“Niggas bit off of Nas shit! You know what I’m sayin’? Word, niggas, niggas, niggas, niggas caught his little album cover, boom. Then done did a Nas for that shit.”
Hip hop has always thrived on being an ultra-competitive culture. From the early park jams days of seeing which MC could rock the crowd the loudest to today’s weekly battle for the number one Billboard spot, rap music is built upon being the top dog.
The New York rap scene during the mid-90s was undoubtedly the most competitive era in history. Future GOAT rappers – from Redman, Black Moon and Onyx to Wu-Tang, Nas and Biggie – were all making their debuts and looking to make an impact. Naturally, in an environment where you have highly talented, but also young, individuals trying to take the top spot, the tensions started brewing.
On August 1, 1995, Raekwon the Chef dropped his highly anticipated Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which featured his partner-in-rhyme Ghostface Killah in a major supporting role. While the album included some of the best rhyming and production from the whole Wu catalogue, it was one track that received more than its fair share of attention and sparked off a beef with The Notorious B.I.G.
“Shark Niggas (Biters)” featured Rae and Ghost going back and forth talking about other rappers biting their styles and rhymes. It starts out general, without any names being dropped, but then Ghost says “niggas is bitin’ off your album cover and shit,” and suddenly the whole rap game knew they were referring to Big’s Ready to Die which depicted a child on its cover, similar to Nas’ Illmatic artwork.
“It was one of them skits where we was looking at our competition,” Rae explained in an interview. “And when Ghost is saying whatever he was saying, we kinda knew who he was talking about, but it wasn’t like we trying to start a beef.”
“It’s just sometimes, when you get in that booth and you start saying what you wanna say, it just happened,” he continued. “Back then we was feeling good. The liquor’s making a nigga feel stronger. We know we coming up with a good album. And we letting it be known, listen: Blah blah blah blah blah. And that’s all we did.”
Years later, Ghost would explain in an XXL interview what his mindset was like when making the skit, “You know how Wu came through. At that time, it was on for anybody. We came into the game like, Fuck everybody. Niggas can’t touch this, whatever, whatever. That was our mind-frame back then.”
The beef between Wu and Big spread over to Nas as well, who then got into his own situation with Biggie. At the time, Nas and Big were the two hottest rappers in New York and they were both vying for the crown. As the tension brewed over, both rappers would exchange subliminal disses against each other over several tracks.
The Queensbridge legend later revealed in an interview on Drink Champs that he received an angry phone call from the Brooklyn rapper after Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… dropped and the skit made its way around the city.
“B.I.G. called me, and he’s like, ‘Yo, you fucking with them Wu niggas? You knew they said that shit?’ ‘Cause me and him was tight,” Nas recalled. “I was like, ‘Yo, I mean that’s Ghost. Ghostface is Ghostface. There’s no love lost. I didn’t know he was going to say this shit.’ He was a little disappointed ‘cause he wasn’t trying to bite off my shit.”
On his 2002 song, “Last Real Nigga Alive,” Nas would attempt to break down the situation for listeners:
Puff tried to start a label, Prince Rakeem had formed Wu-Tang Snoop and Dre had a new thing So Puff drove his new Range through Queensbridge Projects He let me drive it, before Ready to Die hit Big and I hit blunts performin' at the Ark Next thing you knew, Big blew and all the ballin' starts He had Kim in his crew, I found Fox Only niggas in New York with number one charts Big was ahead of his time, him and Raekwon My niggas, but dig it, they couldn't get along That's when Ghostface said it on The Purple Tape Bad Boy bitin' Nas album cover, wait Big told me Rae was stealin' my slang And Rae told me, out in Shaolin, Big would do the same thing But I borrowed from both them niggas Nas - "Last Real Nigga Alive" (God's Son, 2002)
Fortunately Rae and Ghost were able to make amends with Big before the late, great MC was shot and killed in L.A. Ghost recalled seeing Big out in Cali and the two of them shaking hands before he passed.
Ghostface Killah: God bless the dead, I love Big. He’s a fucking icon. Even when I seen him out in Cali, I wanted to tell son, Yo, let’s go ahead and make this record together because I matured through the years, and at the same time, I recognized good music. We shook hands on some peace shit, but that was all, ’cause they was on their way leaving out. A day or two later, niggas aired him out. I felt bad like a muthafucka because it was like, Damn, the niggas aired out one of my New York niggas.Raekwon, The Making of “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” | XXL