The Frank White Seat
Jay-Z. Nas. Say their names separately and classic songs and storied careers are sure to come to mind. Say their names together and you'll eventually end up at the oh-so powerful word "beef." Five years ago to the day, June 28, 2001, Jay-Z took to Long Island's Nassau Coliseum stage and made history. By taunting Nas live in front of thousands, the two rappers became forever linked. Then acrimonious, the relationship between Jay-Z and Nas now has become more cordial, born out of a business move and a mutual respect. And although they would likely tell you the "beef" is played out, as its influence, for better or for worse, has little rival during the past five years in Hip-Hop, it shouldn't simply be brushed aside. Today's entry reflects an honest attempt to accurately depict the important events that led up to the summer of 2001 and everything that came immediately afterwards.
To the cover this saga, we could probably start a timeline in 1992, when, alongside Jaz and the Large Professor, Jay-Z and Nas had their first run-in. Or we could start it a couple years later, when Nas declined to redo the hook on Jay-Z's Dead Presidents nor appear in the video. Or we could hypothesize that The Message and Imaginary Player both took subliminal shots at the opposite rapper. Then we could throw in Carmen Bryan, the mother of Nas' only child, talk about Is That Yo Bitch and Come Get Me, and have more fun that way. However, in an effort to avoid speculation and stretching back too far, let's specifically focus in on the two year-period when the bulk of what happened happened.
On the title track to his Nastradamus LP, Nas lashed out, "You wanna ball till you fall, I can help you with that / You want beef? I could let a slug melt in your hat." This appeared to be a clear reference to the Memphis Bleek song, What You Think Of That, featuring Jay-Z, which contained the line, "I'ma ball till I fall, what you think of that." Nas has since denied that any reference was intentional (or that he was likewise angered by the reported similarities shared between his own Nas Is Like and Bleeks' Memphis Bleek Is). Whatever the truth behind the songs may have been, the battle would soon begin without speculation.
My Mind Right
Not being one to lay down or let opportunity go by, Bleek fired back on My Mind Right, "Only a few fit in, your lifestyle's written / So who you supposed to be? Play your position." By reinterpreting the title of Nas' '96 album, It Was Written, Bleek questioned Nas' authenticity and made the rift official, but still not legendary.
Who Shot Ya Freestyle
Simultaneously, the first edition of DJ Clue's Great Ones mixtape series featured Jay-Z rocking the intro over Biggie's infamous Who Shot Ya beat, "When I get back home / Get your ass up out the throne." While not necessarily a smoking gun, when evaluated in a ROC-Nas feud context, subliminal content is easier to understand. Plus, an interpolation of the melody KRS used on The Bridge Is Over ("but you're still telling lies to me"), a song which once brought QB to its knees, can further be cited as evidence.
Eye For An Eye Freestyle
Leaving nothing left to speculation this time, in part two of the Clue series, over the classic Mobb Deep Eye For An Eye beat, Nas proved he didn't just have his aim set on Bleek:
You on top, what? Copying fuckDa Bridge 2001
I said it first, you repeat it
Your false crown covered in dirt, defeated
Nas continued. His original verse on the Da Bridge 2001 had been a standard borough salute. However, presumably around the time My Mind Right made it to his direction, Nas changed up and came back with fists clenched. After specifically addressing Bleek's "your lifestyle's written" claim, Nas called out Roc-A-Fella as a staff, record label, and, yes, even as a crew, "your hoe, your man, lieutenant, your boss get found."
Hot 97 Session
Some time later, alongside a number of their ROC underlings, Jay-Z and Beanie Siegel, most notably, took to the Hot 97 airwaves. Funkmaster Flex was spinning and Beans was in search of a beat that ran dark. After Flex tried putting on Nas Is Like, Siegel interrupted, "Flex, I'ma call a spade a spade, if you don't stop playing these happy beats, man . . . I'ma keep it real . . . It's too many flutes in that beat . . . all them flutes and xylophones and all that." Jay-Z too chimed in on the side. Although Quiet Storm eventually satisfied the rappers, beyond DJ Premier, whose relationship with Jay seems to have never been the same since, Nas didn't take too kindly to all the on-air talk.
