Kept my name in his music – Nas and Jay Z – 2001

This is an essay I did on Nas’ and Jay Z’ different conceptions of black masculinity and how it relates to wealth, heterosexual and homosexual relationships and other factors. It’s long, but oh well.

Emma Holten, Queer Theories and histories, Spring 2014

Kept my name in his music

Nas, Jay­Z and the beef

Introduction

“Whether exaggerated or not, men speak about their sexual conquests: “me and my boy hit it,

me and my boy did her, me and my boy did this”. So there’s a lot of ‘me and my boy’ in there.

Not so much about the woman, but ‘me and my boy.’”
Michael Eric Dyson, in the documentary Hip Hop Beyond beat and rhymes

 

In her 1985 book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire Eve Kosofsky

Sedgwick introduced a more complex way to reflect on homosociality.

Homosociality, by her definition, is a close friendship/hatred/competition or other type of strong

affect between two people of the same sex. She emphasized that while these types of relations

between females tended to, in an organic, gradual way, go from non­sexual to sexual,

homosocial connections in males is “the radically disrupted continuum in our society…”[1]

Thus, the point when a very close male relationship goes from being homosocial to homosexual

is a contested, political place.

Deeming her approach to be, in “generalized terms… achronic”[2], she encouraged scholars and

students to implement the method in their own analytical pursuits.

This type of “shift” becomes especially fraught in cultural spaces where homophobia is

rampant, as is the case in for example gangster rap and hip hop music: “… the cornerstones of

gangsta rap music – hypermasculinity, misogyny, and homophobia – pervade the genre.”[3]

Conversely, rap music is also an environment that nurtures and encourages close relationships

with you friends or “homies”. This makes for an artistic and cultural sphere where the

homosocial continuum becomes somewhat of a balancing act of publicly showing respect and

love for your same­sex collaborators, while outwardly never crossing the “line” into

homosexuality.

In this essay I will attempt to illuminate how, in my interpretation, one rapper, Jay­Z in his song

“Takeover”[4], while praising his friends and insulting (dissing) a fellow rapper, was read as

having crossed this line in Nas’ response “Ether”[5]. Further, I want to explore how the

structure of the homosocial continuum can be extended to other value assessments in male

relations like the meaning of money, status and race. Showing how the way we structure and

validate desire, sexuality and gender is a hugely political field, that cannot be excluded from

discussions of how we interact, even on the most basic levels.

The analysis will focus mainly on Nas’ contribution, seeing as it is an “answer” to Jay­Z’ attack,

and thus functions as an interpretation of this attack and its properties.

 

 

Homosociality – a ripped continuum

In her 1985 book Between Men, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick sheds light on the structures, dynamics

and ruptures in male friendships and rivalries. She especially focuses on the concept of male

homosocial desire, positing it as the shaping force in not only friendships, but also love and

hatred: affects that shape male relation. Homosociality is described as “the affective or social

force, the glue, even when its manifestation is hostility or hatred or something less emotively

charged, that shapes an important relationship”[6].

Sedgwick notes that in a male relation there tends to be a much more dichotomous relation

between a homosocial and a homosexual relation. In female friendships and relations, these two

groupings tend to be placed on a scale of degree where one for example can engage in physical

intimacy without being “fully” homosexual and vice versa.

The activity of women appreciating women and thus furthering the case for women, becomes

noticeable primarily because of its “strong contrast to the arrangement among males”[7].

Sedgwick notes that the activity of a man promoting other men and their work will have to, in a

homophobic society as ours, be set in a stark contrast to homosexuality. Furthering men’s

pursuits is seen as a vital part of maintaining a heterosexual patriarchy that dominates women:

“obligatory heterosexuality is built into male­dominated kinship systems, … homophobia is a

necessary consequence of such patriarchal institutions as heterosexual marriage”[8]. (Following

this, other patriarchal institutions that are not per definition sexual in nature can still be

dependent on a heterosexual frame work. Institutions like capitalism, universities and the like.)

