Jay-Z and Nas have a long and complicated history. Both artists from New York, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, hip hop was polarised with regard to who was the better rapper. Nas had been around since the early ’90s and was considered the veteran. However, Jay-Z was the young soldier looking to take his place.
Jay-Z’s explosion onto the New York hip hop scene came in 1995 with his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, and, aside from Nas, Hov didn’t really have much competition in the city as the ’90s were coming to an end. With that being said, in 2000 and 2001, Jay-Z decided to begin annihilating and undermining other New York rappers, including Nas.
Born and raised in the Queensbridge area of New York, Nas was one of the biggest names in underground hip hop during the early 90s, with his debut album Illmatic, to this day, still classed as a classic and a must-listen for any fan of hip hop. He 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.
It is also an underdog story. Nas was not as relevant as Jay-Z at the time, so most assumed he would never respond to Jay-Z’s diss track ‘Takeover’. However, he did and was disrespectful but also comedic in reminding listeners that in Jay-Z’s first-ever music video appearance, he wore a Hawaiian shirt, which ultimately undermined Jay-Z’s gangster image and was highly comical.
He drew comparisons between the rapper and Notorious BIG highlighting how similar they were, making listeners question Jay-Z’s originality. Although many still say ‘Takeover’ is better, Nas’ ‘Ether’ is truly the quintessential diss track. Jay-Z did come back with a track entitled ‘Supa Ugly’, in which he claimed to have slept with Nas’ girlfriend, Carmen Bryan.
However, fans already had Nas down as the winner, and with the beef firmly behind them, in 2005, the two rappers publicly ended their feud by teaming up for a legendary performance for Jay-Z’s ‘I Declare War’ tour. Overtly telling the world that the two were now on good terms, the Brooklyn rapper proclaimed, “All that beef sh*t is done, we had our fun. Let’s get this money!”
In 2006 Nas signed with Def Jam, run by Jay-Z, and shortly after, they collaborated on the track ‘Black Republican’ off Nas’ album Hip-Hop is Dead. Furthermore, in honour of Nas, Jay-Z created a TIDAL-exclusive playlist named, ‘A 24-Track Homage To Nas’. You can listen to ‘Takeover’, ‘Ether’ and ‘Black Republican Below’.