In the April 2001 issue of XXL
Although the feud in question has several questionable episodes, what happened next remains the most suspect. According to Jay-Z, when Nas was in California, he went on Los Angeles radio and specifically dissed Jay. No audio or other evidence to verify this reported tirade has ever materialized. Nevertheless, what happened afterwards has been documented.
Queen Bitch PT 2 Remix
Before taking the Summer Jam stage, Jay made a pre-roast appearance on the remix to the sequel of the Lil Kim song, Queen Bitch, "Three niggas got it coming, say May-June / Sixth album drops, cocksuckers stay tuned."
As you can hear on audio from the June 28, 2001, Hot 97 Summer Jam stage, after the first verse of the Takeover finished, Jayo Felony was thought to be Jay's principal target. Then, not even by the time the second verse was halfway through, Mobb Deep had already been thoroughly handled. However, that all would just be the undercard. When Jay finally called out those now-famous words, "ask Nas, he don't want it with Hov, nooooo", a sudden mix of disbelief and anticipation literally surged throughout the Nassau Coliseum venue. It was out there now, names had been named.
As later told by Jungle, Nas' brother, the day after the Summer Jam incident, with Mobb Deep heading towards the grave and Nas grazed by the warning shot, Jungle ran into a basking Jay-Z: "the first thing I said [to Jay-Z] was, 'yo, you know we going at you.' . . . Then he stuck his hand out, gave me a five, he was like, 'yo, I spoke to your man, I spoke to duke', he told that LA story . . . So I was like, 'alright, cool, we gonna do it for the fans.' And I left it like that, but I told him it was war."
Nas' next move, approximately three weeks past the Hot 97 show, came in the form of a freestyle over the all-time great Eric B. and Rakim Paid In Full beat. Aside from getting a little at Cormega and chalking out some early project memories, in a clever play on words, Nas also went at Bleek, Beans, and Freeway. For Jay-Z? "I rule you, before, you used to rap like the Fu-Schnickens / Nas designed your Blueprint, who you kidding?" Despite building up a some buzz, before the diss could do too much damage, the Roc-A-Fella camp got Hot 97 to essentially ban the song. Jay's move was next.
With all the defiant swagger of The Doors' sample backing him up and the rush of the rap world to his side, Jay repeated the first and second verses of the Takeover, as heard at Summer Jam, and then drew back door number three in a blitz of venom. Assailing Nas line after line, Jay advanced the standard diss strategies of "you fell off" and "your lifestyle's written" an extra step further: "you fell off so bad your Bravehearts lackey outdid you"; "you plagiarized your lifestyle from me." You aren't getting paid, I one-upped your own concept, you haven't made a good album since your first, and let me just intimate for a second that I bagged your baby's mother. Yes, before "ether" became the go-to battle cry in the lexicon of Hip-Hop, Jay-Z set the bar very high himself. And, for a minute, with not a lot of bets going towards Nas, many thought Jay set the bar beyond what "Esco's trash" was capable of achieving any longer.
Prior to any definitive response, Nas next spoke generally about the art of the battle on The General. A remix came out a year later on a Swizz Beat compilation, but the OG version carries the stench of the '01 trenches undeniably, "I'm coming for y'all blood, make room for the king." However, except for one reference to the Stillmatic Freestyle fallout ("Got ya label all scared / Calling up the radio, don't want my records to air"), Nas primarily focused on laying out the designs of his would-be attack, his pre-Ether state of mind, "I'm much more smarter, much more strategic . . . Too eager you lose / patience, plan your attack then you move." While there were great numbers who thought Nas couldn't come back at all, those maintaining faith must have been pressuring him to return fire immediately. Nevertheless, as laid out on The General, Nas wouldn't be rushed. Days went by without an official response. Weeks. Jay-Z reigned, the world waited. Months. Then, one December 4th, something happened.
To be continued . . .
Rebel To America: The FWS collection
Includes: Jay-Z - Takeover; Jay-Z - Takeover (live @ Summer Jam); Jay-Z - Who Shot Ya (freestyle); Jungle - Airport Story; Lil Kim f/ Jay-Z - Queen Bitch 2 (remix); Memphis Bleek - My Mind Right; Nas - Eye For An Eye (freestyle); Nas - The General; Nas - Nastradamus; Nas - Stillmatic (freestyle); QB's Finest - Da Bridge 2001; ROC - Hot 97 Freestyle Session; XXL - April 2001.