The Jay-Z/Nas feud was a hip hop rivalry during the early 2000s and is one of the most high-profile feuds in hip hop history. It was characterized by comments (both on- and off-record, figuratively as well as literally) between Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and Nasir "Nas" Jones from 2001 until resolved in 2005. The conflict received public attention because of how commercially and critically successful both artists were. It is one of the most followed feuds in hip hop history, especially in the aftermath of the East Coast–West Coast hip hop rivalry of the 1990s.
East vs. West Aftermath: 1996–1997
Initially, Jay-Z was a fan of Nas, who became well known after releasing his landmark debut Illmatic in 1994. In 1996, while recording Jay-Z's debut album Reasonable Doubt, producer Ski used a vocal sample from Nas' "The World Is Yours" as the chorus to his song "Dead Presidents". Nas was invited to appear on the album and Jay-Z and his business partners, Damon Dash and Biggs Burke, also wanted to sign Nas' group The Firm to their label, Roc-A-Fella Records. It was also planned that Nas and his groupmate AZ would appear on the song "Bring it On." However, the two never showed up to record their verses, creating the beginning stages of animosity between the two camps; in addition, payment and credit for the Nas sample became an issue between the two artists later in the feud. The Firm ended up signing to Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment, releasing their eponymous album in 1997.
Nas and Jay-Z connected through their respective relationships with rapper The Notorious B.I.G. aka "Biggie Smalls". Biggie went to high school with Jay-Z. As Jay-Z and B.I.G. began to make their reputations in the music industry, they collaborated on songs for each other's albums, Reasonable Doubt and Life After Death, respectively. Nas initiated a self-professed rivalry with Biggie. Biggie addressed Nas in his song "Kick in the Door," which also targeted several other rappers. In the 2002 song "Last Real Nigga Alive," Nas addresses his entire relationship with Biggie, as well as Jay-Z.
When The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered on March 9, 1997, New York's hip-hop scene began to look for someone to fill the void. Attention fell on Nas, one of New York's top-selling hip-hop artists, and Jay-Z, who was beginning to build a career buzz of his own. Both rappers made what were seen as thinly veiled references to each other's status as the new "King of New York".
Prodigy fuels the feud: 1999–2000
Throughout the late 1990s, Jay-Z and Nas avoided competition. Nas became more isolated due to his caring for his ailing mother. However, in August 1999, Roc-A-Fella artist Memphis Bleek made a vague reference to Nas in his song "Mind Right". The line "your lifestyle's written", was interpreted by rap duo Mobb Deep as a diss to the title of Nas' second album, It Was Written. Prodigy, one-half of Mobb Deep—who were close to Nas professionally as both artists were both from the Queensbridge projects and had appeared on each other's respective second albums—took issue with this and also with the lyrics and imagery in the music video to Jay-Z's 1997 single "Where I'm From":
|“||So when I heard that, I was like, “Who is Jay talking about who is talking about hanging in Marcy in they line?” Then I thought about “Trife Life” in my verse I said “jetted through Marcy ‘cause D’s[detectives] ain’t baggin’ me” because I was out there...Then “Shook Ones” came out, then Jay came with the plastic cups, football jerseys in the projects, taking jabs at us. I was like Nas, what we need to do is go at these niggas because number one, his lil’ man is trying to shit on you; talking about your life is written and all this shit.||”|
Thereafter, according to Prodigy, Nas continued to ignore the prospects of a beef, and elected not to lash back outright. Prodigy began taking shots at Jay-Z, berating him in an interview in The Source over his lyrics in some of his songs. Afterwards, tensions between Prodigy and Jay-Z increased, including a rift between Roc-A-Fella artists and a rapper friend of Prodigy's, E-Money Bags.
First round of disses: Summer Jam 2001
Jay-Z made the first public overtures toward a conflict at New York hip hop station Hot 97's Summer Jam concert in 2001. Reciting the opening verse to the first single for his album The Blueprint, "Takeover", a diss to Nas and Mobb Deep, which ended with the line, "Ask Nas, he don't want it with Hov. No!" Hov is one of Jay-Z's pseudonyms.
Nas responded with an attack on Jay-Z during a radio freestyle over Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full" beat, dissing most of the Roc-A-Fella Records members — specifically Jay-Z, Freeway, Memphis Bleek, E-Money Bags, and Beanie Sigel. Initially, the freestyle was untitled but it was later called "Stillmatic" (which also became the title of Nas' next album) or "H To The Omo" (a direct reference to Jay-Z's song "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)").
