Sunday, July 02, 2006

Ether Effects

According to the World Anesthesia online publication:

"Ether can form a cool flame at concentrations around 20% to 35%, when heated to as little as 200°C. The cool flame then travels along the mixture, eventually dying off. However, the danger is that it can act as a powerful ignition source if it encounters an explosive mixture. In addition, it may remain unseen until it is too late! A classic example occurs when ether is spilled on the floor and, because it is heavy, does not spread, forming a very rich localized mixture. A faulty electric plug could then ignite the ether mixture, causing a cool flame, which then travels along the floor until it reaches a place where the mixture is explosive."

On December 4th, 2001, Nas toyed with a mixture of Ether himself. The slow-burning substance traveled across the mixtape circuit, a good diss but a dream killer?

--
The most common complaints leveled against Ether are that the beat sucks and Nas takes the homophobic insults a bit overboard. Well, yeah, the beat sucks (though because of how anthemic the song has become, it transcends Ron Brownz cheap production), and "Gay-Z and Cockafella" isn't exactly the world's most astute diss. However, there are more than enough good shots to satisfy even the staunchest ammo aficionado. In addition, Ether is not all punchlines, rather it has proven to be more a biting psychological critique, especially seen in detailing several key points:

1) Jay-Z's obsession with Nas
"You been on my dick, nigga, you love my style . . . With Hawaiian Sophie fame, kept my name in his music . . . . . . You a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a Stan . . . Wanted to be on every last one of my classics"

From sampling Nas on Dead Presidents, from sampling Nas on Rap Game-Crack Game, from referencing Nas on Sunshine, from referencing Nas on Where I'm From, from asking Nas to redo the hook on Dead Presidents, from asking Nas to appear in the video for Dead Presidents (where Jay apparently contacted E Money Bags to get at the Illmatic MC, "calling my crib and I ain't even give you my numbers"), the obsession had previously been a relatively guarded secret, but, with Ether, Nas put it on blast for the whole world to see. Many people have said that the verse from Takeover was directed at Nas almost from the point of view of a fan. In this context, that evaluation makes perfect sense.

2) Jay-Z's relationship with Biggie
"First, Biggie's ya man, then you got the nerve to say that you better than Big . . . How much of Biggie's rhymes is gon' come out your fat lips?"

From using Biggie's lyrics on a handful of songs, including a couple of his most notable, and even the very first track on Blueprint, Jay-Z has consistently crowded the border between homage and exploitation. A quote here or there is cool if they had a relationship like that, but, from all apparent sources, especially the current Reasonable Doubt XXL issue, while there may have been a mutual respect, the deep friendship that Jay continually portrays seems to have been more fiction than fact. What's more, on the song Hola Hovito, from Blueprint, Jay boldly stated, "if I ain't better than Big, I'm the closest one." Beyond having to rely on the late-great's lyrics at times, how are you going to say something like that when a) you're supposed to have been boys b) Big's not alive to cosign.

Moreover, there's a parallel between these first two attacks of Ether. Ready To Die came out in 1994, along with Illmatic. In that class of New York MCs, it was Biggie and Nas, alongside Raekwon and Ghostface too. Jay-Z then established himself in 1996, like an underclassmen, an upstart outsider, whose desire for greatness and simultaneous insecurity always made him want to hang with the older crowd and be accepted on their level. If we read into this theory, that explains Jay constantly wanting to partner with Nas and be seen as an equal with Biggie. It was the one way he felt he could belong; this then ties in to Ether's overall third point.

3) Jay-Z's insecurity
"You ass went from Jaz to hanging with Kane, to Irv, to Big . . . You a dick-riding faggot, you love the attention"

In subsequent interviews from around the time of Stillmatic, Nas took shots at Jay and how he, Nas, didn't need to put out an album every year, have a song out every summer. Implying that Jay's flooding the market was born out of some great insecurity, Nas focused in on a suspect pattern in Jay-Z's behavior. However laudable or forgettable his output might have been, by jumping on whatever was hot at the moment and would keep his name in the air, we see almost a deep streak of personal inadequacy in Jay-Z's actions, the brand of poor self-esteem that overcompensates with overconfidence, a career based on chasing the cool. It's the type of shaky demeanor that makes it appear a necessity to be on the dial every second. So whereas Nas planned out a patient attack that saw months go by between Takeover and Ether, Jay-Z couldn't rest. He couldn't be satisfied with letting the battle end there. Instead, he rushed out his response. In the final score, it was this insecurity that eventually lost the battle.

