Nas was one of the hottest rappers in the game when Jay-Z invited him to contribute a verse to Reasonable Doubt in 1996. For reasons unknown, Nas never made it to the studio, so Producer Ski Beatz sampled a line from the Nas track “The World is Yours” on Jay’s “Dead Presidents II” as revenge for the snub. The absentee artist did not appreciate the move, so he took a subtle jab at Jay-Z on “The Message” that year with the line, “Lex with TV sets the minimum.” As he later explained to Complex: “I saw Jay-Z driving a Lexus with the TVs in them. I got rid of my Lexus at that point and I was looking for the next best thing. … It wasn’t necessarily a shot at him but … he definitely inspired that line.”
Nas fired more warning shots over the next few years, but Jay-Z went way beyond the subliminal during an appearance at Hot 97’s Summer Jam concert in 2001. After premiering the first 32 bars of “Takeover,” a never-heard track from his upcoming album, Blueprint, he capped off the performance with the barb, “Ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov. No!” Nas responded almost immediately with “Stillmatic,” in which he labels Jay both a “fake King of New York” and the “rapping version of Sisqo.”
The release of Blueprint that September revealed the full version of “Takeover,” which packed more bite than the Summer Jam sneak peak. When assessing Nas’ 10 year career, the former fan offered a damning critique: “Your shit is garbage/What you trying to kick, knowledge?”
Provoked, Nas unleashed the fury on “Ether,” a diss track so lethal that its title has become hip hop shorthand for lyrical annihilation. On it, he compares Jay-Z to the Joe Camel cigarette mascot and to J.J. “Dy-No-Mite!” Evans from Good Times. “You a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a stan/I still whip your ass, you 36 in a karate class,” he raps.
Jay-Z went nuclear. On December 11th, 2001, he unveiled a new freestyle, “Supa Ugly,” on New York City’s Hot 97 FM on which he boasts about sleeping with Carmen Bryan, the mother of Nas’ daughter, Destiny. Jay’s mother, Gloria, had been listening to the premiere and demanded her son apologize to Nas and his family, which he did the following day. Even Nas acknowledged the need to call time on the increasingly nasty back-and-forth.
In October 2005, Jay shocked fans by bringing out Nas as a special guest on his “I Declare War” tour. Despite the name, the night was a peacemaking summit of the highest order as the men performed “Dead Presidents” and “The World Is Yours” together. After Nas’ deal with Columbia was up, he signed with Jay-Z’s Def Jam label, cementing what might be the most successful hatchet burial in rap history.