‘Ether’ by Nas is considered to be one of the best, and deadliest hip hop diss tracks of all time. Akin to Tupac Shakur’s ‘Hit Em Up’, ‘Ether’ saw two lyrical hip hop powerhouses going head to head, with the outcome being one victorious winner and one loser. The track saw Nas and Jay-Z battling for rap’s top spot, and in this article, we go behind the mic to see how ‘Ether’ came to be what it is.
Born and raised in the Queensbridge area of New York, Nas was one of the biggest names in underground hip hop during the early 1990s, with his debut album Illmatic, to this day, still classed as a classic and a must-listen for any fan of hip hop.
Nas was a rapper, songwriter and, most importantly, a storyteller who other artists envied over. Good at illustrating the run-down inner city, the rapper could romanticise very sombre themes and find the beauty in what most would consider squalor.
However, when newcomer Jay-Z mentioned his name in his diss track ‘Takeover’, which was aimed at both Nas and Mobb Deep, the Queensbridge rapper had to respond and did so with his legendary diss track ‘Ether’ which featured on his 2001 album Stillmatic.
‘Ether’ by Nas is not only the most well-known diss track in hip hop but almost the most well-made. Aimed at Jay-Z, ‘Ether’ epitomises the perfect diss track. It is clear with the first three words being “F*ck Jay-Z”, so there is no ambiguity surrounding who the song is aimed at. It addresses Jay-Z’s come-up and dissects how he may have ridden the coattails of others to achieve his success.
‘Ether’ was produced by a fairly unknown producer by the name of Ron Browz. Speaking to DJ Vlad of VLADTV, Browz explained that back in the late 1990s and early noughties, “It was hard getting beats to artists!” However, he was desperate to get ahold of Nas.
Browz explained he had a manager at the time Nas was working on Stillmatic, who (by chance) had a relationship with Nas’ travel agent. Browz continued, detailing that this manager begged Nas’ travel agent to pass the disc on to the esteemed rapper.
Browz recalled how he got a call in the summer of 2001 from Nas himself, who said, “yo ima use this beat”. However, the producer thought nothing of it, believing a track would never come to fruition. However, he then got a call in December from a member of Nas’ team who excitedly exclaimed, “Nas want you to come to the studio and hear what he did to the beat!”
Nas had used one of Browz’s beats for ‘Ether’, and it turns out that ‘Ether’ was the original name of the instrumental. Browz explained that Nas’ “F*ck Jay-Z” opening line was a sample from the Tupac track ‘F*ck Friends’. Browz recalled it went out the next day.
Ron Browz goes into even more detail about the creation process of ‘Ether’ in the video below.