Business acumen aside, Jay Z wasn’t always better than Nas. While both were regulars on the rap scene during the late ’80s, early ’90s, the latter arguably produced the greatest rap album of our time. Jay had to creep from out of Jaz-O and Big Daddy Kane’s shadows before being taken seriously. As a result, his debut, Reasonable Doubt, was slept on. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 showed Jay trying to prove himself while striving for mainstream acceptance. Nas did the same with It Was Written, and did it better on that album, but that’s where it stops. Jigga figured something out after his second LP.
Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life shot Jay past Nas—selling five million records will do that. His Roc-A-Fella Records label also started the clothing line Rocawear further expanding their stranglehold on late '90s hip-hop. His third LP was the start of an unbeatable run which saw the releases of Vol. 3...Life and Times of S. Carter, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, and his second classic record, The Blueprint. The latter of which featured a song so good that resurrected Nas’ career. Nastradamus was so horrible the hip-hop community stuck a fork in him, assuming he was done. “Takeover” started a war, awakening Nas’ competitive spirit. The rap game stopped when he dropped “Ether,” but in hindsight, it was just a personal attack on sexual orientation and looks. And the beat isn’t on the same level as Jigga’s first shot.
Nas is in a fact a better storyteller, but Jay has a better ear for beats, is a better assessor of talent, a better businessman, and is a better artist overall. Nas has never been able to consistently make crossover hits at the same pace as Jay, and is just now starting to understand the business side of things. In fact, Jay helped Nas by signing him to Def Jam while holding the presidency at the historic label, further adding to the #NasLost legacy.
However, in 2014, the two of them are closer lyrically. Life Is Good was a great album, and Jay mails it in from time to time—being worth around $500 million will do that. Jay still has that ability to get under rappers’ skin, though, talking slick on features and such. When you put both careers side-by-side, it’s hard to argue in Nas’ favor. He’s trying to catch up, but it might be too little, too late.
For more on why Jay Z dominates Nas, watch the video for 10 Reasons Jay Z Is Better Than Nas.