Recently, I came across a blog titled “BGirlKenya: A Girl, Her Life & Her Music” and was amazed to find not only an avid hip hop lover, but a female who KNOWS her hip hop. The 1st post that managed to catch my attention was an analysis of the age-old discussion: who’s better? Jay-Z, the witty lyricist from Marcy or Nas, the poetic visionary that hails from Queensbridge? While an excellent argument was presented by the young lady (VIEW HERE), I found several statements that I disagreed with that I will tackle in this rebuttal:
“Jay-Z is not selling drugs anymore and has went from a Brooklyn boy who rapper to a business […] Jay-Z closed the old book and started a new one while Nas has been stuck on the same book, same chapter since Illmatic damn near”.
I agree with the statement that Jay-Z is not selling drugs anymore and transformed himself into a business, but wasn’t Jay, not 2 years ago, rhyming about drug dealing/hustling on American Gangster? After the release of the critically panned Kingdom Come (an album of Jay’s that I enjoy), Jay-Z went right back to rhyming about drugs on the critically acclaimed American Gangster. Jay recently rhymed on BP3:
“I move onward, the only direction
Can’t be scared to fail, in search of perfection”
Why then, instead of rehashing familiar territory with American Gangster, did Jay not ignore critics and fans alike and proceed with an album in the vein of The Blueprint 3 after the “dud” that was Kingdom Come? A familar rhyme from Joe Budden comes to mind in this situation: “Are we hustling or are we grown up? Every time I hear you, you changing your tone up”(Joe Budden: “Talk To Em”).
Like Nas, Jay is an artist that will always be compared to his greatest work, his debut album. When it comes to Nas however, he has continued to grow as an artist since his debut. He went from the young visionary on Illmatic to painting the Mafioso lifestyle in his own image (i.e. the aptly-titled It Was Written) to a prophet on I Am… & Nastradamus. Stillmaticsaw a return to form for Nas while God’s Son saw him at his most naked emotionally. Street’s Disciple saw growth into a conscious emcee and a family man while Hip Hop is Deadsaw an elder statesmen concerned with the dying art-form and finally, Untitled saw him lyrically at his peak since Illmatic, a politically conscious emcee. It was also on Untitledthat Nas showed that he had firmly slammed the door on his magnum opus and the gift/curse of his career, Illmatic.
Jay’s career has seen great heights on a commercial scale, but his catalogue artistically has seen its share of duds. For an emcee to call themselves the greatest, should they not present their best effort on every album? When you look at both emcee’s catalogue, the odds are definitely in Nas’ favor as he has 5 arguable classic LPs (Illmatic, It Was Written, Stillmatic, The Lost Tapes & Untitled) while Jay has around 2-3 in Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and American Gangster.
“Jay began to think globally while Nas only saw things locally, as his circumstances so did Jay’s lyrical content. [….] Nas may very well be the best NY lyricist while Jay is the better lyricist in general. Both are deserving of the title but only one has stepped up to the challenge and put the crown on his head. This is not just my opinion: look at the numbers, Jay has beaten Elvis! Jay has retired and came back while Nas has almost given up on hip hop”.
I’d say this was the part in her argument, which irked me the most. When it comes to both emcees, I agree that they are both artists in their own right, but to say Jay is a better artist or lyricist than Nas is flat out wrong imo. Jay proved long ago that he cares more about how many zeroes are in his bank account than about the art-form that hip hop is while Nas continues to grow as an artist and push the boundaries into unfamiliar territory. Another example would be the two premier emcees of the new generation: Lil’ Wayne and Lupe Fiasco. Lil’ Wayne continues to attempt to force his way to rockstar status and sell millions of records while Lupe can rap over rock-type instrumentals while still creating great music and selling a fair amount of records himself. Lyrically, when you compare the two however, there is no competition as Lupe is light-years ahead of Wayne and still relatively young into his burgeoning career. Is Lupe less of an artist for remaining true to his true fans yet still trying new things and not selling out to sell records while Wayne continues to attempt and force himself onto everyone in an attempt to sell more records? I think not.
At the end of the day, Jay-Z will have better numbers than Nas and will have enjoyed a better career than Nas due to the amount of records sold and money made, but when it comes to the essence that hip hop is and consistency in their respective catalogues, there is no comparison: Nas stands tall. Fin.