Reasonably Doubting Illmatic

Nas vs Jay. Who you With?
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Many moons ago, my compadres and I would envision our favorite Hollywood, sports, and television heroes engaged in all sorts of mortal combat scenarios (finish him). Godzilla vs. King Kong, Freddy vs. Jason, Dr. J vs. MJ, Pam Grier vs. Halle Berry, etc . . . Any cultural icon at the height of notoriety would be eventually sentenced to a Celebrity Death Match (we never got royalties btw). Who imagined these epic struggles would one day materialize, let alone resolve our fabricated logistical inconsistencies? Inconsistencies such as how could Freddy Kruger possibly fight Jason Voorhees when Jason is deceased and last I checked, the dead suffered from a terrible affliction called “Death”, rendering rapid eye movement (REM) improbable? Our unsolved but phenomenally superior plot lines were immortalized and revered for years, that is until Gen X’ers garnered influence in Hollywood’s boardroom. All those “What if” scenarios debated in many a schoolyard began to actualize. The strobe light was turned off and we were granted the misfortune of viewing these cinematic robeasts first hand (yes, Voltron.) Not only did these attempts seldom live up to the hype machine that is “Childhood Imagination”, they lacked the possibility of ever actually occurring. Enter Sean Corey Carter p.k.a. Jay-Z & Nasir Jones p.k.a Nas.

For the unfamiliar, there had been underlying grumblings for years surrounding which of these two hip-hop artists was more adept as it related to lyrical skill, album sales, oozing machismo, swagger, street credibility, and basically all activities comprising a pissing contest. The drama finally culminated in a series of songs (“Takeover” for Jay-Z and “Ether” for Nas) that would allegedly determine an undisputed representative of the hip-hop delegation. Not since Ali / Frazier has there been such clamoring for one black man to whoop another black man’s ass! According to popular consensus aka “da streets”, Nas would emerge the heavily contended victor of said verbal joustmanship. Some argue that Nas’s victory was attributed solely to his ability to withstand and rebut the acrimony spewed on Jay’s offering, but then again, those presenting that argument are most likely Jay fans. There remains evidence however that although Jay stumbled, he may have retained the self professed, interim, “King of the Hill” position left vacant by his predecessor Biggie Smalls, left vacant by his predecessor Big Daddy Kane, left vacant by his predecessor Rakim da God Allah. It’s all muddy waters and extremely super ugly.

All hip-hop aficionados have undoubtedly forged allegiances to either Nas or Jay -Z at this juncture. My intent today is not to sway anyone’s preference, for I have eternally aligned myself with Jay and will not undulate (if Nas would’ve just used the track, maybe things would be different.) I am merely here to inform you that you may be ingesting hallucinogens if you believe Esco can hold a scented candle to Hov’s catalog. Come on now. Brooklyn, please brush your shoulders off and stand up (and do some jumping jacks too Brooklyn, you’re looking kinda chubby these days)! Do not be alarmed Queens (I share dual citizenship with Queens – so I am torn) for Nas may have a shot in the near future, and I mean this, man!

Most Nas fans are lyric junkies and will readily present Nas’s magnum opus, Illmatic, as living testament to his supremacy. As lyrically gifted as Nas is (and he is in fact, a monster), Illmatic is only one album and we are not judging on lyrical content alone. If Emcee or “MC” truly means move the crowd, then Jay-Z is the consummate MC’s Emcee, while Nas leaves the dance floor scene empty (I rap on weekends). Jay also has a more comprehensive catalog. Lyrical merit gets you but so far. It may be fundamentally sound but it can also be fundamentally boring. This is why we hate Duke Basketball. This is why we hate the San Antonio Spurs. If technical merit were the only requisite for entertainers then we would all have on Diana Turasi basketball jerseys. Who? Exactly.

On several albums, Nas was left screaming, “Are you not entertained?” amidst a deafeningly silent audience (and some Queensbridge crickets). Even with all that lyrical potency, delivery has always been of equal relevance in any oratory profession. To further illustrate this point, whose speech would you rather listen to, Ben Stein or Barack Obama (And I love voodoo economics)? Nas has gotten very adept however at presenting comprehensive albums as of late (Hip Hop is Dead, Untitled, Life is Good), which is why I say he still may have a shot. Seems he does better when he has a Main Idea (yes, Weekly Reader).

Although a fan, I approach Nas and Jay’s lyrics from a self-proclaimed producer’s point of view (this is after all hip hop, it is all self proclaimed.) Lyrics absolutely matter but staunch attention must also be levied to iambic pentameter, inflection, cadence, algorithmic composition, syncopation and a slew of other words you didn’t think a producer could spell. As I was remixing Jay’s “99 Problems” for my own amusement (jeez, get a hobby), it dawned on me that one of the reasons I am such a fan is because Jay makes my tracks sound like the shiznit, @ least to me.

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