PA (short for "Profound Assholes") is a series on SpeedontheBeat.com where I have a no-punches-pulled conversation with a friend about a hot-button issue (yay cliches!). That friend is usually none other than Drizzle Sez formerly of DrizzleSez.wordpress.com, who co-created the PA format (go check out his site. It's still live and still kicks much ass to this day). Today, we discuss one of the biggest rap feuds of all-time: Nas versus Jay Z.
Drizzle: So, you know when you're sticking your--
Speed: I'm at work. Let's not get too graphic with descriptors.
Drizzle: Anyway, we grew up in a time period where songs like "Juicy," "Is That Your Bitch," "How Do You Want It," and so on were radio bullshit hip-pop. Here's where I wanna go, though. Music is trash today. Why? Fans are trash today. And it's those fans who need this PA.
Speed: You don't mean?
Drizzle: Yep. Jay Z or Nas?
Drizzle: Now, I said what I said about rappers back in the way back because fans today can't fathom having radio cuts be fucking classics like that. I'm looking at the Thugger and Rae Sremmurd fans out there. They make tracks for now. You won't remember a lot of them this time next year. Don't believe me? Where did Migos go? It's a lot of interchangeable stuff out there. And since that's what it is now, I'll be honest. I don't care what your opinion about the upcoming PA is if you can't remember when "Can't Knock The Hustle" or "Nasty" hit the radio. If you wasn't watching it unfold, keep your mouth shut. Now, Jay Z versus Nas. Who won?
Speed: Lyrically, I've gotta say Nas...mostly. Businesswise? Give it to Hov. But, like we've discussed, you can't just judge a battle off business. If so, Puffy would be the "GOAT." However, the business side--especially sales--is what speaks to people because of the fans. Fans bought BP1, they bought Stillmatic. People still quote "Ether" and "Super Ugly." Truthfully, I'd go with Jay by a nose. Pun intended. Lyrically, though? Nas. Feel free to make me reconsider my opinion.
Drizzle: I didn't ask who was better, nor did I ask your thoughts now. I want your 90s/2000s brain. At the time, who won?
Speed: Aight, aight. Nigga, Jay won. Nas has "Ether." But, Jay? Jay had a whole album that was pretty much a "Fuck You!" to Nas. In fact, he kind of had two.
Drizzle: Via our perspective at the time, Jay won. Hands down. Because back then? Hippity-hop was as much about real life as it was the music. "Can't say it if you ain't lived it" and shit. If you said it on a song, it was supposed to be real. If you said you were gonna knock someone's block off, we needed to believe that shit was a possibility. So, when it ultimately came time to choose a victor, the choice was stupid simple.
Who ended working for who? Who was actually made the other's "bitch" in life?
Speed: Jay wins. Now, looking back now? It's a bit more nuanced than that.
Drizzle: Is it really, though?
Speed: Well, kinda. Now, you've gotta look at lyrics, punchlines, sales, structure, concepts, all that "adult" rap/millennial bullshit analysis you see on the big sites that get millions of views a day.
Drizzle: Fine. Ether. What's the most Jay-killing line in that song?
Speed: Well...it was a better song, lyrically. 'Dem bars and shit, right? But, uh--
Drizzle: I'll wait. Pick one.
Speed: Truth be told? There were a lot of points brought up. A lot of disses. But, none of the lines are really that killer. They bring up points. But, it's not really as hard-hitting of a diss as people say. Hell, as I say.
Drizzle: I know. So, his best point. What was it? What did he say that made Jay say "damn, son. That hurt my soul?"
Speed: He called Jay gay and challenged Jay's street status?
Drizzle: That's a generality. Give me a point.
Speed: "Eminem killed you on your own shit?" "Beans is better than you?" "You got dick-sucking lips?" "I rock hoes, you rock fellas?"
Drizzle: So, in other words, you can't pinpoint one. That's real.
Drizzle: He gave a lot of truth-based opinions. But, Takeover and stuff, it went for the jugular in a way that even the epic lyrical display of "Ether" couldn't. Damn, never knew how easy it was for me to switch on this topic.
