The Jay-Z Song That Took His Feud With Nas To A New Level

If there's one thing rappers know, it's beef, and we don't mean the flame-broiled kind. We mean the often-unnecessary kind that grabs attention, makes headlines, and — big shock — just might help promote record sales. Not that some beefs, feuds, rivalries, what have you, aren't sincere. Some have been implicated in horrible real-life events, like the deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Others are grounded in personal history, business disputes, or regional clashes. And some? Well, you need an NSA-level cryptographer to follow the spaghetti string of lyrical ribbings, jabs, and outright uppercuts across a 25-year period.

Such was the case with Nas and Jay-Z, who in the late 1990s were embroiled in a (now thankfully squashed) beef of back-and-forth lyrical repartee. It doesn't help that folks in the public immediately drew battle lines between the two New Yorkers for the title of "More New York Than the Other Guy." It also didn't help that both men cozied up to that image, and were hungry to prove themselves in their early careers.

As Live About explains, we can trace Nas and Jay-Z's beef-ginnings back to before Nas released his second album, 1996's "It Was Written." The album's second track, the acoustic guitar-laden "The Message," contains the line, "Lex with TV sets the minimum." Many took this as a jab at Jay-Z because of Jay-Z's preoccupation with Lexus. As it turns out, folks were partially right. The story didn't end there, though, or even start there.

A missed recording session turned sample

The Nas and Jay-Z beef hit the grill all the way back in 1996. In a classic case of timing being everything, Nas had released his debut album "Illmatic" in 1994, two years before Jay-Z released his own debut, "Reasonable Doubt," in 1996. Nas' name had reached the public first, and he'd blown up overnight because of tracks like "The World is Yours" and "N.Y. State of Mind." That latter track also helped Nas to settle into a role as New York rap royalty along with The Notorious B.I.G., who released his own first, prophetically-titled album, "Ready to Die," that same year in 1994. Biggie would indeed go on to die a mere three years later, and leave a vacuum in the East Coast rap-reputation game in need of occupancy. 

As so, when Jay-Z was recording his debut, his label recruited the newly-minted Nas to deliver some lines on the second verse for the album's 13th track, "Bring It On." Nas, however, didn't show up for the recording, as Live About says. Producer Ski Beatz, in need of some Nas-ness for the album, just went and sampled a line from a remix (the Pete Rock remix) of "The World is Yours," one of Nas' biggest tracks. That line — "I'm out for presidents to represent me" — shows up in the chorus of Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents II," arguably the best track off of "Reasonable Doubt." From there, the beef was on.

Shots fired for the throne

While it's not necessarily a "jab" to sample someone else's work — it's an honor, provided both sides agree to it — Nas took a turn at bat with his second album, 1996's "It Was Written." Or at least, people thought he did. The Lexus-themed line from the album's second track, "The Message," says, "Lex with TV sets the minimum." As High Snobiety quotes, Nas said that it wasn't supposed to be an insult, but just an analogy inspired by Jay-Z. Nas had actually seen Jay-Z rolling around town in a Lexus with TVs inside. The "Lex with TV sets" line was meant to illustrate the minimum acceptable level of success required by those in hip-hop.

Until then, the Nas and Jay-Z beef remained fairly benign, and more a product of imagination than reality. Things took a turn with Jay-Z's 1997 second album, though. One track, "Rap Game / Crack Game," contains another sample of Nas', saying, "Somehow the rap game reminds me of the crack game." Like the previous Nas sample on Jay-Z's debut, this line comes from Nas' first album, "Illmatic," but off the track, "Represent." 

That song wasn't really the problem, though. At most, Jay-Z could have been poking fun at his previous usage of Nas' lyrics. It was the album's second track, the groove-tastic "The City is Mine," that many saw as a direct challenge to Nas. Biggie had died earlier that year, and Jay-Z wanted the New York throne.

The beef is squashed

Even though "The City is Mine" escalated things between Nas and Jay-Z, Nas stayed cordial. He included a simple line on "Nastradamus" off of his 1999 album of the same name that sounded like it was making fun of Jay-Z's usage of his samples: "I need an encore y'all, you should welcome me back / You wanna ball till you fall? I can help you with that" (via High Snobiety). Chuckle-worthy? Sure. It's also good-natured.

It was around this time that Jay-Z protégé Memphis Bleek pushed things further. Bleek took potshots on "What You Think of That" off of his 1999 debut, "Coming of Age," and then on "My Mind Right" off of his 2000 follow-up, "The Understanding." Both tracks featured Jay-Z. Then, when Jay-Z released 2001's "The Blueprint," he went on the direct attack by calling Nas a has-been, with lines like, "one hot album every ten year average."

Nas'd had enough at this point. He delivered a brutal, legendary diss salvo 100% pointed at Jay-Z on his track "Ether" off of 2001's "Stillmatic." Lines include, "What's sad is I love you 'cause you're my brother / You traded your soul for riches," "You a fan, a phony, a fake, a p****, a Stan," and, "How much of Biggie's rhymes is goin' come out your fat lips?" In 2005, Nas and Jay-Z performed on stage together for the first time to stow their beef for good, as MTV describes.