Thus, while it might make sense to group together male friendships and male sexual relations as

similar activities this is not what happens. Rather, one must imply, while praising male

companions, that it is in fact not a homosexual relation.

This is done by blatantly or indirectly expressing a desire to have sex with women, and a disgust

at the thought of having sex with men, as a vital component of a patriarchal culture of

expression. Creating a stark asymmetry in our society, positing “the relatively continuous

relation of female homosocial and homosexual bonds, and on the other hand, the radically

discontinuous relation of male homosocial and homosexual bonds[9]” opposite each other.

This radical shift stems from a homophobic culture that looks upon especially male

homosexuality as “weakening” and “feminizing”. In a heterosexist binary scheme people who

have sex with men are seen as dichotomous opposites of masculinity: “homophobia is

intimately related to sexism in that the denigration of the feminine is central to both…”[10] Who

you have sex with is discursively closely related to your gender. This leads to homosexual men

being situated along with women as a secondary other in society.

Building on this, calling a person a homosexual is not only meant to degrade him in terms of

power and both physical and mental strength, but also to exclude the person from male social

relations and male friendship for not adhering to one of its foremost rules: that it is heterosexist.

But what is a homosexual and a heterosexual? Is there any specific thing you do that situates

you in one sphere or the other?

In Sedgwick’s view, it is a highly political and historically situated partition that cannot fully be

grasped, which is what makes the close male social relation so fraught: “… even the naming of

sexuality as such is always retroactive in relation to most of the sensations and emotions that

constitute it, is historically important. What counts as the sexual is as we shall see, variable and

in itself political”[11]. This implies that defining whether a person is homosexual or not can

come from a standpoint removed from the original speech act. The intentions or self-
identification of the original speaker comes in second in the sexual determination, or, more

specifically, where the person places on the homosocial continuum.

This gives the theory of the homosocial continuum another strength, in that it primarily

functions in a discursive realm. It situates the position of “homosexual” as construction, a

nominal label that fluctuates with societal norms. Sexual labeling (where on the continuum are

you?!) as a reality becomes constituted by society, largely connected with commercial, political

and sociological movements.

 

The triangular structure

Sedgwick utilizes the shape of the triangle as a fruitful tool to interpret the way that men relate

to each other. The triangle illustrates two people (often male) who strive to achieve the same

thing (often wooing a woman). René Girard, in his book Deceit, Desire and the Novel[12],

explores this relationship and concludes something curious: that the relationship between the

two (same sex) people competing is far more defining for narrative than the nature of the

desired object/person. They propel the plot, and their actions are closely related to each other

and to their shared relation to the desired object. Thus, what constitutes the narrative is not the

object of desire, but rather the nature of the rivalry between the two antagonists. In Sedgwick’s

words: “in any erotic rivalry, the bond that links the two rivals is as intense and potent as the

bond that links either of the rivals to the beloved: that the bonds of rivalry and love, differently

as they are experienced, are equally powerful and in many senses equivalent”[13]. The line is

thin, then, between being in a hypermasculine, intense, homosocial, heterosexual rivalry and

actually feeling so strongly toward each other that the relationship can be interpreted as being of

a homosexual nature.

Reiterating the previous point, the distinction between homosocial and homosexual is still

subject to retrospective analysis, and not related to the actual physical, subjective intentions of

the people in the relation. It follows that “the placement of the boundaries on a particular

society affects not merely the definitions of those terms themselves –sexual/nonsexual,

masculine/feminine – but also the apportionment of form of power that are not obviously sexual

… the hidden symmetries of that Girard’s triangle helps us discover will always in turn discover

hidden obliquities”[14]. The use of the word “power” here, implies that other factors come into

play in the interpretation of the nature of the relation: factors like class and race for example.

The triangular model of desire and rivalry becomes useful in uncovering issues of

intersectionalities and power structures. In short, the homosocial continuum and how other

people situate you on it, is closely related to your other social contexts.

