Nas came into the game with a target on his back.
That's what happens when you release the greatest debut in rap history. Like LeBron James in 2003, with 1994's Illmatic, the Queens, N.Y., MC didn't just establish himself as the rookie of that particular year—he made an immediate case for being the best rapper on the planet. With a mix of street smarts and bookish intellect not seen since Rakim, the former Nasir Jones put the world on notice practically from the moment he got access to a recording studio. And right from the start, everyone wanted a piece of him.
For that reason, much of Nas' history is written in conflict. He started as a young prodigy nipping at the heels of established giants, advanced to battling for supremacy against the only dude who could touch him, and is now at the point where his only true rivals exist outside hip-hop entirely. To know Nas is to know his beefs. So get familiar.
1. Nas vs. Tupac (1996)
What's the Beef?: In the midst of his feud with the entire East Coast, Tupac interpreted a line about a "fake thug" on It Was Written single "The Message" as being directed at him, so he included Nas on the scorched-earth dis track "Against All Odds," from his final studio album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. Nas admits he cried when he heard it because he idolized Pac so much.
Where's the Beef Now?: Allegedly, the two parties patched things up even before the release of "Against All Odds," but Tupac died before he could make any edits.
Who Won?: It's tempting to say Nas, since he's still alive and all. Guess we'll see what happens when Tupac returns from the island he's been hiding out on for the past 20 years.
2. Nas vs. Notorious B.I.G. (1996-1997)
What's the Beef?: So you know that song that Tupac thought was about him? It was actually aimed at Biggie Smalls.
Where's the Beef Now?: The skirmish never got past the "subliminals" phase—Nas rapped "there can only be one king," Biggie responded with "your reign on the top was short like leprechauns"—and for the second time in a short span, Nas' opponent got martyred before it could escalate.
Who Won?: Once again, tie goes to the living.
3. Nas vs. Jay Z (1996-2005)
What's the Beef?: Some Game of Thrones shit, basically. After Biggie's death, the title of King of New York was up for the taking, and there were only two real contenders for the crown. Warning shots were fired back and forth for years before full-on war broke out in 2001. Jay Z launched the first salvo with "Takeover," prompting Nas to drop a nuke with "Ether," a track so venomous it added a new word for "thorough destruction" to the rap lexicon.
Where's the Beef Now?: Epically quashed. The two shook hands and performed together at a concert in New Jersey, giving the rap world a collective heart attack, and Nas signed to Def Jam during Jay's tenure as head of the label.
Who Won?: While "Ether" is the classic of the feud, Jay Z literally became Nas' boss, so draw your own conclusions.
4. Nas vs. Cam'ron (2002-2014)
What's the Beef?: Call it collateral damage. When New York radio station Hot 97 stopped Nas from performing a simulated lynching of Jay Z at their annual Summer Jam concert, Nas went on a rant against the station and its perceived allies, including Killa Cam, who responded by threatening to "R. Kelly" Nas' young daughter.
Where's the Beef Now?: Cam posted a photo with Nas on his Instagram after running into him at an airport, effectively declaring the beef over.
Who Won?: Nas mostly let his minions in the Bravehearts crew handle this one, then stepped in and deaded things with a single verse on 2003's God's Son. But Cam still has the best merch game in the business. Nothing can take that away from him.
5. Nas vs. 50 Cent (2005-2014)
What's the Beef?: At the height of his infamy, 50 carpet-bombed insults against practically every rapper in the game, and he caught up to Nas on "Piggy Bank," dragging him for getting a tattoo of his then-wife, Kelis, on his arm. With the Jay Z beef off his plate, Nas offered a series of rebuttals, but the rivalry never caught fire.
Where's the Beef Now?: Squashed onstage at Summer Jam 2014.
Who Won?: Frankly, Nas did come to regret that tattoo.
6. Nas vs. Young Jeezy (2006)
What's the Beef?: While promoting his album The Inspiration, Jeezy took exception to the sentiment of Nas' upcoming release Hip-Hop Is Dead, and vowed to prove rap's vitality by outselling him.
Where's the Beef Now?: Jeezy walked back his comments almost as soon as he made them, and Nas made a cameo on his next album two years later.
Who Won?: Hey, remember when Jeezy said he'd outsell Nas in his first week? (Narrator voice) He didn't.
7. Nas vs. Bill O'Reilly (2007)
What's the Beef?: O'Reilly caught a rage boner over Nas performing a free concert at Virginia Tech shortly after the mass shooting that occurred there because he'd, like, said the word "gun" on record a few times. Nas called him a "chump" from the stage.
Where's the Beef Now?: Old Dirty Asshole got kicked off Fox News this year for being a creep, which ended the beef by default since no one needs to give a shit about what Bill O'Reilly thinks anymore.
Who Won?: O'Reilly has been reduced to posting vlogs out of his basement jerk-off chamber, so score another one for Nasir.
8. Nas vs. Jesse Jackson (2008)
What's the Beef?: The civil rights leader chastised Nas for planning to title his ninth album Nigger. Nas told MTV he thought about adding a track responding to Jackson that would've been "real street, real disrespectful, real vulgar."
Where's the Beef Now?: Still waiting on that dis track.
Who Won?: Nas was forced to take the word off the album and simply call it Untitled, so probably not him.
9. Nas vs. Billy Eichner (2012)
What's the Beef?: For reasons still unclear, Nas appeared on the comedian's pop-culture quiz show Billy on the Street, where he looked deeply uncomfortable playing a game called "Media Mogul or Rabbi," then got visibly upset when he learned his prize was a giant birdcage. Hey, you don't get your face on rap's Mount Rushmore by having a sense of humor. You see the Fat Boys up there? Didn't think so.
Where's the Beef Now?: According to Eichner, Nas demanded the Fuse network not put the episode online. They agreed, to the host's chagrin.
Who Won?: When you dis Billy Eichner, you dis yourself.
Nas plays Aug. 27 at 7:05 pm.
MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst is Aug. 26-27 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Get tickets here.
Welcome to MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst || An Annotated Guide to Iggy Pop's Body || Beck's Multiple Personalities || A Super-High Die Antwoord Videography || Nas' Greatest Beefs || Father John Misty: Genius or Troll? || How I Learned to Love Spoon || Five Facts About Lizzo || Filthy Friends Q&A || Frankie Cosmos || White Reaper || RVIVR || Noname || FIDLAR || Whitney || Pup || San Fermin || The Last Artful, Dodgr || Lithics || Beer, Food, Games & More