What is Jay Z trying to say? Takeover

Taking a brief break from Kanye West hagiography- I’ve got one more left, it’s coming- to talk about a song that Kanye produced.

Takeover is my favorite diss song, not because it’s the harshest or the best, but because it’s a perfect example of how to argue.  This isn’t a style that guarantees a win, but if you want to argue and walk away with your dignity intact, this is how it’s done.

Takeover was on of the high points in a long-running feud between Nas and Jay Z and since I’m not sure about all the reasons for it, I’m just going to make note that one of the sticking points was Jay Z’s use of a line from Nas’ classic album Illmatic.

Mobb Deep was also apparently feuding with Jay Z, because Mobb Deep seemed to be involved in every major feud back then.

Four rules on how to argue and guarantee you won’t look like a fool:

Don’t argue with fools

Give your opponent credit

Stick to the facts

Don’t get angry

Don’t argue with fools

Jay Z says exactly this in the song, with a line probably borrowed from Mark Twain

A wise man told me, don’t with fools, cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who

This was a hard lesson to learn, and I still sometimes ignore it, especially on the internet.  You know who looks stupid in an argument with trolls?  EVERYONE.

Give your opponent credit

This actually dovetails nicely with the previous one.  Jay says “don’t argue with fools” almost at the end of the song.  We can look at that two ways- either he’s not taking his own advice or he doesn’t think Nas and Mobb Deep are fools.  I lean toward the latter.  Because regardless of their personal histories, Jay has some respect for at least some of their work.

Had a spark when you started but now you’re just garbage
Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all

You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song

You said you been in this ten
I’ve been in it five – smarten up Nas
Four albums in ten years nigga? I could divide
That’s one every let’s say two, two of them shits was due
One was – NAHHH, the other was “Illmatic”
That’s a one hot album every ten year average

Jay isn’t trying to deny that Nas was a good rapper at the start of his career.  How could he?  Pretty much everyone agrees that Illmatic was a landmark album, easily one of the best of the 90s.  He’s just pointing out that by the time Takeover came out, Nas had fallen off.  None of which was particularly controversial.

But it’s important to give your opponent credit, not only because it may just diffuse some tension, but because it’s just petty not to.  I don’t want to look petty, I just want to be right.

Stick to the facts

This is what I like about Jay Z.  He’s got the facts, he’s going to lay them out, fairly dispassionately.  Some of the highlights:

And you ain’t get a corn nigga you was gettin fucked and
I know who I paid God, Serchlite Publishing

Ouch.  Nas didn’t even get a check for the line that Jay used.  He didn’t have control of his own publishing rights for Illmatic.  That to me is the harshest line in the song.

No, you’re not on my level get your brakes tweaked
I sold what ya whole album sold in my first week


I showed you your first tec on tour with Large Professor
(Me, that’s who!) Then I heard your album bout your tec on your dresser

Nas isn’t selling records.  Nas is a fake gangster who hadn’t handled a gun before Jay showed him one.

When I was pushin weight, back in eighty-eight
you was a ballerina I got your pictures I seen ya

This is out of the Eazy E “Dr Dre wore makeup!” playbook.  It’s kind of a lame diss, but this is hip hop.

At any rate, sticking to what you know and to the facts is pretty key.  One, getting caught in a lie is pretty much an automatic loss of an argument.  Two, name-calling is just petty.  Jay Z does a lot of that on here too- calling Prodigy a “little fuck” (Prodigy of Mobb Deep isn’t a big dude)- I suppose some degree of that is unavoidable.

Don’t get angry

This is maybe the most important point.  When you get angry and start yelling, you look like a fool.  This is why I can kind of enjoy diss songs like Ether, Nas response to Takeover, or Tupac’s over-the-top Biggie Smalls diss Hit Em Up.  They’re OK.  But you can tell that the person they’re responding to really got under their skin.  That’s not a good place to be.  In Biggie and Tupac’s case, that led to tragedy.  Nas and Jay, on the other hand, were able to put it behind them.

Which is good.  One benefit of keeping your dignity after an argument is that you won’t want to shoot someone later.

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4 comments

      1. Fair enough.

        Although I think it was obvious from Jay-Z’s response both lyrically (and out of the booth) that he didn’t expect Nas to get back at him, let alone as hard as Ether was.

        There’s audio floating around the web of Jay-Z calling up Hot 97 after Nas’ response began circulating the airways. Some think it sounded like Hov was crying…

        At any rate, the battle was great for both of their careers, IMO. Neither would be where they are today if 2001 didn’t go down the way it did.

      2. Yeah, it was a pretty harsh response. Unfortunately for Jay Z it doesn’t seem like he had a whole lot leftover to attack Nas with after Takeover either.

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