 

Takeover, break’s over

In 2001 Jay­Z released the album Blueprint, which featured the song “Takeover”. The track,

about which the acclaimed music review site Pitchfork.com said “there’s never been a better

diss song”[15], by name mentioned fellow rapper Nas in the last 32 bar verse (the standard is

16), taking shots at his faltering career and lyrically inconsistent quality. The album was

released at a time when Jay­Z was arguably the biggest rap star in the world (certainly the most

commercially successful)[16].

At no point in “Takeover” is there a homophobic slur. Rather, there is in abundance of the

tropes that Matthew Oware, Ph. D. at DePauw University, has coined “Friends as family” and

“Success by association”. These two, respectively, mean a “stance wherein [the rapper] fully

embraces the idea of demonstrating affection for another male, yet maintaining manliness” and

“exhibiting the principle that “what is mine is thine, wherein those who have the means share

their resources with those who do not”[17]. The “family” here is R.O.C. (an acronym for the

roster of rappers at Jay­Z’ record label, Roc­A­Fella). During every chorus he mentions

different artists from the label as running “this rap shit”. He deems Roc­A­Fella an “army, or ­

better yet ­ the navy” invoking the theology of ‘brothers in arms’, the most weathered of

homosocial dynamics: men who will go to war and die for each other if necessary in pursuit of

power and dominance.

Having created the vision of an all­destroying, invincible force of warfare, Roc­A­Fella, Jay­Z

goes on to say that they will “…kidnap your babies, spit at your lady”. Engendering a stance

where respecting or desiring all women becomes secondary to being a part of the brotherhood.

He hierarchises male homosociality as being more important than heterosexual relations with

women and even the importance of participating in a reproductive system producing children.

Homies in Roc­A­Fella reign supreme.

The last verse in the song, directed at Nas[18], surveys his output: “Four albums in ten years

nigga? I could divide/That’s one exactly every let’s say two, two of them shits was due/ One

was – Nahh, the other was Illmatic/That’s one hot album every ten year average”. These

particular bars are interesting, seeing as they grant respect for Nas’ earlier work (Illmatic, 1994)

but still end up on a note that puts to question if he is even able to ever top it[19]. Jay­Z

straddles the line between rivalry and respect, and doesn’t seem willing to commit fully to

either, blurring the nature of the homosocial bond between the two. Having earlier stressed the

relation between men to be the central definition of character and achievement, it is interesting

to let it stay this ambivalent. Is it a rivalry or a praising?

In conclusion the song can be easily summed up in Sedgwick’s triangular scheme. Jay­Z incepts

a strong bond of rivalry/respect for Nas. The object of desire of the bond is not a woman,

however, but, instead, who is “running this rap shit”, i.e. who is ahead of the game in terms of

lyrics, flow, fan support and respect. But, aligning with Sedgwick and Girard’s triangle of

desire, what by far outshines the actual goal of the song is the hatred targeted at Nas. 32 bars,

which in the genre of gangster rap at this point was very uncommon[20], speaks volumes about

what this song is ultimately about: being better than Nas and, by that, running the rap game.

This sets up an interesting oxymoron that posits Nas as competition that must be conquered, and

thus a powerful and important person, while simultaneously professing that he and his current

career are worth next to nothing.

This makes the rap battle a perfect example of the complex male affect relationship containing

both love, hatred, rivalry, and respect. Spending 32 bars dissing someone is uncommon and

signals that the person you are dissing is a force to be reckoned with and worth your time.

In his attempt to push Nas into the ground, ridiculing his career, Jay­Z elevates it to being akin

to his own. If you have to destroy Nas to rule the rap game, the automatic implication of your

verse is that Nas is ruling the game as it currently stands. The line between obsession/respect

and obsession/hatred becomes blurry at best: or, essentially, non­existent.

