The beef between Jay-Z and Nas was one of the most infamous and long-running feuds in hip-hop history. But how did this legendary battle erupt? The roots of the beef can be traced back to 1994 when Nas released his critically acclaimed debut album, “Illmatic.” At the time, Nas was considered one of the most promising young rappers in the game and was vying with The Notorious B.I.G for the King Of New York title.
However, things started to change in 1996 when Jay-Z released his debut album, “Reasonable Doubt.” The album received critical acclaim and helped establish Jay-Z as a rising star in New York’s rap scene. The LP featured the single ‘Dead Presidents,’ which samples Nas’ illmatic cut The World Is Yours. Jay-Z originally wanted Nas to re-record the chorus for his version but Nas declined because he wasn’t familiar with Jay-Z. Nas also allegedly refused to appear in the song’s video and Jay-Z felt some type of way about it and began taking shots at Nas, claiming that he was the superior rapper and that Nas was overrated.
1996: Nas releases his second album “It Was Written,” featuring the song “The Message,” which many interpreted as a diss track aimed at Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. Both MCs were gunning for the ‘King Of New York’ crown and The Message was Nas’ way of letting them know that “they can only be one king.”
On the track, Nas raps ‘Lex with TV sets the minimum,’ which was perceived to be direct shots at Jay-Z who was flexing his new Lexus with TVs at the time. Nas would later elaborate on the line in a 2016 interview with Complex, explaining that although Jay-Z inspired the line, it wasn’t a diss at him.
“I SAW JAY-Z DRIVING A LEXUS WITH THE TV’S IN EM’
I GOT RID OF MY LEXUS AT THAT POINT
AND I WAS LOOKING FOR THE NEXT BEST THING,” Nas said. “IT WASN’T A SHOT AT JAY, BUT IT WAS JUST SAYING THAT’S THE MINIMUM YOU GOT TO HAVE. IT’S NOT A SHOT AT HIM BUT HE INSPIRED THAT LINE.”
“IT WASN’T NECESSARILY A SHOT AT HIM, BUT BECAUSE THE SONG WAS A SHOT AT EVERYBODY HE FELL INTO THAT BUT HE DEFINITELY INSPIRED THAT LINE.”
While the back-and-forth between Nas and Jay-Z was brewing, Jay was insidiously getting cozy with Nas’s girlfriend at the time Carmen Bryan, whom he had a kid with. According to Carmen, she met Jay-Z a few months after he dropped Reasonable Doubt.
“I met Jay-Z right after he dropped Reasonable Doubt,” Carmen told VladTV during a 2017 interview. “I met him through a friend at a party, and the next day Nas and I got into some big fight, he pissed me off and so I was like ‘let me call Jay-Z.’”
Her role in the beef would be revealed as we progress.
1997: After The Notorious BIG was tragically killed in a drive-by shooting, the scramble for the real king of New York began. Jay-Z felt he had an open run at the title and was quick to stake his claim for the crown. That same year he released his sophomore album In My Life Time Vol. 1, which included the single The City Is Mine where he says; ‘I’m the focal point like Biggie in his prime, on the low though… shh… the city is mine.’ The album also included the track Where I’m From in which he references the fan debate about the king of New York.
‘I’m from where n-ggas pull your card and argue all day about who’s the best MCs: Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas.”
1999: Nas pays homage to the late Notorious BI.G. on “We Will Survive,” from his third studio album I Am. While reflecting on their rivalry, he used the moment to respond to Jay-Z’s claims about being the king of New York.
“It used to be fun, makin records to see your response. But now competition is none. Now that you’re gone and these n-ggas is wrong, using your name in vain and they claim to be New York’s King? It ain’t about that.”
By this time Jay and Carmen had gotten really close and she eventually became pregnant with his child. Carmen revealed she had a miscarriage and the baby was never born. “It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t like ‘oh we’re going to have this baby.’”
Jay-Z later used his affair with Carmen to taunt Nas on Memphis Bleek’s Is That Your Chick. “She keep begging me to hit it raw, so she can have my kids and say it was yours. How foul is she? And you wifed her,” raps Jay-Z.
Carmen confirmed to VladTV that some of the comments on the track were about her, but the entire song wasn’t. “Once I realized what Jay was doing, I was like ‘I’m not going to allow him belittle Nas anymore. I’m the only person on the planet that can belittle this n-gga, I wouldn’t let anybody else have that opportunity…. So I had a conversation with Nas any attorney would have with their client. And I told him ‘if you want to win this case you’re going to have to go this route.’”
“I told Nas everything that transpired between Jay-Z and I, so that he could write the song.”
From there, a subliminal battle between both rappers ensued.
2001: This was the year the feud between the two rappers really heated up. In January Jay-Z hit up Funkmaster Flex on Hot 97 to introduce his new artists on Roc-A-Fella which included Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, and Freeway. While there, they freestyled over beats by Queenbridge rappers, which Queens rappers such as Nas and Mobb Deep found disrespectful because they assumed, Jay-Z, who is from Brooklyn was making a mockery of their sound. A few months after the freestyles, Nas revealed to Funkmaster Flex that he confronted Jay about them and that Jay-Z told him that there was no bad blood between them or their crews.
“I hit ‘em, and he said ‘yo god, ain’t no way was we up in Hot 97 disrespecting you. If we were, and I’m telling you this, I’m lying to you then I’m not a man.’ Jay knows he said this to me. ‘I said cool bro,’ if you mean that much, and that means even if there was disrespect from any of his crew he has taken the blame and said ‘Nas my bad’ so that was the end of it.”
