confrontations (disstracks) between the two rappers. The conflict will then attenuate until the official reconciliation with a collaboration on Black Republican in 2005 on the album Hip Hop Is Dead of Nas.
Who is the real king of New York at this time? Who really won? It’s hard to say, but Nas was able to revive his career and mark his return to the forefront thanks to Ether. Even though fans have generally declared Nas the winner of the beef, Nas’ signing to Roc-A-Fella in 2005 may suggest otherwise.