“God’s Son” across the belly, I prove you lost already

A few months after the release of Blueprint, Nas released Stillmatic. This album is widely

considered as being his comeback after lackluster efforts, especially Nastradamus and I am[21],

and is believed to have revived his career. The second song on the album is called “Ether” and

quickly announces it’s intention by opening with multiple gunshots and a sample of deceased

and iconic rapper Tupac Shakur saying “Fuck Jay­Z”.

After the opening sequence, Nas highlights the irony of Jay­Z’ seeming obsession with him,

joking: “You been on my dick nigga you love my style”, implying that the reason Jay­Z keeps

talking about him in fact stems from a deep respect and awe of his talent and not, as claimed by

Jay­Z, because he is an inferior rapper. Notice also the metaphor “been on my dick”, implying

that Jay­Z’ respect for Nas has sexual undertones.

Nas reiterates this point in the opening verse: “I am the truest, name a rapper that I ain’t

influenced/Gave ya’ll chapters but now I keep my eyes on the Judas/With Hawaiian Sophie

fame, kept my name in his music”. Describing himself as God’s son in earlier bars, albums and

verses, and here as a deliverer of chapters of Scripture, the meaning of the use of the metaphor

of Judas becomes apparent: a former disciple and follower (Jay­Z) abuses the name of his

mentor for riches and to elevate himself, yet simultaneously makes the mentor the centre of his

existence and narrative.

In the next verse, Nas concedes some of Jay­Z’ points by admitting that he has been in a rut and

put out sub par albums: “I’ve been fucked over, left for dead, dissed and forgotten/Luck ran out,

they hoped that I’d be gone, stiff and rotten/…./When these streets keep calling, heard it when I

was sleep/That this Gay­Z and Cockafella Records wanted beef”. While Nas admits to being in

an artistic state of hibernation/sleep, this only strengthens the point of proving Jay­Z’ obsession

with him. He started a fight (beef) when Nas wasn’t even at the height of his popularity, which

goes to show that the beef is indeed, as Jay­Z says in “Takeover” “between me and you for

now” and not about gaining respect or credit in the traditional sense: from your peers. Nas

notices quickly that his own nature, who he is, what he has produced in his entire career and

life, is the topic of the beef, and not to determine who is “running this rap shit”.

Following the logic of Girard’s triangle of desire, this proves that in the quest for a desired

object, the relation between the two people competing for it is by far the most central. In the

patriarchal structure of rap, this is to be expected: “… in any male­dominated society, there is a

special relationship between male homosocial (including homosexual) desire and the structures

for maintaining and transmitting patriarchal power: a relationship founded on an inherent and

potentially active structural congruence”[22] The close relations between men is necessary for

the upholding of power. This means power in any way, including monetary. Protecting

heterosexist patriarchy in its current form means retaining the power to define yourself as the

norm.

This “special relationship” also comes to define the value of the common desired object. Jay­Z,

situating himself and Nas as adversaries in the quest to become the rulers of rap, creates a

triangle where all three components are dependent on both the others to make sense. Gaining

respect in the community has no value if either of these two rappers doesn’t feel like he has

conquered the other. “Running this rap shit” is impossible if the other has not stepped back from

the throne, indicating that the fight is between these two – at the very top. Both must agree on

the desired object or position and what defines being powerful for the structure to sustain.

The third verse starts “Ya’ll niggas [referring to Roc­a­fella records] deal with emotions like

bitches/what’s sad is I love you ‘cause you’re my brother/you traded your soul for riches”.

Accusing the Roc­A­Fella roster, and Jay­Z in particular, of dealing with emotions the way

women (femininely) do is in essence saying that they have failed in maintaining a meaningful

homosocial relationship with Nas. Aligning with our earlier definition of homophobia, calling a

person feminine (at one point Nas even ridicules Jay­Z for not being able to grow a mustache,

another stab at his masculinity) is not far removed from calling them a homosexual. And it is

most certainly an example of what Sedgwick calls “sexuality as a signifier of power

relations”[23]. Being feminine, is, per definition, being less strong, less powerful, less deserving

of respect. Let’s keep in mind the relation made to non­sexual powers here, we will return to it.

