A (Brief) History of Jay Z & Kanye West Competing

Rivalry is a part of any sibling relationship. But between "Big Brother" Jay and Kanye, it's on a whole different level.

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Complex Original

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Rivalry is a part of any sibling relationship, and Kanye West's relationship with the man he calls his "Big Brother," Jay Z, is no exception. The two met for the first time thirteen years ago, after Jay had just recorded "This Can't Be Life"—a song Kanye produced. When Kanye heard the completed version, which would appear on the album, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, his initial reaction was one of disappointment. He hadn't wanted "introspective, complicated-rhyming" Jay, he's said.

Unwilling to confront Jay with such criticism at that point, Kanye did decide to rap for him. Jay's eyes lit up at the line, "I'm killing y'all on that lyrical shit/Mayonnaise-colored Benz I push miracle whips..." But Kanye hadn't proven himself enough to get a deal at Roc-A-Fella Records, at least not yet.

Kanye became one of Jay’s go-to producers, revolutionizing hip-hop production with his sped-up soul sample technique. And eventually, of course, he did a get his deal as a solo artist. But one thing was clear: Jay was the boss. 

Always extremely confident in his abilities (and always feeling they're less-than-appropriately appreciated) Kanye got humbled on November 23, 2003, the night of Jay's all-star extravaganza "retirement" concert at Madison Square Garden. Expecting an opportunity to perform, he's said that he was asked to buy two tickets instead. (Jay would later explain in an interview that Kanye had been given four tickets, but had wanted two more tickets.)

Since releasing his debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004, Kanye has climbed the ranks of rap, to the point where he now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Jay. Like all sibling relationships, theirs is complicated. Kanye was the one who helped bring Jay’s long-running beef with Nas to a close, featuring Nas on a song called “We Major” on his 2005 album, Late Registration. And of course, who can forget Kanye claiming that he had Jay “drop” Kris Humphries from the Brooklyn Nets last year on “Cold?”

But along with the love, comes one-upsmanship. And the rivalry between these two has been quite intense. And that has been good news for rap fans. Check out the high points in A (Brief) History of Jay Z and Kanye West Competing.

Written by Dharmic X (@dharmicX)

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Kanye makes his first on the mic appearance on a Jay album with "The Bounce."

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Date: 2002

Two years after rapping in front of Jay-Z for the first time, Kanye made an appearance on "The Bounce," a Timbaland produced track off The Blueprint 2. In his verses, Jay raps about his status in the game, accusing other rappers of biting his style and "tryin' to make The Blueprint 2 before Hov." He goes on to explain the balance between selling out and staying true to his hip-hop roots: "Business mind of a Ross Perot but never lost my soul/Crossed the line, I brought pop across the road."

While Jay is examining equilibrium, Kanye lets his confidence run amok. The opening line says it all: "Magazines call me a rock star/Girls call me a cock star/Billboard pop star/Neighborhood block star..." While three years away from dropping his proper debut album, Kanye could see that his time was coming. "All I know I gots to blow," he declares at the end of the verse. He was right.

Kanye and Jay both appear on Talib Kweli's "Get By (Remix)."

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Jay jumps on "Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)" and Kanye concedes defeat.

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Date: 2005

This was one of the more memorable competitive moments between the two superstars. Kanye had released "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" as a statement record, and then recruited Jay for a remix that would appear on his sophomore album, Late Registration. Preparing for the lyrical showdown, Kanye removed both his verses from the original song and came with fresh, all-new, socially-conscious material about the illicit trade of "blood diamonds"—putting himself in and his own material desires, and really, all of America, in the crosshairs. "Over here it's a drug trade we die from drugs/Over there they die from what we buy from drugs," Kanye says.

But Jay steals the show. The quotables are myriad, and forever memorable: "How could you falter when you're the Rock of Gibraltar?" Jay said. And, "I'm not a businessan/I'm a business, man..." (He sure handled his business. Damn!)

Kanye seldom concedes defeat. In regards to the "Diamonds" remix, though, he gave it up two years later on "Big Brother," saying, "I swore I spazzed/Then my big brother came through and kicked my ass."

Kanye and Jay both do "a song with Coldplay."

