On his new album, Nas reflects on his complicated relationship with a fellow rap legend
New York City — If by chance you were to ask most rappers to name their top five greatest MCs of all time, most likely the list goes like this: "Jay-Z, 2Pac, Biggie, Nas and ______" in no particular order. And what exactly do each of these "rap gods" have in common?
All four icons were born in the birthplace of hip-hop, better known as New York City.
Like the X-Men, each rap legend had a unique superpower. If Jay-Z's gift was his sophistication and Biggie's power amounted to incomparable "flow," of the bunch — Nas was the most gifted lyricist. As for 2Pac, as another rap legend from NYC named DMX once put it: "Pac was simply the 'realist' to ever do it. Period!"
"Realness," ah, realness. ... Realness is to a rapper what net worth is to an entrepreneur. Quite simply, when Tupac had an issue with a fellow rapper, he was so real — almost to a fault — he'd literally forewarn his adversary why and how he was planning to attack them.
"Only a sucker would sucker punch somebody," Pac once declared. Indeed, the realness of his character demanded he alerted his enemies in advance, similar to those old Western movies when the cowboys "take ten paces and spin."
For the above reasons, when Pac was ambushed and shot inside the lobby of a recording studio, in Times Square, quite naturally he pointed fingers at his then friends. In Shakur's view, Biggie and Nas — NYC's two most dominant rap figures at the time — should've given him "a heads up."
"A phone call . . . a letter . . . anything!" Shakur would later gripe while nursing his wounds.
On Nas' latest album King's Disease II, he takes listeners back down memory lane — a sort of education in hip-hop history. In particular, Nas delves into his complicated relationship with 2Pac on the instant classic "Death Row East."
As only "your favorite poet's favorite poet" could, Nas takes off the overcoat, loosens up the tie and then steps inside the [rap] booth to prove why Superman still lives. Ah, he paints a word-picture indeed!
While listening to Nas' latest effort, the listener is bound to feel like Marty being transported back in time. Nas is "Doc" and the music serves as the DeLorean time machine. Ah, the hip-hop scene of the 90s was a scary place. Suge Knight stalked the landscape.
At the height of the beef with Death Row, Nas reminded his foes why his crew was "the smartest, not hardest." He then made note of his run-in with 2Pac, a classic encounter during the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards in New York.
"Back when Jungle told Pac, 'It's on' soon as we walk up out of this. Picket signs, Outlawz outside the music hall," he raps about the confrontation with Pac. "Bunch of ghetto superstars really down to lose it all."
Despite the escalating tension between the camps, deep down both legends had love and respect for each other. After all, they shared a common bond, rooted in rap immortality. And as Nas notes, he and Pac quietly intended to squash the feud.
"Before Makaveli the Don left, booked a flight, flying out West," Nas recalls. "We was tryna squash the whole sh*t in Vegas. No media to eat it up and leak it in the papers." Perhaps Nas learned from the first time around when Pac had gotten shot in New York City.
Perhaps Nas pictured he and his old pal settling their differences, maybe quietly at some old diner tucked away in some corner of the world.
"Before he [Tupac] got killed," Nas recalled, "so many times I wanted to call him up and say 'slow down,' ya know." Perhaps what Nas' was groping with to say is this: if he could do it all over again, he would've indeed channeled that "realness" of 2Pac's spirit, and just maybe even offered "a phone call . . . a letter . . . anything!"
Perhaps in a future album, Nas will rap about what he would've written in that hypothetical letter to his old pal, in which presumably he would've forewarned him of the danger that lurked around the corner. Or as 2Pac once rapped, "I see death around the corner."
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