Jay-Z's response, Super Ugly, was a failing attempt to try and rationalize with fans why he wouldn't lose, to try and convince himself that he hadn't lost already. Unfortunately, for him, this "I slept with your baby's mother" freestyle, only further served as evidence of an obsessive relationship with Nas. Even still, arguably the lowest point for Jay came after a Hot 97 radio poll, where listeners declared Ether victorious over Super Ugly. With the Brooklyn rapper coincidentally in studio on Angie Martinez's show, right after the results were announced, Martinez asked, "if you weren't you, would you think Ether was a hot joint?" Often taking long pauses or stuttering, Jay's answer was completely absent of his usual confidence, "Um . . . I would be a little--like, like me, as a guy, like, I would listen to the last verse and be like, 'wow . . . like . . . wow.' Y'know what I'm saying? Like, like, it just--it--it's uneasy. Y'know . . . like, I mean, me being--like, like . . .with the uh . . . it just--just--just . . . it's far, man, very vulgar."

Nas' public reaction to Super Ugly, on Fat Man Scoop's radio show, was a stark contrast, sounding all the more confident and unfazed: "When [Jay-Z] put on the Dre beat and started going into my baby moms, I said, 'oh, man, he's pissing her off, and he's really sounding emotional. . . . This is the biggest disrespect he feel like he can do.' He didn't feel like he could come at me with science in his rhymes, he felt like he had to come with disrespect. And I felt like it was disrespect. We all knew it, the whole crew knew it, we was bugging, we was laughing. I called my baby moms, she was laughing. She didn't hear it, but she heard about it. It was like, wow, this dude really overdid it. . . . Let's be real, man, I did Ether to him. I got into his soul, and it's obvious that I broke his spirit. He was on the radio the next day with a broken spirit sounding like crazy. . . . I felt sorry for Jay. And I prayed for him, and I asked a few of my peoples to pray for him, because I felt that his spirit was really broken."

A battle is not won or lost on one song, on one side's attack, rather it is decided by the reaction, the counterattack, that the opposition puts up. If I throw a left hook at you, and you hardly move, it cannot be said that my left hook was the winning blow. If I then throw a right jab at your chin, and you fall backwards and to the mat, the right has made me victorious. See, a punch doesn't win or lose by itself, it's how my competitor receives the punch, how it makes him react, that ultimately sways the judges. You can say Ether had a wack beat and corny jokes, you can if you want, but something in those four minutes stung Jay real hard, sent the God MC to the mat. His reaction to the brutal slow-burn body shot that was Ether was a rushed freestyle named Super Ugly and an appearance on Hot 97, where all the normal Jay-Z charisma and energy had wilted away, until, finally, defeat sat in. At that moment, the ether mixture had reached its most explosive point.

Nas: Ether
BONUS: Jay-Z: Super Ugly
BONUS: Jay-Z: Angie Martinez Interview
BONUS: Nas: Fat Man Scoop Interview

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never heard anyone break Ether down like that.

You are a truly talented writer with a great eye for analysis

July 02, 2006 1:21 PM  
Blogger chris brown said...

i like the 9th wonder remix of ether better, although the acapella he used is the clean version.


i can't stand ron brownz beat at all.

July 02, 2006 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks bro.. keep up the good diggin. i've been trying to find this for a long time.

sk

July 02, 2006 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good post,
it seems like in his next attempt blueprint2, he basically just saying "I cant believe you all (my fans and media) says he won" ... pretty sad. Kind of ties into your analysis.