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Date: 2006-2007

Kanye's collaboration with Chris Martin of Coldplay, "Homecoming," is one of the best Chicago hip-hop records of all time. Jay-Z's collaboration with Martin, "Beach Chair," is one of the reasons why Kingdom Come is regarded as the weakest album in Jay's discography. But the fact that "Beach Chair" predates "Homecoming" is a sore spot for Kanye because, as he put it on "Big Brother," "I told Jay I did a song with Coldplay/Next thing I know he got a song with Coldplay."

Of course, Jay was friends with Chris Martin first. So there is that.

Kanye and Jay approach "Swagga Like Us" with different styles.

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Date: 2008

This was a major event of a record. "Swagga Like Us" gathered Jay, Kanye and T.I. and Lil Wayne, who were both at their commercial zeniths. The most interesting part of the song, though, is in how differently Kanye and Jay approach their verses. Kanye recorded his verse in Autotune, and his "swagga on a hundred thousand trillion" line is probably the most memorable moment. Jay's lines were blunt, and also powerful, and represented rap orthodoxy: "Can't wear skinny jeans 'cause my nuts don't fit." 

Two stars, shooting in different directions.

Jay declares "D.O.A." after Kanye puts out 808s & Heartbreak.

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Date: 2008-2009

Kanye's 808s & Heartbreak album shocked the rap world in 2008. Sung, not rapped, and all through Autotune, the songs on the album were the most personal Kanye had ever recorded, dealing with the death of his mother and breakup with fiancé Alexis Phifer. Rap purists, many of Kanye original fans, hated it, but the album was successful critically and commercially, spawning big singles including "Love Lockdown" and "Amazing."

The following year, Jay-Z began the campaign for his Blueprint 3 album with a song called "D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)." On it, Jay-Z railed against hip-hop's growing fascination with the computerized vocal enhancement device, calling out those who were riding the wave. "My raps don't have melodies," Jay said. "This should make n***as wanna go and commit felonies."

When "D.O.A." first came out, is was pretty shocking. Kanye, Jay's pal, was one of Autotune's leading proponants! Soon, Jay softened his position, saying Kanye was allowed to use Autotune, and that he was, in fact, the one who suggested the "anti-Autotune" record.

Looking back, what had a bigger impact, "D.O.A." or 808s & Heartbreak? "D.O.A." had an effect. Ron Browz disappeared. T-Pain road his boat off into the sunset. But 808s & Heartbreak has had a much bigger, lasting influence—paving the way for vulnerability in hip-hop, creating a lane for artists like Kid Cudi and Drake to flourish, and expanding the creativite paramaters of Autotune itself—which has not died out, but is rather flourishing in the hands of major artists like Chief Keef and Future. 

Kanye steals the show on Jay's "Run This Town."

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Date: 2009

While "D.O.A." served as a statement and as a street single, Blueprint 3's first official single—Kanye's second ever appearance on a Jay-Z album, and first since 2002—turned into a payback, of sorts, for the "Diamonds of Sierra Leone (Remix)." Guesting on the record with R&B star Rihanna, Kanye steals the show. Taking the third verse, Kanye dropped jaws with an elaborate description of the rockstar life that he is now able to lead. "Beasting of the Reisling," dismissing any regrets—"What you think I rap for, to push a fuckin Rav 4?"—Kanye ends with a flourish. "You feeling like you run it, huh?/Now you know how we feel!"

You almost wonder whether he changed that second-to-last word from "I." It was a watershed moment. 

Jay offers Kanye brotherly advice on "Power (Remix)."

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Kanye and Jay combine forces on Watch The Throne, and a battle ensues.

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Kanye speaks out against Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie," which features Jay.

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Date: February 2013

Kanye has always refused to bite his tongue, and Jay has always had his back. But things got really interesting earlier this year, when, shortly after "Suit & Tie," a collaboration between Justin Timberlake and Jay, hit the airwaves. Onstage at a concert of his in London, offering very little explanation, Kanye said simply: "I got love for Hov but I ain't fucking with that 'Suit & Tie.'"

Justin responded with a quick one-liner during his next Saturday Night Live performance. But Jay has been completely silent about the situation. You gotta think its come up at some point, behind closed doors. 

Jay drops "Open Letter" and Kanye responds with "Numbers On the Boards."

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Jay announces Magna Carta Holy Grail right before Yeezus arrives.

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Kanye tweets about Pacific Rim while everyone else was talking about Magna Carta Holy Grail.

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"Watch The Throne 2" has been confirmed.

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