Drizzle: Well, you're thinking with your brain brain and not just your heart brain. Helps you think clearer and shit. Out of all the songs Jigga put out about Nas, mentioning Nas, et cetera, this hurt him the most: "Is it 'Oochie Wally' or is it 'One Mic'?/Is the little black girl lost or do she owe you for ice?" In two bars--two fucking bars--Jay Z exposed nas for what it was. He didn't namecall. He didn't laugh. He didn't make accusations. He just asked a simple, game-breaking question. Nas, who is proud of his deepness and is prouded for such, had his lack of such put on display.
Speed: But, what about "In 88, you was getting chased through your building/Calling my crib and I ain't even give you my numbers/All I did was give you a style for you to run with/Smiling in my face, glad to break bread with the God?"
Drizzle: Now, what do those accusations allude to?
Speed: Jay being fake and wanting Nas to keep him from getting murked?
Drizzle: Now, think about that. Nas. Nas, the man who was in Queens. Nas, the man who was in Queens and preaches about nonviolence? He's the one saying this? Oh, ok.
Speed: What about "you 36 in a karate class?" Or the numerous allusions to Jay being Nas' son.
Drizzle: Hol'on. I'm reciting "Ether" in my head. Oh, yeah. It was before Tae-Bo. Anyway, name calling. Point I'm making is that "Ether," though a damn good diss, it had no points that gave Jay a BSoD.
At its core? For really, it's a schoolyard diss, not a millionaire smackdown!
Speed: And we really just referenced the BSoD in a rap discussion.
Drizzle: "Blueprint 2" was a millionaire smackdown. But, you get me, though. At no point did Jay Z put his head down and say "damn, I don't have a response."
Speed: True. He showed the resilience of a cockroach. Nas got some hits in, but Jay stayed moving and breathing.
Drizzle: But that one line from "Blueprint 2" had Nas with his head down, like Cole, saying "well, uhh...th-the label sorta kinda made me do it."
Speed: "Ether" was supposed to be a slow burn. But, Jay's still around now, for better or worse.
Drizzle: If you're gonna talk about Jay's next project after BP2, it was that little Black album. Nas' next project was God's Son, which was also good. But, after that? "Hi, Mister Nas. I'm Jay Z, your new boss. Go get my coffee."
Speed: Well, to be fair, Nas didn't fully release a Def Jam project solely on Def Jam until, what, Life is Good?
Drizzle: He was probably too busy getting Jay's coffee. Sounds like a personal problem.
Speed: Nah, it was a personnel problem.
Drizzle: Credibility. Jay Z--or "Mister Carter"--erased Nas' credibility when that couplet went down. And when you look back, that was ALWAYS his goal. He didn't name call or whatever. He just told a truth. Nas made discrediting Jay an afterthought. Jay made it a GOAL. So, Nas. What makes his lyrics so great that, even though he doesn't have too many real accolades, everyone dickrides for him. Because, as I've said, where were his fans when it was time to buy records?
Speed: He's a good storyteller. He pulls you into the world. Most of the time, anyway. Fuck "Who Killed It?" with a spike-lined dildo. But, most Nas fans these days seem to be Nasir-come-latelies. They discover him later on and then ride the dick.
Drizzle: So, Nas has...a bunch of late bloomers who heard he was nice, but never explained why?
Speed: Eh...not really. I mean, he's got alliteration, rhyme schemes, punchlines that pack a punch, flow, et cetera. Shit, look at "Message to the Feds." He goes from typical NY nigga flow to a chopper flow on the random.
Speed: So, to you, what it boils down to is this. Nas, for you, is your stereotypical struggle rapper with shades of dopeness that sometimes seep through?
Drizzle: Yep. He usually fails at making "mainstream" songs unless he's completely contradicting his moral compass. So, seriously. You know my opinion. I'm willing to hear yours.
Speed: Nas is reflected upon greatly because of rose-colored shades and hipsters. That's not taking Nas and saying he's a shit artist or whatever. I like Nas. He's one of my favorite lyricists. He's got bars out the ass. But, many people seemingly champion him as the Rap Savior without acknowledging the "U Owe Me" side of things.
