Because their relationship was less collaborative and more so based on animosity, when Nas and a 2Pac, via a posthumously released verse, linked up for 2002's Thugz Mansion, many were taken aback. While the song may have turned out well, it still remained mired in a decent bit of confusion and controversy. Some saw it as Nas blatantly going against his own philosophy of "let the late great veteran live", and even more pegged it as a situation where a rapper, who had had beef with Pac while he was alive, was now trying to eat off his legacy and pretend that things had always been cool. Well, it's not that simple.
2Pac as some vigilant anti-East Coast menace was an image created, blown up, and exploited by a record label and the media in whole. In fact, born in Brooklyn and once even known as MC New York, Pac routinely paid praise to such steady Rotten Apple stalwarts as Wu-Tang and the Boot Camp Clik. At the same time, it's also true that he didn't extend kind words to everyone, as the likes of Biggie, Lil Kim, Mobb Deep, The Fugees, Jay-Z, etc. all were targets at one time or another, Nas included.
Whatever relationship existed between Nas and 2Pac, it really began on positive terms, those of mutual respect. For instance, 2Pac was said to have listened to Illmatic intently and later was inspired to pen his own gun-personification tale after hearing I Gave You Power. Likewise, Nas has always maintained that he was a fan of Pac's ever since the Digital Underground days. However, if a choice cut from It Was Written hit Pac the right way, a couple others didn't go over quite as smoothly. For starters, Nas' Street Dreams employed the very same Linda Clifford sample that just months prior had served as the production base for the title track to All Eyez On Me. Nevertheless, any beef stemming from this would merely be a prelude, as the real drama soon kicked off over similarities between Nas' very lyrics and Pac's own life.
The first full song on It Was Written, The Message, found Nas caught up in an exchange of bullets, himself hit and then firing back, before a visit to the hospital later that night. While most would have listened and taken Nas' verse as just an early entry into his soon-to-be extensive storytelling collection, such as in the tradition of Slick Rick and Kool G Rap, 2Pac believed Nas was mimicking his own infamous five-shot escapade at Quad Studios in New York 1994. Subsequently, Pac recorded Against All Odds, a searing free-for-all diss track, "This little nigga named Nas thinks he live like me / Talking 'bout how he left the hospital took five like me / You living fantasies, nigga . . . It Was Written / Hey Nas, your whole damn style is bitten / You heard my melody, read about my life in the papers / All my run-ins with authorities, felonious capers . . . Since you lie, you die." Passed around extensively, Against All Odds quickly became 2Pac's definitive post-Hit Em Up "ride on our enemies" anthem.
Much later, Nas was questioned over any similarities between The Message and the actual Quad Studios episode, to which he replied that he was merely putting the real life experience of a friend of his into a first-person rhyme, "I'm talking about altercations that happen in my neighborhood. Where a friend of mine was shot and came out of the hospital the next night, and I talk about it as if it was me." But if few people know this side of the story, just about the same number know that Nas in fact had responded, on record, to the above-mentioned Against All Odds diss.
Released on a DJ Clue mixtape, though his appearance on the Welcome to the Firm freestyle was limited to just a single line, Nas made sure it was a powerful one, "Black Pirelli's rolling over this Makaveli." By referencing a brand of high-grade racing tires and the persona behind 2Pac's 7 Day Theory album, Nas' intent was clear. Even still, there remains some discrepancy over when this response was first recorded and whether or not it leaked to the Clue mixtape with Nas' permission at all. It is, however, not the only piece in this battle shrouded in uncertainty.
Just a little over a week before his death, 2Pac, with his Outlawz crew nearby, made it to New York for the September 4th, 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. And despite everything that might have been captured on camera, perhaps the most interesting incident took place far off screen. The basic facts are that Nas and Pac somehow meet up at Central Park, but as to what was said, and in what manner, there are competing stories. First, as you might recall, this is the scene described on We Will Survive, where Nas gives his version of the night:
We had words 'cause the best supposed to clash at the topIn a 2002 interview with XXL, Nas even went so far as to say that he and Pac were supposed to record for the One Nation album, a project where the Death Row rapper was reaching out to his East Coast brethren in a show of unity. However, disagreeing with this "brotherly" depiction, Snoop Dogg, who has put himself as well in the midst of this New York night, described it differently, "Pac checked [Nas], punked him in Central Park, I mean straight punked him." It might be good to take this account with some skepticism though, because while Nas' own story has varied at times, Snoop Dogg's version comes off as less reliable. Thankfully, there's yet another, more credible eyewitness report, this time from some of the Outlawz themselves.
But kept it brotherly, when we seen each other and stopped
In NYC, at MTV, people watched
We was both deep, after you left, I got no sleep
On their 2004 DVD release Worldwide (youtube link), principal Outlawz members Young Noble and Napoleon spoke on the Central Park saga. For his part, Young Noble confirmed the meeting, "two days before [2Pac] got shot, we was in New York. That's when we seen Nas. Them niggas chopped it up, squashed that shit they had." Then Napoleon mentioned that Pac had planned to remove all references to Nas from the Makaveli album. Unfortunately, no change was ever made, for just two days after the MTV awards, 2Pac's black BMW, near the intersection of Koval Lane, in Las Vegas, Nevada, was ambushed by an array of bullets. A week later, his wounds would prove fateful.
The reason to dredge over any of this is to answer the question if Thugz Mansion was a legitimate move to make or not. For those who believe 2Pac went to his grave with nothing but ill will aimed towards Nas, it was essentially a coward's play by the QB MC, a mere PR stunt. For those who would say Nas and Pac had settled their differences and planned to work together in the near future, it was a way to finally do what death had prevented the pair from accomplishing in the first place.
Nas et al: Welcome to the Firm
Nas: Interview on 2Pac's Death
Nas: We Will Survive
Nas f/ 2Pac: Thugz Mansion
BONUS: 2Pac: Against All Odds