Nas ‘Ether’ diss track initially referenced Aaliyah’s death
(Credit: Mikamote)

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Nas 'Ether' diss track initially referenced Aaliyah's death

‘Ether’ by Nas is the most well-known diss track in hip-hop and almost the most well-made. Released in 2001 and aimed at Jay-Z, ‘Ether’ epitomises the perfect diss track. With the first three words being “F*ck Jay-Z”, 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 ‘The Takeover’. However, he did and was disrespectful but also comedic in reminding listeners that in the rapper’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 all of the above made it into the final version of ‘Ether, which appeared on Nas’ 2001 album Stillmatic, one dig at Hov never made it onto the song.

In an interview with DJ Vlad on Vlad TV, frequent Nas collaborator and New York legend Large Professor (real name William Mitchell) revealed that the Queensbridge emcee had recorded a lyric that mocked the tragic death of Aaliyah on the first recording of ‘Ether’. 

When asked if he knew about ‘Ether’ before it came out, Large Professor told the DJ, “Absolutely! I was there when Swizz [Beatz] did the original ‘Ether’! It was faster and a lot noisier. I knew Nas was tryna get a point across. He had a real stillness, and that’s what’s ill is the Stillmatic. There’s a deeper meaning to this shit!”

DJ Vlad, intrigued by the fact that the original song had a different beat, proceeded to ask if the first version had different lyrics. After an uncomfortable pause, Mitchell hesitantly responded, “There were little variations. I’m sure you’ve heard of the ‘Dame Dash / Plane Crash’ like ‘Sorry Aaliyah, sorry it was you in the plane crash / It should have been Jay instead of Dame Dash‘”

However, Mitchell confirmed that Nas ended up slightly watering down some of the original lyrics, using his powers of discernment to make it solely about Jay-Z instead of bringing up the dead. It had also been less than a year since her passing, so it would have been highly disrespectful to the singer’s family. 

Only months before the release of Stillmatic, the singer had flown in a Cessna 202 to the Bahamas to record a music video for her single ‘Rock The Boat’. However, on her flight back to the US in a smaller Cessna 404, with her luggage exceeding the plane’s weight limit, it crashed and caught fire after only ascending 200ft into the air.

The reaction to ‘Ether’ may have been wildly different if the It Was Written emcee had decided to keep these lyrics. You can listen to Large Professor’s Vlad TV interview below.