10. Nas vs. Jay Z (1997-2005)
The battle for king of New York, following The Notorious B.I.G.’s death, led to one of the most notorious feuds in hip-hop history.
Slay: "Biggie had passed away, and people were talking ‘bout who was the king of NY. When B.I.G. passed, it was up for grabs. Jay Z was the biggest-name artist next to B.I.G. at the time. So as far as king of NY, it would’ve fallen in his lap, but there was one person that was hindering him, and he felt that was Nas. I know when he did that [2001 Hot 97] Summer Jam, and he did 'Takeover.' I was the first person to put that on a mixtape, 'Takeover' live, before the record was actually the record. Jay Z performed a capella. I still have that. That’s when he threw the image of Prodigy on the Summer Jam screen with the ballet outfit on, and everybody went crazy. At the end of him going at Prodigy, he said 'Ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov,' and the whole crowd went crazy. That’s when they were like, 'Uh-oh, it’s about to get crazy now.'
"And then when the 'Takeover' came out, Nas waited. I’ll never forget them bringing the 'Ether' record to my house. People been trying to get at Jay for years, and they were just all unsuccessful. When I got the call -- 'Look, we got this record that’s ‘bout to kill Jay, like his career is over' -- I was like 'Huh, yeah whatever, bring it through.' I was the first person with that record. I played it. The first verse went, I said 'OK.' I heard the second verse, I was like 'ooohhh.' Once I heard the third verse, I was in my house screamin’! Like, 'Yo! Somebody finally got his ass!' Like, I couldn’t believe it.
"And shit, I put that mixtape together, threw that tape out, and I tell you I had people calling me from all over the country to get that tape. It was called Grimey Season 9 ½. The impact of that tape was so crazy, and when I hit the radio with it, it was pretty much over. It was like the world stopped. Back then, if you were to announce that you had a record like that, the whole city would stop. If a person was on lunch break, they were going back to work late. Everybody would be in their car. People would be in offices gathered around the radio. The city stopped.
"Craziest thing after that was when Jay Z came back with 'Super Ugly.' I was minding my business walking through the [Hot 97] station getting my mail, and everybody was in the room [on the air]. It was Flex, Angie Martinez, Mister Cee, Enuff, Sunny, and Fatman Scoop. Everybody was in there. And they say, 'Oh you’re right on time. Come in here for a second.' They say they’re about to premiere a new Jay Z diss record going at Nas, and they’re going to vote on whose version was hotter. And I said 'Cool, fuck it, I’ll sit here.' They play 'Super Ugly,' and after that we’re all sitting around looking in the room. Flex like, 'You know: the Roc.' Enuff like, 'Yeah, Roc.' Sunny like, 'I ain’t got no comment.' When they get to me, I say, 'Ya’ll don’t wanna ask me that question.'
“'We wanna know.'
"I said, 'Ether' is way better than that shit! Are ya’ll kidding me? Are we really gonna do this?'
"Everybody in the room looked like, 'Did he just say that on the radio?' Yo, this record was nowhere near 'Ether.' 'Super Ugly' was almost like a freestyle compared to 'Ether.' And when I tell you the phone lines start lighting up, the faxes was coming through. Everybody was like, 'Yo, you right, everybody else up there is hating.' Practically the whole room was going for Jay. I was the only one.
"I’m in this for the culture. I’ve been here since hip-hop started. I watched it evolve from disco, so I’m more about it staying in the guidelines of what it’s supposed to be than how big an artist is, and if he’s gonna be mad at me if I say something that he doesn’t like because he wants to stay on top. For me, it was like, 'this ain’t it.' That’s that. If you hear something that’s hot, say it’s hot. Don’t say it’s hot because this guy got a hundred million.
"I always liked their battle, ‘cause when it was over they were still able to make some money together. Nobody got hurt. Nobody went to the hospital. And that’s what it’s really all supposed to be about."
Best disses: “All I did was give you a style for you to run with. Smiling in my face, glad to break bread with the god. Wearing Jaz chains, no Tecs, no cash, no cars. No jail bars Jigga, no pies, no case. Just Hawaiian shirts, hanging with little Chase." -- Nas (“Ether”)
"I can handle this for dolo and his manuscript just sound stupid. When KRS already made an album called Blueprint. First, Biggie's ya man, then you got the nerve to say that you better than B.I.G. Dick-sucking lips, why not you let the late, great veteran live?" -- Nas (“Ether”)
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Ashley Branch is an assistant editor at Thrillist whose rap ambitions thankfully terminated in fifth grade when she realized all her rhymes were basically about homework.