“Who you know fresher than Hov’? Riddle me that.”
“The rest of y’all know where I’m lyrically at.”
Ahem. With that out the way, let’s begin. I like Shawn. I like Nasir. Close friends probably know that I like the latter more than the former. Of course, the usual prerequisite for the abovementioned preference is just that, personal preference. But, no. Not today. See, that’s the lay man’s scape goat. “Nah bruh, I can’t argue with your opinion.” I like slugging it out regarding my favourites. That’s the philosopher in me. And what better way to actually bring this topic to the fore than by venturing into how each man handled himself during the most trying time they both ever went through, the famed Nas/Jay feud. I remember reading somewhere, on Twitter actually, an individual claiming that Jay-Z won that one, primarily because, if you look at the gains that both rappers accrued post the feud Shawn acquired more. He has a wife, a child, a multitude of business ventures and he kinda, rather sorta, still had his “rep” as Marcy’s golden boy. Pause. Rewind. Read that again. That was written by a male individual whose name I shall not disclose. There’s a certain philosophical term which came to mind when I read this. A fallacy. If you look up the definition of that very word you will find this:
“…a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound argument.”
I don’t know man. Maybe the whole idea that the dopeness or relevance of an artist is based on their gains didn’t sit well with me, or I partially didn’t believe this statement. I actually went backwards and decided to give both “Takeover” and “Ether” a listen. Just to be reminded because it’s been ages. Some would deem this as me cheating because, I mean, the barrage of music that was slung between the Roc-A-Fella and Bravehearts camps during the said feud was not limited to just those 2 songs. I mean, I could always take “Supa Ugly”, “Got Urself A…”, “Last Real Nigga Alive”, and others, and break them down. I believe the two chosen ones subliminally represented what each rapper stood for. Before we go any further, let’s scope out their credits right quick.
Many have referred to the man as a living legend. He’s the introspective, “what’s going on in the world”, rappers rapper. Queensbridge native who, if you listen to his rhymes carefully, has a history in crime. He, of course, released one of the more legendary 10 trackers of all time, Illmatic. Off the top of my head, I can count 2 MC’s who remade this particular album as an honor to him, Elzhi and Fashawn (I’d suggest you get onto the Elmatic, Elzhi’s rendition, if you haven’t already).The cover art from this particular album inspired many a future rapper’s album covers. Shawn’s “Dead Presidents” sampled “The World Is Yours”. Yes. YES. If one was to peep homie’s mind you’d probably see that he is an idealist, who really is trying to deal with the material gains of the world and be “the change he wants to see in the world”. Distant Relatives and a few cuts on Stillmatic cemented the above mentioned view.
Now pause, let’s flip the tape and talk about Shawn.
Homie, hailing from the Marcy Projects. Let’s also ascertain from his music that he was a drug dealer (Sidenote: I done stopped believing that these rappers had drug dealing past lives after I was schooled on the probability that “The Clipse” were lying about “playing with that white girl”). History has it that he used his drug profits to build his budding rap career. He began a company with friend Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs Burke. His first album, Reasonable Doubt, was a nod to the “Mafioso/criminal” rap that Raekwon birthed. It also was hailed as a classic. Shawn was friends with the late, the great BIG. Besides that though, all other aspects seem to lean on him making money, for example, Shawn started Roca Wear. Shawn became President of Def Jam (might I add, under his leadership they found Rihanna). Shawn sold out Madison Square Gardens. Shawn had a Reebok shoe deal. The S at the front of his name might as well have a line through it because since his inception into the game he been acquiring. Roc Nation, Roc A Fella, etc, etc. Shawn is not an idealist like the man Nasir. He’s an opportunist. In the best sense of the word. He has seized many opportunities that I believe Nas has let pass by. Opportunities to make them ends. And he’s done pretty well for himself in that regard. He’s the very person that hood kids look up to. Drug dealer converted.
