“Ether is one of the best battle songs of all time..”
It’s the debate that’ll never die. 2011 marks 10 years since Nas and Jay-Z went at it in their legendary battle. Visit any message board today and you’ll find posters still arguing over which emcee won this contest, critiquing who has the better career/ personal life, and if the two all-time greats are still engaging in a cold war of sorts. The latest two to offer their opinions are NBA players, and Lakers teammates, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest.
Both players are from Queens, and grew up on Nas’s music. Artest acknowledges this connection and potential bias, but gives Nas the nod. However, he does state when viewing overall careers, Jay-Z came out ahead.
“From a business standpoint, career moves, and longevity, Jay-Z won,” Artest explains. “You look at it from that battle, Nas [delivered] a pretty strong death-blow. Nas won that battle.”
Odom has a similar opinion, praising “Ether” as a seminal diss record, and better than “Takeover.”
“It’s tough, but Ether is one of the best battle rap songs of all-time,” Odam says. “Even though Jay had an incredible career, but just the song, Nas might of got him.”
In November, Jay-Z visited the Juan Epstein show and discussed his personal opinion on “Ether” vs. “Takeover.” Both hosts, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds, believe “Takeover” to be the better record. Jay-Z agreed, concurring that Ron Brownz’s beat was one of “Ether’s” biggest weak points.
The Lakers defeated the Suns last night 99-95, and will face the Bobcats on Friday (January 7).
I think it’s safe to say this battle gets discussed more than any other in Hip-Hop history. It even eclipses Pac and Biggie debates since B.I.G. never released full-fledged, non-subliminal records back at Pac to make their beef an on-wax competition.
Regarding who won, I go with Nas. Too often, I see both sides try to belittle or downplay the impact of the other to make their points. Make no mistake, “Ether” and “Takeover” are both all-time great diss records. Jay had some sharp lines for Nas, and however subjective those lines about Nas’s album quality after Illmatic, he brought to the forefront an argument that had previously been confined to corners and barber shops. It was witty deconstruction so thorough that many claimed Nas’s career was literally over.
On Nas’s end, “Ether” refuted literally everything Jay said on “Takeover” line by line. He flipped Jay’s barbs, but upped the ante. So my flow was garbage on “Oochie Wally?” That wasn’t even my song, but Eminem “murdered you on your own shit.” Nas also brought a murmured fan discussion to the glaring forefront, and that was Jay’s liberal use of Biggie lines. For those who pay attention to lyrics, seemingly juvenile cracks like “Tae Bo hoe,” and lines about Jay’s appearance (“Where you abused as a child/ Scared to smile/ They called you ugly?”), are actually clever flips from Jay’s own rhymes on Blueprint’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Song Cry.”
The reason Jay-Z fell short with Nas is that he was the first one to “blink,” meaning the first emcee to drop a record that wasn’t great. “Takeover” was great, and then it was on Nas to come back equally as great, which he did with “Ether.” Then it was back on Jay, who dropped the “Supa Ugly” track. “Supa Ugly” was solid, but nowhere near the quality the battle had established with the disgustingly underrated “Stillmatic Freestyle,” “Ether,” and “Takeover.” “Blueprint 2” came a little too late, despite being a very good diss outside of the goofy chorus. By then, popular opinion was firmly behind Nas, and he ended matters with perhaps the best lines of the entire battle.
“I was Scarface/ Jay was Manolo/ It hurt me when I had to kill him/ And his whole squad for dolo,” Nas boasted on “Last Real Nigga Alive.”
You know what the best thing is? That perhaps Hip-Hop’s greatest battle ended with the below picture instead of someone in the grave.