July 03, 2006 8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's nice and all, but ultimately I'd still say that Takeover was better than Ether. A whole lot better. As he says, he's got a one hot album every ten year (okay, it was really 8) average. Whatever you want to say about the unreleased edition of I Am, songs we never heard, the facts are, after Illmatic, he got progressively every album he put out. As far as actual achievements on wax, he wasn't not even up there with Prodigy at the time. Jay calls him out on this, calls him out on crap like Oochie Wally and You Owe Me- far worse than any pop-rap Jay ever put out, and that's why he won, as far as I'm concerned. Most of what Nas had to say is just a bunch of meaningless innuendo about Jay's sexuality, with no basis in fact. The fact that Jay sampled Nas's voice and mentioned him on a song isn't indicative of an obsession. Who says he dictated who was to be sampled on the hooks anyway? Maybe he's obsessed with Outkast because he (a) did songs with them, (b) sampled Andre's voice on Rap Game Crack Game, and (c) references them on "It's On." No, not really. Nas, in his attempt to reinvent himself as some kind of drug dealer/pop star, was just as much of an imitator of Jay's style as Jay was of Nas's. Nor is this notion of his insecurity convincing. A deep streak of personal inadequacy in the fact that he put out an album once a year? Are you kidding? How about a work ethic and a desire to make money? Ether's a fine diss record, but it's really no biting psychological critique, just a catalog of clever lines that any decent lyricist or battle rapper could've thought up. And is Super Ugly that bad, that unintelligent? No more than commenting on the size of another man's lips. At least, like the rest of what he had to say about Nas, it's actually true.

July 03, 2006 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read 'worse' after 'progressively.'

July 03, 2006 1:37 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

"anonymous"

"I'd still say that Takeover was better than Ether. A whole lot better."

Song for song wise, (where a "song" can be described as lyrical content plus beat plus hook), I never said Ether was better than Takeover. In fact, I never really did a head-to-head between the records. It was a battle, an exchange of disses, and I tried to explain it in that context. Stillmatic Free begat Takeover which begat Ether which begat Super Ugly. That Jay didn't think the battle was over after Takeover says to me that he thought he hadn't come strong enough. It was that insecurity which forced him to put out Super Ugly, a failed diss, a losing attack.

"he's got a one hot album every ten year (okay, it was really 8) average. Whatever you want to say about the unreleased edition of I Am, songs we never heard"

Though not officially released, several notable "lost" I Am songs were heard, for the most part, and circulated at the time, e.g. Blaze a 50, Sometimes I Wonder, Belly Button Window, etc. They were all heavily bootlegged, which was a main reason the album got so mangled up to begin with. However, yes, I Am, as it was in record stores, was a relative decline in skills.

"the facts are, after Illmatic, he got progressively worse every album he put out"

I think there are a number of people, myself included, who would tell you, rapping-wise, IWW is every bit as quality as Illmatic. Some might even argue it better.

"As far as actual achievements on wax, he wasn't not even up there with Prodigy at the time"

Prodigy at the time was still dope. Murda Muzik wasn't that old, his solo was more than listenable. Let's not reinvent history now. And if Nas "wasn't even up there with P", on one of Mobb's most recent singles, It's Mine, Nas more than showed he was still worth paying attention too.

Also, get the QB's Finest album if you wanna see where Nas was at between 99 and Stillmatic. He hadn't fallen off.

"Jay calls him out on this, calls him out on crap like Oochie Wally and You Owe Me- far worse than any pop-rap Jay ever put out, and that's why he won, as far as I'm "

Oochie Wally was a single verse on a remix. Horrible, yeah, but people always try and go back and make it out to be a solo Nas track. You Owe Me was wack too. However, Jay's second LP had Sunshine, so if we're talking about wack singles, "pop rap", I don't know if we should do a compare and contrast and try to say who cracked first.

"Most of what Nas had to say is just a bunch of meaningless innuendo about Jay's sexuality, with no basis in fact"

You see how I wrote a whole two pages and didn't mention any of the "I rock hoes, y'all Rock Fellas" (even though that's a funny line). I don't think Nas needed that to "win" anything. Nevertheless, something in all those taunts (it's a battle after all), got to Jay and made him react as he did. He coulda ended it there, but he wasn't gonna let "he's Biggie, and you Puffy" be the last word. And right there, with Super Ugly, is where I think Jay "lost". (Jay called Nas out for the whole "fag model" thing too, so let's not play glass-house-stone-throw again.)

