What’s Beef? Jay Z vs. Nas
Nas was already an established artist at the time Jay Z dropped his first studio album Reasonable Doubt. They were both mutual friends with Biggie Smalls and at the time Hip Hops King of New York. Once Big passed the crown was up for grabs and the fore runners were Jay Z and Nas. Nas and Jay Z used to be friends, so what’s beef?
It all began back in ’96, Jay Z was working on his debut studio album Reasonable Doubt and used a sample of the vocals on Nas’ track The World is Yours in his hook;
“Presidents to represent me/I’m out for presidents to represent me/I’m out for dead fucking presidents to represent me…”
Jay Z asked Nas to rerecord his vocals for the hook of DP2, but Nas declined. Jay Z and Dame Dash were also interested in signing Nas’ group The Firm, including Foxy Brown and AZ to their label, but Nas declined and ended up signing to Aftermath. He and AZ were also invited to appear on the song Bring It On by Jay Z, in which the two failed to show to record their verses.
This isn’t the official start of the beef between Jay Z and Nas, but I believe it was the start of animosity between the two camps. Songs started being released by the two that sounded like a subliminal attack against the other. Nas and Jay Z still appeared to the public as friends and everything was cool as far as we knew. In ’96 Nas released It Was Written, where the song The Message was featured. Nas took shots at various artists concerning their role in hip hop and the image that they were trying to portray. Jay Z fell into this category and the line “Lex with TV sets the minimum…” was inspired by the Brooklyn born rapper. Nas stated in an article that he did for Complex Music in ’12 that he wasn’t dissing Jay Z, but in a way he was because he was taking shots at everyone.
Then in ’97 Jay Z released The City Is Mine on his album My Lifetime Vol. 1 in which he made it known that he was now the King of New York since Big had passed. He was speaking to Big in the first verse stating that he was holding Brooklyn down and wouldn’t let the streets forget his name. He took shots at all rappers in New York claiming that he was the best and no one could touch him. According to Jay Z, people were jockin his style. They were trying to be as lyrical as he was, and wished they had the fortune he did. At this time, Jay Z’s career was gaining a lot of momentum and he wanted to make it clear that he was the King of New York despite what anyone else thought. Jay Z stated,
“Jay shit’s like cake mix, watch me rise
Basics in the basement, wasted
Asking my dog for advice so when he can’t say shit
My hatred is, fueled just give me a sign
And I let the world know that the city is mine, what?”
“I read a article that said I was ruinin shit
But every time I look, I’m movin units in quick
So I’mma hit y’all, with these last two and split
And leave niggas with nothing but my influences-es
Students of Jigga, I ain’t mad yeah, bite my shit
Sell half of what I sell because it’s not quite my shit
I’m the type to buy a Roley and just ice my shit”
In ’98 Nas released We Will Survive which featured on the album I Am… In this track Nas phones Biggie and Tupac to tell them how the game has changed since they’ve been gone. Nas also addresses the current feud going on in New York over the crown, and how he felt the artist were misguided and after the wrong thing. Nas stated,
“It used to be fun, makin records to see your response
But, now competition is none, now that you’re gone
And these niggas is wrong — using your name in vain
And they claim to be New York’s king? It ain’t about that
It’s more serious, I plan to toast it up with you..”
“I missed your wake not cause I’m fake
Cause I hate to see somebody so great in that way
I woulda stayed so long with so much to say
I had to put it in writin to keep me and Brooklyn from fightin
Tellin me to pay my respects and move to the side”
Now here is where things start to get interesting. This is the point where most people began to realize that there was something amiss between the two rappers. On Aug 3 ’99 Memphis Bleek released his album Coming Of Age which included the track, What You Think Of That. While Memphis Bleek didn’t directly diss Nas on the song, Jay Z seemed to be addressing We Will Survive and his status as King Of New York. Jay Z states,
”Round here frontin like my shit don’t sound like nuttin
Like I ain’t got the crown or suttin
Like I ain’t the nigga you base ya life on
I guess I ain’t the reason you got that ice on
Like I ain’t the muthafuckin dude with the shoes
I guess I ain’t the reason you rhyme the way you do
Like I ain’t the nigga who mastered all flows”
“Excuse me? Nigga don’t confuse me
I ain’t one of you rappers who got a deal
I’m one of the few niggas spittin it and got it for real
And even if you hatin, you gotta knock it in yo wheels
And the day that I stop it…..ILL!!”