While he admits to having a familial (albeit also patronizing) respect for his opponent, Nas

latches onto the view that Jay­Z’ attack on him is almost compulsive in its timing and shares, in

his interpretation, more features with a love obsession than with one of male respect and

friendship/mentorship/rivalry. This then clashes with his conception of the homosocial

continuum. Jay­Z has misstepped on the continuum, messing up the complicated practice of

establishing structures of male affect that do not cross into homosexuality: His way of handling

problems is feminine, his invocation of the army shows that male bonding is more important in

Roc­A­Fella than asserting one’s heterosexuality, even Nas’ allusion to the biblical

homoeroticism of the relationship between Jesus and Judas[24] all underscore a lack of ability

to adhere to a masculine ideal.

Saying that a person is homosexual/feminine excludes them from the commonality of

trust, respect and rivalry, a scene that is supposed to be kept “pure” from sexual ambiguity.

“Ether” is positively littered with blatant homophobic slurs that can be explored further. From

calling Jay­Z a “Dick riding nigga” and “cock­sucking lips” to ridiculing the fact that his record

label is named after a man who died from AIDS, a disease historically linked to especially male

homosexuality[25], to saying “I rock hoes, ya’ll rock fellas”, Nas’ message is clear: Jay­Z has

crossed a limit in his relations with men.

The doubts Nas casts on Jay­Z’ ability to navigate the homosocial sphere are not only derived

from his preoccupation with his work. In the next lines, he comments on Jay­Z’ line “spit on

your lady” with “You seem to be only concerned with dissing women/Were you abused as a

child, scared to smile, they called you ugly?”. According to Oware “one of the benchmarks of

current “real man” black masculinity includes control of black women”[26], and Jay­Z

definitely exhibits misogyny in this particular lyric. Nas attempts to dissect the dynamic of the

misogyny: where does this violent animosity towards women come from? The type of

misogyny that is an integral feature of the strong, hypermasculine rapper persona stems,

according to Oware, from treating women as objects for sexual gratification and exhibiting a

need and power to “control” them.

However, Nas’ verse indicates that Jay­Z’ “woman problem” actually comes from the fact that

he has let women “call him ugly”, has had too much respect for their opinion on whether he was

attractive or not, let them deny him the right to “smile”. Black masculine misogyny should,

according to Nas, stem from a wish to have sex with women and treat them like objects, not

from past histories of women not wanting to have sex with you.

Jay­Z’ misogyny comes from past rejections. He has lost “control” over how women view him

and his ability to use them for what he wants on his terms. This has led him to focus his social

desire on close relationships with men. Using the phrasing “spit at your lady” he clearly

indicates that a woman is nothing but a small extension of a man. A woman’s worth, then, is

defined by what man she is having sex with. Again, Nas notices that Jay­Z cares much more

about men than about women.

This is another transgression of the homosocial continuum where the two rapper’s relation to

women create an asymmetry that makes Nas unable or unwilling to relate to Jay­Z as if they

were on the same playing field sexually and socially. If their desire towards women are not

homologous, a symmetric triangle, Nas can dismiss Jay­Z wholly from any relevant sphere,

both of rivalry, friendship and respect.

This asymmetry also enables Nas to question the definition of the desired object, and thus the

structure of the feud. By situating their relation and desire for women as being non-
homogoneous, he can destabilize the foundation and the telos of the fight or “beef”. Why, he

wonders has Jay­Z started this fight[27]? Does a fight between these two rappers even makes

sense, seeing as they do not want the same things? To Nas, it seems, it does not.

As explained earlier, having a shared heterosexuality is vital to the homosocial bond. As soon as

this common desire ceases to exist, the balancing act crashes.

 

Clothes, bank rolls and hoes

Nas’ main claim ­ that Jay­Z has lost his ability to relate properly to his male peers, primarily

Nas himself – is also posited as signifying other relational dissonances.

