If you want to trace the beginnings of the legendary Jay-Z vs. Nas beef, you have to go all the back to the mid-90s during the making of Reasonable Doubt.
At that time, Nas was already one of the biggest names in New York, thanks to his masterpiece debut, Illmatic, which, along with Biggie, Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep, managed to shift the attention back to the East Coast at a time when the West had everything on lock.
Despite being in the rap game for almost a decade – Jay-Z made his debut appearance on the 1986 record High Potent’s “H.P. Gets Busy” – the Marcy rapper was still trying to make his way into the music industry.
After being turned down by every major label, Jay-Z, along with Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, decided to launch Roc-A-Fella Records to release his debut album independently. While working on Reasonable Doubt, the plan was for Nas and his close collaborator, AZ, to appear on the DJ Premier-produced “Bring It On.”
“Nas and AZ was supposed to be on ‘Bring It On,’ they kept not showing up,” Dame recalled in a 2007 interview with MTV. “That’s when we wanted to put out the Firm. They didn’t show up. We was meeting and they was saying, ‘Yeah,’ but they wasn’t showing up. We would be waiting and we would be getting offended. So we brought Sauce [Money] and [Big] Jaz on the song.”
While he skipped out on contributing a guest verse to “Bring It On,” Nas’ voice still made its way onto Reasonable Doubt when Ski sampled his vocals from “The World Is Yours (Tip Mix)” on “Dead Presidents II”.
The tension in New York would start heating up around the same time. With Nas getting ready to drop his sophomore album, rappers like Big, Raekwon, Prodigy and Jay-Z were all start to make noise. On the first track off It Was Written, Nas decided to take aim at all of them, with bars especially aimed at Big and Hov. It was only a few years after that the cold war turned into one of the biggest beefs in hip hop history.