Later that same year on November ‘99 Nas released the album Nastradamus, which featured the tracks Nastradamus and Come Get Me, both songs were subliminal disses at Memphis Bleek and Jay Z. In Nastradamus , Nas addresses Memphis Bleek by stating,
“You wanna ball till you fall, I can help you with that/You want beef? I could let a slug melt in your hat…”
I love this, because he twist around a line that Memphis used in his hook and promises to shoot him in the cap that’s usually doned atop his head. On the same album, Nas released the song Come Get Me. While the song was previously recorded and due to be released on I Am… it seems like Nas was taking shots at Jay even then.
“Girls dig you, imagine what she feel for me?
You make hot songs, but she know you steal from me
Who ill as me? I wild on haters in album three
Next level – I take y’all niggas to 3-D”
Nas snapped and it was really a barrage of insult upon insult and dared anyone to step to him. If you tried to come at him, he’d destroy you. Simple as that. Jay Z also released a song in ‘99 who’s hook resembled that of the hook for Nas ’99 release Come Get Me; and even mirrored a line in the hook from Nas’ song. Jay Z did the same thing that Nas did; called out anyone who wanted to go to war and made it clear that if you wanted him, you’d have to come get him. Memphis Bleek also countered with his release of My Mind Right in ’00 and it featured on DJ Clue’s Mixtape: Backstage, where he took shots at QB’s Finest.
“Put in work on these streets, bustin my heat
Dodgin the Ds, you know it’s a margin between me
And only a few fit in, your lifestyle’s written
So who you supposed to be, play your position”
It’s also been widely rumored that the song Is That Yo Chick by Memphis Bleek also featured on The Understanding was a direct hit at Nas concerning the widely spread rumor that Jay Z slept with his BM.
In ’14 Memphis Bleek did an interview for Hip Hop DX in which he takes credit for starting the feud with Jay Z and Nas with the release of My Mind Right. According to Memphis Bleek he got false information on a diss track that Nas was working on and wanted to beat Nas to the punch. Bleek said that he later found out it was all a lie, but the damage was already done.
That song fueled Nas to respond with his freestyle Eye 4 An Eye which was featured on DJ Clues mixtape, The Great Ones Pt 2. In this freestyle Nas once again takes shots at Jay Z and his credibility as an MC as well as his status as King of New York.
“Your flow is one dimensional; your level is 2nd grade
You’re on top — WHAT?
Copyin fuck, I said it first, you repeated
Your false crown covered in dirt – defeated
Y’all niggas all hail, the King is dead
He running like a bitch with his tail between his legs
‘Stillmatic’, still eye 4 an eye, wanna be God
You’re just the next rapper to die, fucking with Nas”
Nas also released the song Da Bridge 01 which was released on the album QBs Finest in ’01 and enlisted some of Queens finest MC’s. It was an anthem for Queens and used MC Shan’s original beat for Da Bridge. Nas uses his verse to not only addresses the shots that Bleek took at him in My Mind Right, but Rocafella as as whole. Nas states:
“Oh you didn’t wanna know whose life Was Written
The life I’m livin
The ice the women
The kites that sendin to lifeless biddin”
Here’s where things start to really get good. Prodigy of Mobb Deep found a problem with the line in My Mind Right where Memphis Bleek dissed Nas. Prodigy also felt like a line that Jay Z had in his ’98 release Money Cash Hoes took a shot at other New York artist and their relationship with the artist of the West Coast. As a result in an article that he did for Source Magazine (year unknown) Prodigy dissed Jay Z and his credibility as an artist. In return, at the Hot ’97 Summer Jamz in ‘01, Jay Z released The Takeover. He dissed Mobb Deep, most notably Prodigy, and at the end of the song, called out Nas saying:
“You guys don’t want it with Hov’ / Ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov’, nooooo!”
