Jay-Z and Biggie appeared on three tracks together. Each time they did so, they pushed each other – whether either would admit it. In Puff Daddy’s 1997 release of his album, No Way Out, the stage was set for a battle. At that time, the order of the verses seemed to be correct from worst to best (Puffy, Jay-Z and Biggie). I have outlined some highlights below, but I want to know your thoughts.
Jay-Z was sharp on this track, but he had to be with BIG coming right behind him. There are far too dope bars to state just one, but I love “Won’t be known until I’m gone and niggas study my bones.” If we unpack this bar for a moment, it is clear Jay-Z felt underappreciated and maybe even disrespected (Remember: This was 1997). This is a spin on the old adage that you do not get the roses while you can still smell them. It is funny when you look at this bar now considering just how much Jay-Z has accomplished to date. My favorite line from this verse is “they got cats likening me to the mob John Gotti, rap dudes biting me cause I got it locked like the late Bob Marley, pardon me ya’ll, the great Bob Marley. Again, Jay-Z was laying claim to being the best and having the game on lock. This is no small statement considering that many people believe Bob Marley is a God. To have the confidence to rap these lyrics in 1997, when he was not the Jay-Z we all know today speaks to his supreme belief in what he could become. Jay-Z believed he would be great and there are many examples of his beliefs sprinkled in his lyrics. Jay also rapped “And I told my nigga BIG I’d be multi before I did and it’s gon happen, whether rapping or clapping, have it your way.” Yet another bar about what he was destined to do as an artist even when the numbers did not support his claim. And when you think about the platinum plaques he racked up after this bar was released, it is easy to see why many consider him to be the GOAT.
If the overall theme of Jay-Z’s verse is confidence and laying claim to hip hop supremacy, BIG’s verse is a crash course in dominating the drug game in the 1990s. If you love BIG, you know this verse was not the last time BIG gave you a blueprint for surviving the dope game (Think 10 Crack Commandments). Right out the gate, BIG rapped “Damn it feel good to see people up on it; flipped two keys in two weeks and did not flaunt it.” This verse reminds me of the scene in American Gangster where Frank Lucas wore the mink coat to the boxing match. This purchase was the beginning of the end of his anonymity (and his career as a drug kingpin). BIG rapped about doing the opposite – that is, to keep a low profile. You know, kind of like Stringer Bell from the Wire? As my dad told me as a child: “The loudest person in the room is usually the weakest.” Let that sink in. Big rapped “Quickly niggas wanna hit me if they get me, dress my body in linen by Armani, check it . . .” BIG described the paranoia that comes from being knee deep in the drug game. But, in true drug kingpin mentality, BIG was saying even if his enemies get him, dress him in some fly shit at his funeral. “Got lawyers watching lawyers so I won’t go broke, now check it . . .” In this line, BIG provided free game on two critical facets of the game: (1) protect your money at all costs; and (2) trust nobody. Greed and betrayal are the kryptonite for drug dealers and usually end a successful run in the game. BIG warned you. This verse reminds me of Carlitos Way when Carlito hired the lawyer to help him clean his money, but quickly learned that the lawyer was corrupt and could not be trusted. No drug dealer song would be complete without mentioning women and the many roles they play in the game. BIG rapped “Got my shorty flying in with keys taped to her thighs.” BIG bragged about how much he had the game on lock and how his lady was a big part of the game. The last bar I’ll highlight is “Them country niggas call me Frank White.” BIG hustled in the south and was locked up in a prison in Raleigh, NC briefly. And, Frank White was the main character from the movie King of New York, which is about a big time drug dealer. BIG gave us some similarities between the dope game and the rap game.
To choose a winner is tough. But, I think BIG probably best Jay-Z on this song.