“We met at [Steve] Stoute’s party again, I said ‘what up dawg,’ we had a good conversation, we smoking cigars, we chillin… everybody was there, we chillin. And I’m like dawg, you know the tension is brewing in New York City, and we can’t do this because we don’t know the after effects of it, and he said ‘no doubt, you’re right.’ And we had a good conversation. He also knew the marketing of it.”
June 28, 2001: Jay-Z comes for Nas at Hot 97’s Summer Jam festival. During his headlining set, he debuted an unfinished Takeover that had him challenging anyone that dared disrespect him or Roc-a-fela. He clowned Prodigy of Mobb Deep on the track, and also called out Nas saying “ask Nas he don’t want it with Hov.”
Nas said he wasn’t surprised by Jay’s comments on the Summer Jam stage because the Brooklyn rapper saw an opportunity to write his name in the headlines. “I wasn’t surprised by Jay at Summer Jam, he knew this was a point in his life where he can make himself official,” Nas said. “That was a big step for hip hop no matter who he dissed or whatever, and that’s good.”
August 1, 2001: Nas addressed the moment with a new freestyle on Hot 97 called Stillmatic, which is a mockery of Jay-Z’s H To The Izzo. In the track, he disses Jay-Z and the entire Roc-a-fella.
“I count dough off when you sample my voice. I rule you, before you used to rap like fu-schnickens. Nas designed your blueprint, who you kiddin? Is he H to the Izzo, M to the Izzo, fo shizzle you phony the rapper version of Sisqo.”
September 11, 2021: Jay-Z releases The Blueprint featuring the complete version of Takeover, which has him going directly at Nas. He ridicules Nas’ discography, claiming the Bravehearts’ veteran releases “one hot album every ten year average.” That stung because the word on the streets back then was Nas was starting to fall off.
In response, Nas released his own diss track, “Ether,” later that year. The song featured lyrics that were even more scathing than Jay-Z’s. The intro of Ether starts with gunshots from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?”, immediately followed by a screwed voice of 2Pac saying “Fuck Jay-Z”, originally taken from the song “Fuck Friendz”. Nas goes on to attack Jay-Z’s appearance and street cred. He also accused S. Carter of being a “fake” and a “copycat.”
In the outro, Nas mocks the chorus of “Takeover”, which Jay-Z raps “R-O-C, we runnin’ this rap shit”, Nas changes it to “R-O-C, get gunned up and clapped quick.”
Jay-Z fired back with several lackluster diss tracks before eventually releasing “Super Ugly,” where he brings up his affair with Carmen. Jay later went on Hot 97 to apologize to Nas for bringing the mother of his child into their beef. He claimed his mom called him to say he went too far and that’s why he decided to shut it down.
While promoting his new album Stillmatic, Nas hit up Funkmaster Flex to speak on his beef with Jay-Z and his apparent apology for Super Ugly. Nas acknowledged the apology and gave Hov props for obeying his mother.
“When mama love come into the play, that’s the end. It’s a wrap! I respect that,” Nas said. Several years later, Nas revealed in an interview with Sway Calloway on MTV that his late mom heard Jay-Z’s apology on the radio and told him they had to squash their beef because it had gone too far.
After that, the feud died down with both Jay-Z and Nas turning their attentions to other life and business matters.
June 2002: Nas attempted to reignite the beef with his headlining set at Summer Jam, which was supposed to include a mock lynching of Jay-Z on stage. However, Hot 97 prevented him from going ahead with it to the disapproval of Nas who then refused to perform.
‘You wanna tell Nas, what me, myself cannot do on a Summer Jam stage when it’s been done 4,5, years in a row,” Nas said in an interview with Power 105 explaining his no-show at Sumer Jam.
‘And last year it happened to be the diss towards me by Jay and he was all high and mighty. Then I dropped the Ether napalm bomb and the whole crew was running like roaches and now you’ve got this station over there crying because he lost, unanimous decision he lost, and they played his records like he was dead,” Nas continued. “Like it was a Jay z memorial. And I’m not saying he’s dead don’t get me wrong y’all, I’m not wishing that on any man, and that’s my brother.’
August 7, 2002: Jay-Z challenges Nas to a pay-per-view boxing match for charity. Nas declined the challenge telling MTV “pay-per-view is for wrestlers and boxers, I make records. If Jay-Z wants to battle, he should drop his album the same day I do and let the people decide.”
While it wasn’t obvious at the time, we would later find out Jay-Z took the challenge seriously and has been dropping new music every day as Nas for nearly 2 decades.
December 13, 2002: Nas releases his sixth album God’s son, and on the track “Last Real N-gga Alive” he talks about his beef with Jay-Z and what he could have done differently. Nas says Jay-Z was kicking him while he was down because at the height of their beef he was taking care of his sick mom who eventually died of cancer.
“I have it all up so I can chill at home with momma. She was getting old and sick so I stayed beside her. In the middle of that Jay tried to sneak attack, assassinate my character, degrade my hood.”
The beef continued for several months, with both rappers taking shots at each other in interviews, freestyles, and album cuts. However, in October 2005, the two rappers famously squashed their beef by performing together on stage at Power 105’s Powerhouse concert in New Jersey. Nas explained LA Reid engineered the moment.
“He said would you be willing to talk to Jay? You know this thing is old by now. And I said ‘yeah.’ We went down in the studio, we just dapped each other up and started laughing. The first thing Jay said to me ‘man, you aiite?’ And I guess he heard about my mom passing… and I said, ‘this is a beautiful start right here.”
Since then, they have collaborated on several occasions and have even toured together.