In 1998, the two biggest and best rappers in the world were Jay-Z and DMX. Puffy was moving wild units, but he wasn’t seen in the same rapper category as Hov and X.
Jay-Z had just dropped his commercial breakthrough Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, which featured two huge singles “Can I Get A…” and “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”, while DMX was channeling all the energy of the streets on to the Billboard charts with two number one albums in one year.
The two rap superstars also collaborated on a number of joints like “Time to Build”, “Money, Cash, Hoes”, “Blackout”, “It’s Murda” and headlined the historic Hard Knock Life tour in 1999.
But way before Jay and X were battling each other on the Billboard charts and across the biggest rap stages in history, they had a face to face battle during the early ’90s in The Bronx, which was filmed by Big L according to Damon Dash.
During an interview with HipHopDX, three people who witnessed the battle – Ski Beatz, Sauce Money, and Ruff Ryders co-founder Waah Dean – detailed how it went down.
With Jay-Z being from Brooklyn and DMX being from Yonkers, they decided to do the battle in a neutral place – at the small pool hall in the Bronx. Hov was with Dame Dash and Dame’s crew called The Best Out while X rolled through with his people all the way from Maryland.
After a couple warm rounds, the two rappers started getting into it; rhyming for hours back and forth. According to Waah Deen on how the two of them differed – “Jay-Z spoke a little bit more, X flowed more. Jay-Z more talked in his rhymes.”
Ski explains this in more detail – “It was both of their styles at their purest forms. DMX was definitely on that barking, that whole thing. That was his whole persona. His voice was just raw. Jay was the big willie, hustler poster child king.”
On the question of who won the battle? Well, both sides claimed that their man walked away with the W, so it’s hard to say. One thing that we are sure of is that Kareem “Biggs” Burke, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, say it was because of the DMX battle that he started to believe in Jay-Z.
“When I heard Jay early on, I wasn’t even, I wasn’t necessarily a fan,” Biggs said on The ETCs podcast. “It wasn’t until Jay battled DMX and I became a fan. And he started to talk more.”
“DMX I knew as an artist because he used to come uptown and rap for us when he had first come home from jail,” he recalled. “So I knew about him maybe three or four years before Jay. And I knew about his talent level and how good he was, so even Jay stepping in to that, I didn’t think that it would have been a win for Jay.”
While Biggs had his doubts about Jay-Z going into the battle, after watching the young Brooklyn MC go toe-to-toe with one of the more fearsome battle rappers at the time, he was onboard.
Kareem “Biggs” Burke: DMX I knew as an artist because he used to come uptown and rap for us when he had first come home from jail. So I knew about him maybe three or four years before Jay. And I knew about his talent level and how good he was, so even Jay stepping in to that, I didn’t think that it would have been a win for Jay. But what Jay said at the battle, how it went and then, you know. People there with DMX could say he won. We say, you know, Jay won, but it was amazing to see that and then what he was talking about.Jay-Z’s Battle With DMX Won Kareem Biggs Over | HotNewHipHop