This people, is when the flame of beef was fanned and began to grow into a wild blaze. This is when things got really good and songs of the two directly dissing each other were released. With one simple line, Jay Z officially started one of the greatest beefs in hip hop.
Shortly after his Summer Jamz appearance, Nas released a diss record in ’01 named Stillmatic Freestyle (H to the OMO) where he attacked Jay’s credibility as an artist and the Roc-A-Fella family. This song showed just how lyrical Nas truly is. His word play and punch lines are great and the delivery of his bars is impeccable.
“Rip the Freeway, shoot through Memphis with money bags
Stop in Philly, order cheese steaks and eat Beans fast
And bring it back up top, remove the fake king of New York
You show off, I count off when you sample my voice
I rule you, before, you used to rap like the Fu-Schnickens
Nas designed your Blueprint, who you kidding?
Is he H to the Izzo, M to the izzo?
For shizzle you phony, the rapper version of Sisqo”
Nas was relentless and killed him with this song, and it caused Jay Z to add 32 bars to the original version of Takeover. The addition of bars ended up with an even greater song than before. Jay Z proved with Takeover that he could to go bar for bar with the Queens Bridge great. Punch lines great, his word play wasn’t as good, but delivery was spot on. He attacked Nas’ credibitlity as a gangsta, artist, and attacked his sexual orientation.
“It’s only so long fake thugs can pretend
Nigga, you ain’t live it
You witnessed it from your folks’ pad
You scribbled it in your notepad and created your life
I showed you your first Tec, on tour with Large Professor
Then I heard your album about your Tec on the dresser
So yeah, I sampled your voice, you was using it wrong
You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song
And you ain’t get a coin, nigga, you was getting fucked then
I know who I paid, God – Serchlite publishing
Use your (brain)”
Jay Z held nothing back for his attack on Nas. This song helped not only boost his credibility as an MC, it made his King Of New York status that more legit. At this point, Jay Z was considered the winner of this beef, and did an episode of MTV Unplugged in November of ’01 in which he performed the song People Talking. Jay Z once again took shots at Nas. Jay Z stated that the harder Nas came at him, the harder he’d retaliate, and he wasn’t going to back down from a fight.
It wasn’t until Nas released Stillmatic in December of ’01 that he responded with the albums featured single Ether. Ether is and always will be considered one of the greatest diss tracks in hip hop history. Nas once again attacked Jay’s credibility as an artist, his sexual orientation, and brought to the forefront personal details of their early friendship before Jay had fame.
Nas said it plain and clear in his opening verse that he’s the one who’s been in the game the longest and the one who deserves the throne as King.
“How could Nas be garbage? Semi-autos at your cartilage
Burner at the side of your dome, come out of my throne
I got this locked since 9-1
I am the truest; name a rapper that I ain’t influenced
Gave y’all chapters but now I keep my eyes on the Judas
With Hawaiian Sophie fame, kept my name in his music”
“Well life is harsh; hug me, don’t reject me
Or make records to disrespect me, blatant or indirectly
In ’88 you was getting chased through your building
Callin’ my crib and I ain’t even give you my numbers
All I did was gave you a style for you to run with
Smiling in my face, glad to break bread with the God
Wearing Jaz chains, no Tecs, no cash, no cars
No jail bars Jigga, no pies, no case…”
Nas used Ether to prove to Jay and the world that Jay Z wasn’t on his level and that he influenced the Brooklyn rapper, as well as other rappers in the industry. Ether catapulted Nas as the winner of this beef according to the public and gave him back a lot of the attention that he had lost throughout the years. On that same album, Nas also released the song, You’re Da Man, where he also addressed himself as the king and addressed his relationship with Jay Z early on in his career.