A focal point in the song is “What’s sad is I love you ‘cause you’re my brother/you [Jay] traded

your soul for riches”. Jay­Z’ downfall and what Nas is critiquing in him is then not an essential

part of him (as one would often describe homosexuality) but rather a change that has happened

over time, along with Jay­Z’ increased commercial success.

This underscores Sedgwick’s claim that the homosocial continuum is an interpretative stance,

regulated by the position the interpreter finds himself in: “it is only when watched from one

fixed vantage point in society that sexuality, gender roles, and power domination can seem to

line up in the perfect chain of echoic meaning.”[28] What we can deduct from this is that in the

shared reality of Nas and Jay­Z, the hyper masculine rap community, there is a relationship

between commerciality and femininity.

Looking closer at the term “soul” the sentence acquires a deeper meaning. Soul, as defined by

the rock and roll hall of fame: “[is] music that arose out of the black experience in America

through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular

testifying”[29]. Nas establishes a clean cut dichotomy between financial success and staying

true to the original and heavily racially charged roots of rap, indicating that having the

staggering commercial success that Jay­Z has had cannot be achieved without catering to a

white audience and giving up the “soul” of it. See as an example of this logic a popular t­shirt

from the company Hip Hop Laboratory that says: “I want my Hip Hop souled out, not sold

out”[30]

 

Keeping it real

We arrive at an intersectionality of race, sexuality and money. This echoes statements made by

Princeton Professor Imani Perry on “keeping it real”. She also uses the term “soul” to define the

act of staying true to the community from whence the rapper came, the same critique that Nas

levels at his opponent: “The “real” is also an authenticating device responding to the removal of

rap music from the organic relationship with the communities creating it … [I]t is an explicitly

ideological stand against selling one’s soul to the devils of capitalism or assimilation as one sells

the art form and lives life.”[31] Commercialism does not correspond with authentic black

culture, and hence, living authentic black masculinity.

Nas’ accusations against Jay­Z as being both a homosexual and a “sell­out” creates a limit

where heterosexuality, race and the masculine rapper­persona become so interdependent that

transgressing any of these constructed boundaries means crossing over into the normative white

ideal of a commercially palatable person invested and successful in capitalism; an ideal that in

its very essence is oppressive to the authentic black male.

These semantic dissonances also showed themselves in Kembrew McLeods empirical research

on values and words in the hip hop community. He included both lyrics, magazines and articles

to put together this scheme of the relationships to authenticity[32]:

Semantic Dimensions Real Fake
Social-psychological Staying true to yourself Following mass trends
Racial Black White
Political-economic The underground Commercial
Gender-sexual Hard Soft
Socio-locational The street The suburbs
Cultural The old school The mainstream

 

Source: Reproduced from McLeod (1999).

Quite simply, Nas states that the figure of a black, heterosexual rapper who is proud of his roots

in the black community, is less profitable (less legible) in the mainstream capitalist music

industry. This corresponds perfectly to the general notions in the rap community as illustrated

above, and with Sedgwick’s claims about sexuality’s role in constituting itself as relevant to other

conceptions of power. “Softness” in the sense of femininity, is, indeed, discursively correlated

with commercialism and “selling your soul for riches”.

As explained earlier, this does not mean that Jay­Z hasn’t exhibited misogyny or shown respect

towards fellow black men. He has done it in the wrong way, letting commercial success rule

supreme, targeting Nas, an artist who identifies very much with describing the black, authentic

experience[33], as being inferior to him, and by that betrayed the authentic, “real”, black

experience.

Jay­Z has, according to Nas, been commercially successful because he has played the capitalist

game at any cost, disregarding cultural (homosocial) code and his “soul”. In other words, he

has ignored the homosocial continuum that belongs in the discourses of black hip hop culture, in

order to tap into a different one, that of white consumer capitalism.