With that out the way, now we can begin. Takeover is not a joke. Not at all. Kanye West produced that. Uh huh. Jay-Z gave jabs. His jabs were not mere jabs but facts. There’s a line he spits about Nas’ albums. Something in the line of he’s released 2 hot albums within the 10 years of his existence. See, that particular line hurt me, because it had some truth to it. Nas has released a trash album. Or two. The ultimate trash album for me was his “I Am” album. Jay-Z spoke about him having an affair with Destiny’s mother (going deeper into that relation in “Supa Ugly”). Jay-Z alluded to the idea that Nas might be gay due to his having been a model for some clothing brands. Nas being overpowered lyrically by his homie Horse on the song “Oochie Wally”. The fact that Nas ain’t get paid for the very sample Jay used on “Dead Presidents”. The story about the TEC. Listen. My heart bled yo. Okay, some facts were skewed, of course, like the Serchlight Publishing thing. That was refuted but it got so real. He dedicated one verse merely to Nas, the other was just for Mobb Deep, understandably so because, since they were also QB natives, they were for Nasir. The overall being of the song was to bring truth, or his view of truth, to the table. The overall belief was that Nas, having been in the game 10 years, should be more successful than him, but he wasn’t. This shows what I was speaking about, Jay’s power lay in his monetary gains and acquisitions, not only that but waiving those things in the event that his power is even questioned. This song I believe highlights the very rapper Jay has always been. Ends my nigga, all about the ends. Now we pause.
*throws holy water in cross form at the laptop*
You know when you walk in the dark, on your way to the kitchen for a drink, and you bump your toe accidentally? That impact? That shit is minute in comparison to the fire that came when this song was released. It was released on Jay-Z birthday, which in turn has gone on to be called Ether Day. Annually, Nas fans go on a thread and “reminisce” on the ripple effect that this occasion in music had. I’m going to post the link of that very thread up here so that y’all can see how REAL this is http://www.thecoli.com/threads/ether-day-2014.272198/best-posts . From the get one can tell that this wasn’t a simple hit. It was planned. The thing with Nas was, he also stated facts. Stillmatic was my favorite Nas album because of “Got Urself A…”. I didn’t understand Ether at that time. I was a kid. Grew up and then finally understood. The quotables are endless though. This song, unlike Jay’s, was dedicated SOLELY to Jay-Z. All 3 verses of it. Hence I won’t waste time trying to fit in quotables. But let’s slide in some highlights. Gay-Z. Cock-a-fella. KRS One already did Blueprint. Referring to him as his child. Foxy. Him growing up thinking he’s ugly. 1988 incident. Hawaiin shirts. Jaz chains. Being a fan. Rocafella dying of AIDS, and then using his name for their company. Dame being Puffy and him being BIG. “I rock hoes, y’all rock fellas.”Him biting Biggies style. Him being Biggies “hang on”. Riding Jaz’s dick. Listen. As much as Jay-Z stated facts, Nas stated PERSONAL things. He downplayed everything that Jay-Z was talking about. Jay-Z cried on the Angie Martinez show. http://slumz.boxden.com/f87/jay-z-first-interview-after-ether-w-angie-martinez-youll-never-hear-jay-so-hurt-lmao-2135266/.Nas was unflinching. This goes back to the notion of Nas as a rappers rapper. His main thing was to aim at Jay’s so called authenticity and street cred. The one thing which I believe should be near and dear to any rapper in the game. Hardly any mention of material gain. Just pure rapping.
What I’m trying to get at here is, Nas is probably the most authentic rapper to grace this game. We have seen his rise from being a minor, who was regurgitating what he was seeing on the daily in the hood, to being a man who has gone through the usual manly plights. Would we say we have gotten that from Jay-Z? A soul exposing, weakness showing audio experience? Not quite. I respect both men for the things they inherently are, Jay-Z a business man and Nas a rapper. Nas is the ultimate Maybe I’m an idealist who kinda believes that as an artist you stand as the representative of many fellow humans who feel just like you, so, in order to get people to be behind you, you have to show that you have gone through their plights. Not copping Margiela. I stand corrected. I don’t believe it be correct to use gains as a way of weighing out whether a rapper has won a feud. I mean that could open up a whole new whirlpool in terms of what makes a rapper “nice”. I’m far from a hip hop purist but I believe some things are sacred. Respect the art. Nas is still about that life. Heavy even. As for who is better between the two, well, as the good Illmatic put it to us “It Ain’t Hard To Tell.”
Written by Thobekani Dhlamini (follow @Thobeofheart)