Second round of disses and fallout: 2001–2002
In 2001, Nas put out the single "Ether," finally addressing the feud with Jay-Z in full. The song mocked Jay-Z's early years as an aspiring young rapper and accused him of being a misogynist, as well as exploiting Notorious B.I.G.'s legacy by supposedly stealing his lyrics. On his album, Stillmatic, there were more implied Jay-Z disses, especially on the Megahertz song "Got Ur Self A...". "Ether" was the most concerted critique of Jay-Z.
Just days after Stillmatic's release, Jay-Z put out "Supa Ugly" which Hot 97 radio host Angie Martinez premiered on December 11, 2001, a freestyle over "Got Ur Self A..." and Dr. Dre's song "Bad Intentions." The radio station issued a poll asking listeners which rapper made the better diss song; Nas won with 52% while Jay-Z got 48% of the votes. The song contained claims that Jay-Z and basketball player Allen Iverson had both slept with Carmen Bradley, the mother of Nas' daughter Destiny, while they were still together. After Jay-Z made this diss involving Bradley, his mother made him apologize saying what Jay-Z did was "poor taste". In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jay-Z claimed that mentioning his relationship with Bradley was fair game when Nas implied Jay-Z was gay in "Ether". The feud continued to simmer, and rumors of a live pay-per-view freestyle battle began to circulate but never came to fruition. That same year, Nas appeared on the remix of Jagged Edge's "I Got It", where he flows about various astrological signs of the women he likes: "Virgo, if so you the same sign as me Geminis are fly, the kind I need Love Aquarius and Pisces Can’t leave a Libra I live life day to day, let a player play Supportin’ my women All my Capricorns and Scorpio women". He then throws in a subliminal diss at Jay-Z by saying "Leos and Cancer, girls be bad Only sign I can’t deal with is Sag’ Confusin’ my enemies, never losing Clever movement, act smooth with the women" This is in reference to Jay-Z's sign of Sagittarius.
After Hot 97 would not let Nas lynch Jay-Z's effigy at 2002 Summer Jam, Nas appeared on Hot 97's rival, Power 105, and attacked both the music industry's control over hip hop and the rappers who he saw as submitting to it. This included Jay-Z, his label, Cam'ron, Nelly and N.O.R.E: "Y'all brothers gotta start rapping about something that's real. This brought Cam'ron into the Jay-Z/Nas feud; Cam'ron controversially made disparaging remarks about Nas' mother. This caused Nas to retaliate against Cam'ron on the track "Zone Out" on his 2002 album, God's Son. Nas said "You got a house in Virginia, the only way you sicker than us, gettin' bagged with a .22 now you a ridiculous fuck," commenting on the rumor that Cam'ron was infected with HIV (House In Virginia). Cam'ron then struck back with the freestyle "show you how" which Cam'ron raps about Nas being mad of his rising success and how Nas is crying about his ex-girlfriend cheating on him. This freestyle marked the end of their feud.
Despite "Ether" beating out "Supa Ugly" in a Hot 97-sponsored radio phone-in poll, Jay-Z and Nas continued to feud, including Jay-Z criticizing Nas for his apparent hypocrisy on his The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse album's title track. On "Blueprint 2", Jay-Z begins his diss against Nas in the second verse by attacking his street credibility. Jay-Z also says that while he himself is more successful, he is more generous than Nas with his money. Jay goes on to mock Nas' spiritual persona from Stillmatic after accusing Nas of using both his [clarification needed] appearance and convoluted lyrics in an attempt to appear more intelligent than he is.
In the lines immediately after, he also accuses Nas of being contradictory for putting out commercial/materialistic-oriented tracks and then denouncing materialism and misogyny on other songs. Jay-Z also says, "My momma can't save you this time / Niggas is history" referencing the public apology his mother made him make after "Supa Ugly" was released.
Meanwhile, on his track "Last Real Nigga Alive" from his album God's Son, Nas compared himself to Tony Montana, and Jay-Z to Manolo respectively from the film Scarface (Montana and Manolo were partners, but towards the end of the film, Montana kills Manolo in a fit of rage), The track details how Jay-Z forced Nas into battling him by attacking him while he was raising his daughter, and caring for his dying mother. After 2002, though, both artists essentially discontinued the feud; Roc-A-Fella Records was embroiled in lyrical battles with Ruff Ryders, mainly Jadakiss and his group the L.O.X..
Fan response: 2003–2005
For two years after the de facto end of the rivalry, fans speculated consistently on the outcome of the battle while Nas concentrated on recording and his record label under Columbia Records. Jay-Z, meanwhile, began campaigning for his impending retirement, labeling 2003's The Black Album his last project and making headlines for accepting a position as President of Def Jam Records. Nas is featured in the song We Major, included in the album Late Registration by Kanye West, a longtime collaborator, friend and protégé of Jay-Z, which was recorded without Jay-Z's knowledge; Jay-Z eventually stated that it was his favorite song in the album. Neither side directly addressed the conflict until October 2005, when Jay put on a comeback concert called "I Declare War". The rapper invited a slew of guests to perform, including Roc-A-Fella artists and past associates such as Puffy and the L.O.X.; toward the end of the concert, Jay invited his 'surprise guest,' Nas, onstage to pose for photos and perform a blended version of Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents" and Nas' "The World is Yours".