By letting himself be controlled by women through shame, being preoccupied with battling Nas

who is staying true, selling his soul for riches and obsessing over monetary gain, Jay­Z has

become a rapper white America can stomach. White America understands his motives and

actions. This, to Nas, is the greatest affront, and the one he laments the most.

Ridiculing Jay­Z’ capitalist measurements of success further, Nas ironically asks whether Jay

honestly believes that Foxy Brown, a successful female rapper who Jay­Z briefly dated, was

with him because of his looks? “Negro, please”. Even the things Jay has he only gets because he

has sold out and gotten rich. By using the word “Negro” to describe his opponent he also brings

front and center what he seems to think Jay­Z has forgotten: that he might be rich and

commercially successful, but that he should remember the derogatory words used by the very

group whose acceptance he is now calling success. Put bluntly by rapper Jadakiss in the

documentary Hip Hop beyond beats and rhymes: “everything above 700.000 [in sales] is white

people”.

 

Conclusion

Both Jay­Z and Nas are commercially tremendously successful rappers[34]. Their fight was a

huge event in the hip hop community that touched upon almost all aspects of the culture:

money, sex, class, and race. Sedgwick’s conception of the homosocial continuum as a starting

point for unwrapping power structure has proved very useful. Nas’ countless allusions to Jay­Z’

alleged femininity and homosexuality are multi­layered critiques of what he perceives to be a

skewed value system that betrays the cornerstones of black culture. This dichotomy,

femininity/commercialism vs. masculinity/authenticity was evidently still a reality in the

vantage point of beginning 2000’s rap music. This creates an immense paradox for the black

rapper. While existing in a capitalist society that values achievements by how much money they

generate, they must also assert and represent a value system of an oppressed class who have

limited buying power.

According to Michael P. Jeffries’ interviews with fans of rap music: “There was strong

anticommercial sentiment from respondents of all backgrounds—celebrating wealth and

mainstream success is considered inauthentic and harmful to hip­hop”[35]

This leads to a structure where a rapper must, in order to “stay real”, disown the culture that will

put food on the table, while it is still evident that “realness” sells.

It is in this intersection that Nas and Jay­Z collide. In a space of oppression and want of success,

where both of them are rich and long removed from the housing projects where they grew

up[36].

Calling Jay­Z a homosexual is Nas’ way accusing him of having abandoned the shared

homosocial, heterosexist, “real” bond that used to exist between them before they were wrapped

up in big money, big labels and the inevitable lack of control that this leads to. It is a betrayal.

It is “sad”, because he used to love him like “a son, but you traded your soul for riches”, sad

because Nas knows that in the end, Jay­Z has only done what the American dream has told him

to do, pursue money, success and happiness.

Here, we see that Sedgwick was right when she said that we can look at “sex as an especially

charged leverage­point, or point for the exchange of meanings, between gender and class (and in

many societies, race), the sets of categories by which we ordinarily try to describe the divisions

of human labor”[37] This point shows itself in “Ether”: the sexually charged metaphors of the

lyrics are much more blatant than the one bar commenting on “riches”, and the one bar referring

to racial issues: “negro, please”.

There is a constant interpellation between sexual/gender hierarchies and powers in other arenas:

these struggles for recognition and to form an identity cannot be kept apart and are deeply

dependent on each other for semantic meaning. This rap beef is but one example of a discussion

of intersecting discourses of money, masculinity, sexuality, and artistic expression.

 

Bibliography

• Hurt, Byron: Hip­Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes (2006)

• Jay­Z: “Takeover” from the album “Blueprint”, Rocafella Records, NYC, 2001

(see lyrics here: http://www.songlyrics.com/jay­z/takeover­lyrics/)

• Jeffries, Michael P.: “Thug life: Race, gender and the meaning of hip hop”, University of

Chicago Press, 2011

• McLeod, Kembrew. 1999. “Authenticity within Hip Hop and Other Cultures Threatened

with Assimilation.”Journal of Communication 49

• Nas: “Ether” from the album “Stillmatic”, Columbia Records, NYC, 2001

(See lyrics here http://www.songlyrics.com/nas/ether­lyrics/)

