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If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Jay-Z and Nas

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

“Put it together, I rock hoes y’all rock fellas,” Nas rapped on his 2001 track, “Ether,” taken from his 2001 comeback album, Stillmatic. It was during this time when no one could imagine a day when Jay-Z and Nas were friends. Fast forward ten years and the two rappers are the best of friends, but it a lot took place for this friendship to form.

Before the fame and the riches, Jay-Z and Nas were both street emcees who represented the same city, New York City, to be exact, but were from different boroughs. While born in Brooklyn, Nas was bred in Queens. Meanwhile, Jay-Z was born and raised in Brooklyn, representing the Marcy Projects.

Those close to both rappers have said there was always tension between the two rappers. Although he was a bit younger, Nas was the first to gain national fame, quickly becoming a voice of the streets. But, in vain efforts to go pop, Jay-Z eventually filled this void, while branching out to pop audiences.

As great of an artist as Jay-Z is regarded, he was always a fan first, admitting to owning Nas’ Illmatic. Jay-Z wanted Nas on the chorus of his “Dead Presidents” single, but Nas missed the recording, immediately building animosity. Wanting his line, “I want presidents to represent me,” Jay-Z opted for sampling his voice, inviting Nas to be a part of the music video, to which Nas refused. From that point on, Jay-Z and Nas did not attempt to collaborate and had minimal interaction. Artists around them created memorable songs with both rappers, but the stage was set for the two to begin trading barbs.

Throwing subliminal disses at each other since the “Dead Presidents” fiasco, Jay-Z used the 2001 Summer Jam to premiere his upcoming album, The Blueprint. One of the songs off the upcoming album was “Takeover,” which was primarily aimed at Mobb Deep’s one half, Prodigy, a longtime rival of Jay-Z. At the end of the song, Jay-Z rapped “ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov, NO!,” referencing their years of subliminal disses. Nas responded with a “H to the OMO” freestyle, which led to two additional “Takeover” verses, insulting Nas, which led to “Ether” and the stage was set.

Businessman first and a rapper second, Jay-Z saw the nonviolent feud with Nas as a chance to generate revenue, inviting Nas to do a pay-per-view rap battle and then sharing the profits evenly. Not up for the game, Nas turned him down and challenged Jay-Z to release his album the same day as Stillmatic, which he did not. The feud had reached its peak, but would soon fizzle out, as Jay-Z finally proved his point and entered a feud. In the end, Jay-Z won the popularity battle, but ended up losing the lyrical war. Focusing more on his business ventures, Jay-Z was grooming himself for the role as president of Def Jam, meanwhile Nas also backed off.

Following years of stagnation, Jay-Z, now the “president of hip hop,” decided to host a concert called “I Declare War,” many were expecting a second round of disses aimed at Nas and others who disrespected him. Instead, Jay-Z buried the hatchet with Nas and the stage was set for an ultimate victory. Nas joined Jay-Z on stage, rapping the chorus of “Dead Presidents” and within a year decided to leave his longtime label home of Columbia Records to sign with the Jay-Z-led Def Jam. The lyrical war of words between the two rappers was brought into the conversation when the signing occured, but did not stand in the way of good business.

Many Nas fans viewed the signing as an overall loss, while Jay-Z saw it as a power-move, business-wise, and a major victory as an emcee, even though their feud was over. Jay-Z officially returned from his retirement one year later and Nas was now his partner-in-rhyme. During his comeback performance on “106 & Park,” Jay-Z turned to Nas, who performed “Hip Hop is Dead,” the title track of his controversial album. On the album, Jay-Z and Nas collaborated for the first time on the track, “Black Republican.” The song was met with critical acclaim, as the two rappers buried the hatchet.

Back in the game, the critics were hard on Jay-Z’s comeback album, some suggested he return. Determined to make up for the blunder which was Kingdom Come, Jay-Z returned with his concept album, American Gangster, inspired by the 2007 film of the same name. The album, considered one of Jay-Z’s best contained a Nas collaboration, “Success.” Despite the feud being buried, Nas did have the high-profile line “worst enemies wanna be my best friends, best friends wanna be enemies, like that’s what’s in,” in his song-stealing verse.

During an interview, Nas was asked about the verse and he admitted it was a jab. Nas explained how the battle, which is hip hop, never ends. Despite taking a shot, Nas said it would not have any impact on the newly-formed friendship between he and Jay-Z. At this point, Nas was far from an enemy, appearing alongside Jay-Z and Diddy in the former’s “Roc Boys” music video. Hip hop loved the maturity Jay-Z and Nas displayed as veterans in the rap game. The peace between the two rappers after the vicious battle was praised by hip hop media and it showed that young, rich, men do grow up.

A decade after the high-profile feud reached its height, fans still debate and discuss the feud between Jay-Z and Nas. Debates and discussion will be all the people will get out of Jay-Z and Nas in the future. During his time in Texas, for SXSW, Nas conducted several interviews. One of the interviews contained questions about Jay-Z, which led to Nas calling him “hip hop’s savior.” Both rappers have contributed a lot to the rap game, including a historic feud. But, there will not be any chance of an encore now, as Nas has labeled Jay-Z, not simply a legend, but “the savior” and Jay-Z turned to Nas to pull off a major business move.

The lyrical battle between Jay-Z and Nas is now void, seeing how much the former rivals have done for each other. From a lyrical standpoint, Nas got the best of Jay-Z, overall. But, in terms of popularity and power in the music business, Jay-Z won. Both needed each other and both were willing to help. In the end, both rappers saw how much easier things would be if they joined forces.

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