"The fact that Jay sampled Nas's voice and mentioned him on a song isn't indicative of an obsession. Who says he dictated who was to be sampled on the hooks anyway? Maybe he's obsessed with Outkast because he (a) did songs with them, (b) sampled Andre's voice on Rap Game Crack Game, and (c) references them on "It's On." No, not really"

Jay asked Nas to be in his video, before there was a relationship established at all. (And find the King magazine article if you wanna read some stuff Jay apparently said in private to Nas' ex, Carmen Bryan.) Maybe "obsessed" is too strong a word for you, but there was definitely a level of admiration or attention from Jay that went above just being peers, as it could be argued he was / is with Andre. Also, I don't think the "Jay had no idea what the tracks he was rapping over would sample for the hook" argument is a strong one.

"Nas, in his attempt to reinvent himself as some kind of drug dealer/pop star, was just as much of an imitator of Jay's style as Jay was of Nas's"

Nas talked about selling drugs on Illmatic. Nas talked about that life explicitly on Represent, for instance. Where do you think Jay got the sample for Rap Game-Crack Game? Then, if you're implying July-1996's IWW was a bite of June-1996's Reasonable Doubt, rethink that. Nas had "become" Escobar back in 1995 anyway. (But absolutely, his later club tracks are examples of co-opting Jay's style. Unfortunately, for Nas, those tracks, because they're not his comfort zone, all turned out poorly, like you said, and I agreed.) Moreover, Nas never rhymed like the Fu-Schnickens.

"just a catalog of clever lines that any decent lyricist or battle rapper could've thought up"

This is a description that I honestly think fits Takeover 10x better.

"And is Super Ugly that bad, that unintelligent? "

Super Ugly showed Jay was desperate, I didn't say anything about it being unintelligent or bad--a bad decision, yes.

July 03, 2006 5:51 PM  
Blogger easye7 said...

Wow somebody just got owned, keep up the good work Fletch.

July 03, 2006 8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good stuff

July 04, 2006 10:47 PM  
Anonymous Zilla Rocca said...

Fletch--

I think you're dead on about Jay being extra hurt by "Ether."
I don't know if you've ever seen those "BEEF" Dvd's, but I caught a snippet of one featuring Insane Clown Posse vs. Eminem. As much as any hip hop fan, I hate ICP like Al-Qadea. But Shaggy 2 Dope really broke down their "beef" w/Slim Shady and it basically boiled down to a longtime fan getting burnt by their heroes.

With ICP and Em, their feud started about Em billing ICP on his flyers for an album release show that ICP never heard of nor were ever asked to perform on.

This is like Jay sweating Nas about being on "Can I Live" and the chorus for "Dead Presidents," plus the "Dead Presidents" video, which featured AZ and Biggie.

At both times, Jay-Z and Em were fans of their hometown heroes who were both killing it. When they were denied any access to them, they got real bitter and spiteful. Check out "The Marshall Mathers LP" for further proof. Also, note how similar Em's content was on the "Slim Shady LP" to ICP's schtick (crazy shock value galore).

By '01, Jay was now the big dog and had the audience, money and popularity to finally stick it to Nas for snubbing him when he was on the grind. Eminem was in the same position in '00 when he went overboad with his ICP disses. Both of those guys couldn't get over their heroes shitting on them and had to strike back. That just goes to show how big of fans Jay and Em really were before they blew up.

July 05, 2006 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Mr. You Know Who... said...

Honestly, I've never seen Ether broken down like that. Very good work.

However, one point must be made, and I think even Nas would agree. One battle won does not equal the war won. Nas may, and I say that in the truest sense of the word, may have beaten Jay with Ether. But at this point in time, who is signed to who's label? Who's pushing to have a "Best of..." album together? If you answered Nas, then you are correct on both counts. Looks like the "Ether" was Takeover, and Nas' soul burned slow enough for him to sign to Def Jam under his former rival's rule 5 years later.

Still, damn good article. Had I read something like this when the Nas/Jay beef was really going strong, I would have to really speak louder to make my opinion known after a article like that. Good article, keep it coming.

July 08, 2006 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and you know who, whos album is better? lol thats right

January 01, 2007 4:28 PM  

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