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The #7 Biggest Moment: Jay-Z & Nas Squash Beef

XXL has been in existence for more than 10 years now. (Perhaps you noticed the sirloin-thick anniversary issue that tilted your local newsstand six months back.) In that time, since September 1997, we’ve put out 99 magazines covering, as the saying goes, hip-hop on a higher level—all the moments that made the music mean so much.

It should be noted, of course, that 1997 is significant for another reason. The death of the Notorious B.I.G. in March of that year closed what stands as the most momentous chapter in hip-hop history: the great Brooklyn MC’s rivalry with his California counterpoint, Tupac Shakur. In that light, the XXL era can be seen as the post–Biggie-Tupac era.

As we watch and wait to learn what will define the future, we cast an eye back at what we’ve witnessed so far. In celebration of our 100th issue, here are the 100 biggest hip-hop moments of our time.



For as long as beef has been a staple of the hip-hop diet, there have been few feuds to rival that of Jay-Z vs. Nas: Clash of the Titans. Representing the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively, the two rappers had problems dating back to the early ’90s. But the acrimony came to a head in 2001, when Jay unveiled “The Takeover” at Hot 97’s Summer Jam concert. It was the first time either MC had mentioned the other by name, and it set off a well-documented back-and-forth-and-back-again. Even after the active brouhaha died down the next year, the two kings of New York remained on opposite sides of a wide schism. Until 2005.

That September, Jay-Z, recently ensconced behind the president’s desk at Def Jam, announced a return to the stage—ominously billed the I Declare War concert. “I’m getting the itch,” he said to Power 105’s Ed Lover. “I gotta smash a couple of people… Everybody better make up and be my friend.” Immediate speculation, of course, was that Nas would be a major target of his wrath. Instead, when the night of the concert came around, the audience of 15,000 was treated to a series of surprises of the hatchet-burying variety: Beanie Sigel (who’d been rumored to be splitting from his State Property cohorts) performed with Freeway. D-Block and Puffy came out together. But the real magic happened toward the end of the show, when Jay stopped his verse in the middle of “Where I’m From” (at the line, “I’m from where niggas pull your card/And argue all day about who’s the best MC: Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas?”). He told the crowd that, while the concert might have been called I Declare War, it was bigger than that. He likened it to the president presenting to the United Nations. Then: “Let’s go, Esco!” And lo and behold, Nas himself rose to the stage in an elevator, rapping the hook to Jay’s “Dead Presidents” (his lyrics from “The World Is Yours”), and all was good.

Behind the scenes, the détente had happened a couple of months beforehand, the brainchild of Biggie Smalls’ former manager, Brooklyn native Mark Pitts. After meeting Nas through R&B singer Kelis (he A&Red her album Tasty), Pitts began managing the Queensbridge rapper and almost immediately engineered a sit-down with Biggie’s old friend Jay at Manhattan’s Baseline Studios. Soon after that, Jay called Pitts (“As much as they squashed the beef,” says Pitts, who is now president of urban music for the Zomba Label Group, “they ain’t gonna go from bein’ one way to being best friends, so I was still doing all the talking to Jay”) with the idea of making peace live, in the spotlight.

The element of surprise was difficult to maintain. “Some people close to Jay knew, but not a lot of people,” says Pitts of the atmosphere—even up until the night of the show. “Nas hid in his dressing room the whole time. He never came out. That moment that it was time to go onstage, though, it was mayhem. And Nas had his fatigues on—he was in Nasty Nas mode. So it was right.”—PETER RUBIN

CLICK HERE to read Moment #8
CLICK HERE to read Moment #9
CLICK HERE to read Moment #10

Read the full “100 Moments” countdown in the 100th issue of XXL, on stands now!

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