“They plan was to knock me out the top of the game
But I overstand they truth is all lame
I hold cannons that shoot balls of flames
Right in they fat mouth then I carve my name
Nas – too real, Nas – true king
It’s however you feel, go ‘head, you swing
Your arms too short to box with God
I don’t kill soloists, only kill squads
Fame went to they head, so now it’s “Fuck Nas”
Yesterday you begged for a deal, today you tough guys”
I especially like the opening verse because Nas re-used a line Jay used in People Talking and used it against him. Jay Z stated in the song that “…This ain’t have to stand/’Til your arms are too short to box/Plus we knuckle up unorthodox…” Nas also addressed the wide spread rumor of Jay Z sleeping with his baby mama, and once again addressed the use of his vocals on Jays song stating:
“I spotted my enemies tryna do what I do
Came in with my style, so I fathered you
I kept changing on the world since “Barbeque”
Now you wanna hang with niggas I hung with
Fuck bitches I hit…”
In retaliation, Jay Z went on Hot 97 a few days after Nas released Stillmatic and released the diss Super Ugly. This diss track was pure fire and Jay Z held nothing back. This diss record showed just how lyrical Jay can be and made me respect him more as an MC. Very comical, disrespectful, and true; the makings of a great diss song. The thing that I love the most about this diss track is that he opens up using the beat from Nas’ Got Yourself A Gun for the beginning, then the beat breaks and you hear Knocturnal’s beat for Bad Intentions. This diss record was raw and one of my favorite diss tracks throughout the whole beef.
“Brooklyn stand up, I got myself a gun
But really I dont need the heat
Your heart pump project Kool-Aid, you’re sweet
I don’t gotta two-way you gays
This is not beef, this is rap homie
I don’t have a scratch on me
You feel Jay soft, rip Jay off”
Then once the beat drops, he speaks on his sexual relationship with Nas’ baby momma stating;
“Me and the boy A.I. got more in common than just balling and rhyming
Get it? More in Carmen
I came in your Bentley backseat, skeeted in your Jeep
Left condoms on your baby seat
Here nigga, the gloves is off, the love is done
It’s whatever, whenever, however nigga – one
And since you’re infatuated with saying that gay shit
Yes you was kissing my dick when you was kissing that bitch”
After Super Ugly was released, Nas went on Power 105 in ’02 and did an interview and spoke on his beef with Jay Z. Nas spoke on the Summer Jamz stunt and his disapproval at what Jay did, and how it’d been done before. Nas states that Jay’s album was whack, he talks about the same thing in all his songs, and that the streets chose him as the winner of the beef with his release of Ether.
Shortly after, Jay Z released the diss song Back From France, in which he addressed the interview Nas did for Power. It wasn’t his best freestyle, but he still had some good punch lines. In the third verse of the song Jay Z states:
“While y’all was running your mouth complaining about Summer Jam
I was in flip-flops in the South of France
See how it flip-flops with the number one station for hip-hop and r&b?
You thought Summer Jam was starring you? It was starring me
Even in my absence, my presence is felt
That gotta tell you I’m the king, dog, if nothing else
I’m on another continent, you still ain’t content
I’m in the Mediterranean, you still ain’t vent
Explain to me why I want to be you again
You on the radio crying, I’m learning to swim”
Nas released the song U Wanna Be Me on the 8 Mile Soundtrack released in October ‘02, where he once again took shots at Jay Z credibility as an MC, his involvement with his career, and slimply letting Jay know that he’d never be as good as him. In the second verse Nas states;
“That’s the thing I hate the most, can’t even call you a man
When you gotta call out my name to get you some fans
No talent, you need direction; you a pussy with a yeast infection
You unlucky, I’m your fuckin C-section
Plus I’m the last real nigga alive
Toast glass, Ill Will, the label get high
Realize, how many classics I gave you
Perhaps if you think back you’ll realize that I made you”
“Wanna be me, you can’t you faggot, you bitch
You coward, you clown, you just wanna be down
So you – wanna be me, you bitch, you phony
You clone me, you wanna be son, I’m the one and only
But you – wanna be me, you suckers, you weak
You flunkies, you fake, you couldn’t come close on my worst day
But you – wanna be me, I burn you and learn you a lesson
Concerning this mic profession, turn your direction”
Nas once again did a great job of attacking Jay’s credibility and showed that no matter how long he’s been in the game, no matter how much publicity he does or doesn’t get, he’s still one of the greats and a force to be reckoned with. No matter how much Jay Z tried to deny it, he was a big influence in his early years and a stepping stone for his career. Jay Z of course, felt the need to retaliate once again, so he did so, on the track Blueprint 2 which featured on the album titled the same in November ’02.