• Oware, Matthew: “Brotherly Love: Homosociality and Black Masculinity in Gangsta

Rap Music” DePauw University, 2010

• Perry, Imani: Prophets of the hood: Politics and poetics in hip hop, Duke University

Press Books, 2004 p. 87

• ­ Sedgwick, E. K.: Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, New

York : Columbia University Press, 1985

 

Footnootes

[1] Sedgwick, E.K. “Between Men” p. 5, 1985

[2] Sedgwick p. 11

[3] Oware, Matthew: “Brotherly love: Homosociality and Black Masculinity in Gangsta rap

music”, p. 1, 2010

[4] Jay Z, “Takeover”, Blueprint, Roc­a­fella Records, 2001

[5] Nas, “Ether”, Stillmatic, Columbia Records, 2001

[6] Sedgwick p. 3

[7] ibid.

[8] Ibid. p. 5

[9] Ibid. p. 7

[10]O’Brien, Jodi: Encyclopedia of gender and society, Sage Publications, 2009, entry on

“Homophobia”

[11] Ibid. p. 15

[12] Girard, Rene: Deceit, Desire and the Novel, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966

[13] Sedgwick p. 16

[14] Sedgwick p. 14

[15] http://pitchfork.com/features/staff­lists/7691­the­top­500­tracks­of­the­2000s­100­51/5/

[16]http://www.statisticbrain.com/jay­z­album­sale­statistics/

[17] Oware p. 29

[18]Directing a “diss track” directly at a specific artist is rare. Often, rappers tend to enhance their

own achievements and refrain from naming others by name. As an example, see the recent

reactions to Kendrick Lamar’s diss­ verse on the song “Control” here:

http://www.mtvhive.com/2013/08/14/kendrick­lamar­lyrics­control/

[19] This criticism has been commonly leveled at Nas since the unprecedented success of Illmatic.

See here: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/10896­greatest­hits/?

utm_campaign=search&utm_medium=site&utm_source=search­ac

[20]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeover_(song)

[21] http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16832­life­is­good/

[22]Sedgwick p. 25

[23]Sedgwick p. 7

[24] Burkett, Delbert (Ed.): The Blackwell Companion to Jesus, John Wiley and Sons, 2011 p. 89

[25]See for example Timothy F. Murphy and Suzanne Poirier, eds: Writing AIDS: Gay Literature.

Language, and Analysis, New York: Columbia UP, 1993

[26] Oware p. 24

[27] The origination of the feud in Hip Hop history has many different explanations, among them

money, a woman who had sex with both men and the like. For simplicity’s sake, I will stick to

Nas’ claim that Jay Z attacked him on wax first.

[28]Sedgwick p. 9

[29] http://rockhall.com/inductees/otis­redding/bio/#sthash.DdqloXfp.dpuf

[30]http://hiphoplaboratory.tumblr.com/image/84738587711

[31]Perry, Imani: Prophets of the hood: Politics and poetics in hip hop, Duke University Press

Books, 2004 p. 87

[32]McLeod, Kembrew. 1999. “Authenticity within Hip Hop and Other Cultures Threatened with

Assimilation.”Journal of Communication 49: 134

[33]This point has been said many times, an example here:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2014/05/01/307771190/minya­oh­i­was­never­gonna­not-
want­to­listen­to­this

[34]Jay­Z has sold around 75 million albums, while Nas has sold around 25 million (this number

is contested since Nas is a heavily bootlegged artist. http://www.xxlmag.com/news/2014/04/mc-
serch­reflects­illmatics­popularity­bootleggers/),

[35]Jeffries, Michael P.: Thug Life: Race, Gender and the Meaning of Hip­Hop, p. 33

[36]Jay­Z from Marcy Street in Brooklyn, Nas for Queensbridge in Queens

[37]Sedgwick, p. 11

 

Copyright: Emma Holten, 2014

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