The rivalry was put to a formal end in 2006, when Nas signed with Def Jam, of which Jay-Z was still President at the time. Nas and Jay-Z toured, recorded and appeared on television and radio together throughout 2006; the artists collaborated on Nas' Def Jam debut, Hip Hop Is Dead, on the song "Black Republican"; Nas returned the favor by appearing on Jay-Z's 2007 album, American Gangster on the song "Success." They also collaborated on "I Do it For Hip-Hop," a song from Def Jam South artist Ludacris' album Theater of the Mind.
Jay-Z was one of several noted individuals who supported Nas' initial decision to name his 2008 album as Nigger. However, Nas was forced to rename the album and thus decided to release the album without a title (the album is sometimes referred to with an eponymous title) after intense pressure from Island Def Jam executives and notable celebrities opposing the title.
In 2012, Jay-Z attended the release party for Nas' eleventh studio album, Life Is Good. Furthermore in 2013, Nas featured on "BBC" from Jay-Z's album Magna Carta Holy Grail. Jay-Z and Nas both also attended Kanye West's 36th birthday party. Producer Timbaland announced Nas has a song called "Sinatra In The Sand" featuring Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake.
In 2014, Nas brought out Jay-Z during his set at Coachella to perform "Dead Presidents" and "Where I'm From".
List of relevant records
- Nas – "The World Is Yours" -April 1994
- Jay-Z – "Dead Presidents" -February 1996
- Nas – "The Message" -July 1996
- Jay-Z – "The City Is Mine" -November 1997
- Nas – "We Will Survive" -December 1998
- Memphis Bleek – "What You Think of That" -February 1999
- Nas – "Nastradamus" -October 1999
- Nas – "Come Get Me" -November 1999
- Memphis Bleek – "My Mind Right" -March 2000
- Nas - "Desert Storm Freestyle" - June 2000
- Jay-Z & Memphis Bleek – "Is That Your Bitch?" -December 2000/January 2001
- Nas – "Da Bridge 2001" -November 2000
- Mobb Deep – "Talkin Reckless" -June 2001
- Jay-Z – "Takeover" -July 2001
- Nas – "Stillmatic Freestyle (H to the Omo)" -August 2001
- Jay-Z – "The Takeover (New verse)" -September 2001
- Nas - "Ether" -December 2001
- Jay-Z – "People Talking" -December 2001
- Nas – "Destroy & Rebuild" -December 2001
- Nas – "You're Da Man" -December 2001
- Jay-Z – "Don't You Know" -December 2001
- Beanie Sigel – "Hot 97 Freestyle (Jadakiss & Nas Diss)" -December 2001
- Jay-Z – "Supa Ugly" -December 2001
- Mobb Deep – "Crawin'" -December 2001
- Jaz-O – "Ova (Diss Jay-Z & Memphis Bleek)" -April 2002
- Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek & Beanie Sigel – "Marcyville (Remix)" -May 2002
- Jaz-O – "Ova Pt. 2" -May 2002
- Jay-Z & Rocafella – "Good Times (Diss Jaz-O)" -June 2002
- Nas – "Power 105 Interview" -June 2002
- Cam'ron & Jim Jones – "Hate Me Now" -July 2002
- Cam'ron – "ShowHow (Freestyle)" -July 2002
- Jay-Z – "Back From France (Freestyle)" -August 2002
- Nas – "U Wanna Be Me" -October 2002
- Dipset/Roc-A-Fella – "Tell a True Story (Nas & Nashawn Diss)" -October 2002
- Jay-Z – "Blueprint 2 (Diss Jaz-O & Nas)" -October 2002
- Nas – "Last Real Nigga Alive" -December 2002
- Jay-Z – "H.O.V.A (Super Hero Music) (Nas Diss)" -January 2003
- Bravehearts – "Quick to Back Down" (feat. Nas & Lil Jon) −August 2003
- Jay-Z - "Rap City (Freestyle)" -October 2003
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- Shaheem Reid (October 22, 2007). L.A. Reid Stands 'Firmly Behind' Nas Over LP Title MTV News. Retrieved October 22, 2007.
- Shaheem Reid (October 18, 2007). Nas Explains Controversial Album Title, Denies Reports Of Label Opposition MTV. Retrieved October 21, 2008.