Jay Z once again showed that he can go bar for bar with Nas and had some good punch lines for Nas, and a few select other rappers who found themselves in the middle of the beef. Jay once again calls into question Nas’ credibility as an artist, and in verse two opens with;
“Can’t y’all see that he’s fake, the rap version of T.D. Jakes
Prophesizing on your CDs and tapes
Won’t break you a crumb of the little bit that he makes
And this is with whom you want to place your faith”
“Cause the nigga wear a kufi, it don’t mean that he bright
Cause you don’t understand him, it don’t mean that he nice
It just means you don’t understand all the bullshit that he write
Is it “Oochie Wally Wally” or is it “One Mic”?
Is it “Black Girl Lost” or shorty owe you for ice?
I’ve been real all my life, they confuse it with conceit
Since I will not lose, they try to help him cheat”
Jay Z did a great job questioning Nas’ credibility with this track, and he also released the single, Don’t Ya Know in November ’02 for the soundtrack to the movie Paid In Full. In an interview for Complex Music, Just Blaze states that the song was originally supposed to be a diss to Nas, but it was changed for the soundtrack of the movie. You can still hear, however, the underlying diss to Nas on this track, especially with the hook.
“Don’t you know?
When you’re defeated, young punk?
Won’t you throw
Won’t you throw in the towel, stop running your mouth
Don’t you know that we know you’re just running your mouth
Cause when this shit pops off, we gonna run in your house”
It sparked Nas’ to respond with Last Real Nigga Alive to make it clear that he is as real as he says he is.
Nas took us through the beef with Big, Jay, and showed us that there was a lot more to the seemingly endless fight for King of New York.
“Y’all don’t know about my Biggie wars
Who you thought “Kick In The Door” was for?
But that’s my heart, y’all still tripping off the Jigga shit
Real niggas listen up and I’mma tell you how the whole thing start
Off top I brung Queens up from hard times
Rocking at the Fever, streets was all mine”
Nas also used this song to address the drama between his BM and Jay, his sick mother who he stepped back from the game to care for, and also referred to himself as Scarface and compared Jay to Manolo, Scarfaces friend in the movie who he eventually kills.
“In the middle of that, Jay tried to sneak attack
Assassinate my character, degrade my hood
Cause in order for him to be the Don, Nas had to go
The Gam-B-I-N-O rules I understood
What y’all want, see, I already had
The Gift and The Curse? Fuck that shit, the first shall be last
I’m the man’s man, a rapper’s rapper
G-O-D S-O-N, they’ll be none after
I was Scarface, Jay was Manolo
It hurt me when I had to kill him and his whole squad for dolo”
Now at this point, the beef with Jay Z and Nas had started to simmer down. Most of the public and mainstream media named Nas the winner solely for the song Ether. Even with that, Nas felt he’d get one more shot in against Jay and enlisted his Braveheart soilders to do it with their ’03 release of Quick to Back Down. The hook for that song was aimed at Jay Z and used his verse to state once again that he’s better than Jay Z and the beef in the hood would never end. However, just a few years after its release in 2006 the feud between Jay Z and Nas had officially ended with Nas’ signing onto Death Jam and touring with Jay Z. The question is who won?
The Nas gets the body for me, one bag. While Jay Z had some great diss records and punch lines, he couldn’t beat Nas as far as delivery, lyricism, word play, and punch lines go. With Ether, H to the OMO, Come Get Me, and the Desert Storm Freestyle, Nas proved why he deserved to be New Yorks King and wear the crown.