Drizzle: Nas is a rap great. When it comes to his radio cuts, though? He's a rap sell-out. Made tracks for the radio that were wayyyyyy off his lane. Worse for Nas is when people use his radio cuts as an argument for being the best. Just proves they don't know what they're talking about. "Oochie Wally" isn't a god track and "Ether" isn't a god diss. Nas has a lot of god songs. These two ain't it.
Speed: I've gotta laugh at "Oochie Wally," though. Who the fuck ever called that a God track. Nah, let's be real here. If you're doing that, you don't know shit and should probably just shut your mouth or educate yourself. I would've said "shoot yourself." But, no. Suicide isn't something to joke about.
Drizzle: That's the reason why we started this one. 92Q held a poll and people said, on the internet, that "Oochie Wally" was a god track.
Speed: Wait, wait. What the fuck? "Oochie Wally?" Oochie-fuckin'-Wally?! The song where Nas didn't even have the best verse? The song that had the most-laughable chorus in hip-hop history that isn't "Crank Dat?" Fuck outta here.
Drizzle: I bullshit you not. But, youngins, dug (Ed. Note: "Dug" is how some Baltimoreans pronounce "dog"). Youngins.
Speed: But, still 'doe. We were young once. But, yo, that shit still sucked.
Drizzle: I'm still waiting for the Nas counterpoint.
Speed: Without Nas, there'd be no Kendrick?
Drizzle: No, be serious. Is there a real pro-Nas argument to be had here?
Speed: Well, I never really had that much of a pro-Nas argument. Ever since stuff like "U Owe Me" or whatever, I've looked at Nas like this. "What side are you on?" I'm all for diversity in your work. I like that Kendrick did "Problem" and "Poetic Justice." I like Wayne doing introspective shit. But, do it well and do it without straight-up compromising what you've set up for yourself.
That's my biggest qualm with Nas. I love the guy's work. But, as you've said, most of his radio hits are just that. There are exceptions, such as "One Mic" and "I Can," but most of the hits are just "hits." I get that every artist transforms and grows. Nas, in his transformations from street knowledge kicker to Mafioso to party-and-bullshit Nasty Nas and back, he sometimes loses what makes him great.
Life is Good was great! After a bunch of albums, he found that perfect mix of radio songs and real Nas god-like tracks. Illmatic was great because there was no compromise and Stillmatic was a prototype for LiG. But, yeah...should I say it?
Drizzle: Nas lacks consistency. And before you start on Blueprint 3, it was good. Not Jay good, not at all. But, it was good.
Speed: Ehhhh...maybe it's because I had high expectations after American Gangster. But, BP3 was trash for me, even with a moment or two.
Drizzle: But, it was great next to everything else out.
Speed: But, does that make it a good album overall?
Drizzle: Either way, it makes Jay win. Overall. And against Nas. If your shit is shinier than their platinum, you win.
Speed: Can I go on a mini-rant about Nigger/Untitled?
Speed: It wasn't that good. It got over because of the controversy in a lot of ways. When it dropped, it was a neutered attempt to discuss race relations. And that is wrapped around songs like "Hero" and "Money Makes the World Go 'Round." I remember when I copped that album. I got it when it dropped. Shit was in the trash a couple hours later. Call me a "no-nothing rap fan," but it was trash. Fuck your opinion.
But, back to Jay versus Nas. I've always fucked with him. But, unlike a lot of superfans, I knew he wasn't the complete package. Bars alone can't win all the time. You've gotta have it all to be successful and truly be great. The bars, though. They're well put-together and stuff. But, sometimes, they end up not saying as much as they could if he truncated the imagery or the alliteration.
Drizzle: "Just cause you don't understand him, don't mean that he nice..."
Speed: What about the storytelling?
Drizzle: "Meet the Parents," "Moment of Clarity," "It Was All a Dream," these are a few of Jay's storytelling tracks.
Speed: The flow?
Drizzle: Jay switches up a lot too.
Speed: So, "A Message to the Feds" gets lost in translation?
Drizzle: No. But, Jay does switch it up too. So, for me--and it looks like, for you as well--Jay wins.