Competition has always played a big role in hip hop. Battle rhymes, diss songs, trying to “murder” someone on their own tracks, it’s all in the spirit of competition.
But in the mid-90s, the competition in New York was especially heavy. Let’s think about the rappers were coming up at that time – you had Nas and Big both releasing landmark debuts in ’94, Mobb Deep damn bringing all of Queensbridge wherever they went, Raekwon with The Purple Tape and the rest of Wu-Tang by his side.
It seemed as though a new rapper was making their claim for the throne every other day. So when it came time for Nas to drop his highly anticipated sophomore record, he made sure to let everyone know who was the rightful king of New York.
Fake thug, no love, you get the slug, CB4 Gusto Your luck low, I didn't know 'til I was drunk though You freak ni**as played out, get fucked and ate out Prostitute turned bitch, I got the gauge out 96 ways I made out, Montana way The Good F-E-L-L-A, verbal AK spray Dipped attache, jump out the Range, empty out the ashtray A glass of 'Zé make a man Cassius Clay Red dot plots, murder schemes 32 shotguns, regulate with my dunns 17 rocks gleam from one ring They let me let y'all ni**as know one thing There's one life, one love, so there can only be one King The highlights of livin', Vegas-style, roll dice in linen Antera spinnin' on millenniums 20 G bets I'm winnin' 'em, threats I'm sendin' 'em Lex with TV sets the minimum, ill sex adrenaline Party with villains, a case of Demi-Sec To chase the Henny, wet any clique with the semi TEC Who want it? Diamonds I flaunt it Chickenheads flock I lace 'em, fried broiled with basil taste 'em Crack the legs way out of formation It's horizontal how I have 'em fuckin' me in the Benz wagon Can it be Vanity from Last Dragon? Grab your gun, it's on though Shit is grimy, real ni**as buck in broad daylight With the broke MAC that won't spray right Don't give a fuck who they hit as long as the drama's lit Yo, overnight thugs bug ‘cause they ain't promised shit Hungry-ass hooligans stay on that piranha shit Nas - "The Message"
“There were lots of new rappers in the game and lots of us were making noise,” Nas later told Complex in an interview about the making of It Was Written. “You had Jay Z, Mobb Deep, Raekwon. 2Pac was going crazy. Everybody was gunning for position. That was my feeling on “The Message” like, ‘Yo, back up, everybody.'”
While Nas was definitely gunning for his main rival, Big, with the line – “There’s one life, one love, so there can only be one King” – he also had his eyes on the up-and-coming Jay Z, who was starting to make his claim for the crown.
I saw Jay Z driving a Lexus with the TVs in it. I got rid of my Lexus at that point and I was looking for the next best thing. So that line— “Lex with TV sets, the minimum”—wasn’t a shot at Jay but he inspired that line.The Making of Nas’ ‘It Was Written’ | Complex
While Nas wasn’t even thinking about anyone outside of New York when he made the song, it was released during the height of the East Coast–West Coast which led to Pac thinking that Nas was going at him as well. This eventually led to the infamous Central Park confrontation between Pac and Nas during the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards.
The 2Pac & Nas Central Park Confrontation
There have been numerous versions of this story circling for a while, so we need to take them each with a grain of salt.
According to Snoop, who was right there with Pac during the confrontation, Nas had 100 Queens shooters with him who were starting to surround the outnumbered Death Row crew.
[Tupac] had seen Nas in the park, and him and Nas had words, but Nas didn’t want none. But Nas had 100 ni**as with guns. So, listen to what I’m telling you, by me saying [Nas] didn’t want none [does not] mean he [was a punk]. It just means he didn’t want to [go] all the way there. Cause we was in New York, in Central Park, with 100 goons from New York [circling] us. Pac didn’t even see them; I did, ’cause I got a gang-bang mentality. I seen when ni**as started circling, puttin’ they hands in they pockets while Pac is in this ni**a’s ear, tellin’ him, ‘Ni**a, I made a song about you, ni**a, dissin’ you, JAY-Z, Biggie [Smalls]’ [Nas said], ‘I ain’t got no problem with you, Pac.’ [Tupac responded], ‘Alright, ni**a, well if you ain’t got no problems with me, when the song comes out, you better not say a motherf*ckin’ word.’ [Nas said], ‘I love you, Pac,’ and shook the ni**a’s hand. That’s why I love Nas to this day. And Pac walked off.Snoop Dogg: 2Pac Confronted Nas in New York, Nas Had 100 Guys with Guns | DJ Vlad
In a more recent interview with Hot 97’s Ebro Darden, Nas clarified the story, adding that him and Pac had seen each other prior backstage during the MTV awards.
“I heard Snoop told the story a few times, but he had it wrong, a little bit,” Nas explained. “He had said Pac stepped to me. Rest in peace Pac, but he was in New York and there was a lot of tension flaring. Nobody was really there, I think he got into it with Jungle, my brother, at the award show. I seen him backstage and I said, ‘Do you your thing’ and he said, ‘You do yours.’”
Nas then recounted his Central Park confrontation with Pac:
Where I was coming from really wasn’t an all love place ‘cause there was a rumor Makaveli was coming out, so I really wanted to check the temperature with him. It was necessary for us to address the situation. We had to step to our business. We had a great convo. He thought I was dissing him on the song ‘The Message’ and I heard he was dissing me at clubs. It was back and forth and like, ‘Nas we brothers man, we not supposed to go through this.’”Nas Recalls The Time 2Pac Confronted Him About The Lyrics To “The Message” | Genius
Another version of this story comes from Outlawz member, Napoleon, who corrected Snoop’s little detail about Pac’s crew being outnumbered. According to Napoleon, with the New Jersey-based Outlawz and Death Row security, both crews were extremely deep and had a lot of guns with them at Central Park.
Ever since that day, I respected Nas. It could have went either way. We had so many guns that day and I’m sure Nas and them did to. That’s why I thank God that Nas and Pac was able to come together and talk like man instead of being ignorant because it would have probably been a bloodbath.Outlawz Member Napoleon Corrects Snoop’s Story About Nas & 2Pac In Central Park | Hip-Hop Lately