Wayne had been claiming Jay's title of "best rapper alive" since as early as 2004, when he rapped on "Bring It Back": "The best rapper alive since the best rapper retired", a reference to Jay's outro on his 2003 single "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." Wayne doubled down on the message in 2005, on his track "Best Rapper Alive" off Tha Carter II. He was further provoked in 2006, when Jay released Kingdom Come, with the title track insinuating that hip hop needed saving, and Jay was the man to save it ("not only NYC I'm hip hop's saviour / so after this flow you might owe me a favour").
Wayne said in a 2006 interview:
I'm better than him... I'm 24 years old. ... I'm 13 years deep with five albums and 10 million records sold. I don't like what he's saying about how he had to come back because hip-hop's dead and we need him. What the f--- do you mean? If anything it's reborn, so he's probably having a problem with that. You left on a good note, and all of the artists were saying, 'Yo, this is Jay's house. He's the best.' Now he comes back and still thinks it's his house. ... It's not your house anymore, and I'm better than you.Wayne went ahead and dominated the period from 2006-2009, eclipsing all other hip hop artists in terms of sales and critical reception. He dropped 3 classic mixtapes, and at least 1 classic album. On his 2008 track "Mr. Carter", a collaboration with Jay, the hatchet seemed to be buried, as Jay rapped: "Young Carter, go farther, go further, go harder... I took so much change from this rap game, it's your go". Jay went even further in 2009 on "A Star Is Born", acknowledging Wayne's dominance, and for the first time in his career (and to date, the last), offering to "pass the torch" to another rapper:
"Wayne scorchin', I'll applaud him / If he keep going, pass the torch to him"
Their rivalry is complex, and Wayne has only ever shown respect and admiration for Jay, despite the subliminals that flew between then from 2011-2013. Wayne has rapped over a number of Jay's beats, has Jay's lyrics tattooed on him, admitted to being obsessed with Jay and Roc-A-Fella earlier in his career, and as recently as 2016 was shouting Jay and Roc Nation out at concerts.
But did Wayne have a point? Was he the best rapper alive during this period? Forget record sales, business deals, contracts, or net worths, and focus on the bars and the music. Here's a quick rundown of what all the major critical outlets thought of their respective output (all major projects) during this time:
Tha Carter: 70/100
Tha Carter II: 78/100
The Dedication: 200k downloads and 100/100 from Datpiff
Dedication 2: 80/100
Da Drought 3: 87/100
Dedication 3: 37/100
Tha Carter III: 84/100
No Ceilings: 73/100
Unfinished Business (with R. Kelly): 64/100
Kingdom Come: 67/100
American Gangster: 74/100
The Blueprint 3: 65/100
Result: Lil Wayne wins this, by the tiniest of margins. But he released 9 projects during this period, and Jay only released 4. Rebirth, his rock album, also drags him down considerably I think Wayne was quite right to claim he was the best rapper alive from 2004 through to 2009. Jay's output was inconsistent at best, and Wayne was truly scorching.
Drake has compared himself to Jay on two distinct occasions:
- 2011's "I'm On One," he raps: "I'm just feeling like the throne is for the taking - watch me take it"
- 2016's "Summer Sixteen" he raps: "I used to wanna be on Roc-A-Fella then I turned into Jay"
- On 2014's "We Made It Freestyle", Jay raps: "I own my own masters
You know I ain't missin' no royalty statements /
I can't be rated (God, God), damn Hov stunt on them haters /
Sorry Mrs. Drizzy for so much art talk
Silly me rappin' 'bout shit that I really bought /
While these rappers rap about guns they ain't shot
And a bunch of other silly shit that they ain't got"
- On Khaled's 2014 single "They Don't Love You No More", Jay appears to call Drake "soft as a Lacrosse team".
- Khaled again provided Jay with the chance to smack Drake down on 2016's "I Got The Keys": "Niggas always asking me the key / Til you own your own you can't be free / Til you're on your own you can't be me / How we still slaves in 2016?"
- And in 2017, Khaled gave Jay the keys to clap back once more on "Shining": "I shouldn't even worry, backward niggas . 12 solo albums all platinum nigga / I know you ain't out here talking numbers, right? / I know you ain't out here talkin' summers, right? / I know you ain't walkin' round talkin' down / Sayin' boss shit when you a runner right?"
- Has a number of mildly successful artists, the most being PARTYNEXTDOOR.
- Has multiple hot producers, including Boi-1da and Nineteen85.
- Has the OVO Clothing Line, which has also seen Drake collaborate with the Nike Jordan brand on sneakers.
- Is distributed by Warner Music.
- Drake is still a Cash Money Records artist, and only his 3rd album, Nothing Was The Same, was attributed to the label OVO Sound (as well as Young Money, Cash Money, and Republic)
- In the year 2000, it featured Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Amil, and DJ Clue, all of whom were more successful in sales and chart positions than anyone on OVO Sound.
- In-house producers included Bink!, Just Blaze, and Kanye West, again, all more successful than anyone on OVO Sound.
- Rocawear clothing became wildly successful, so much so it facilitated a spin-off clothing label, State Property Clothing, which managed to sell as well.
- Roc Films had already produced Streets Is Watching and Backstage, both critically acclaimed.
- Jay, Dame, and Kareem Burke owned the masters to Reasonable Doubt.
- Roc-A-Fella went platinum multiple times with Jay Z, Cam'Ron, and Kanye West
- ROC Films produced the hood classic Paid In Full in 2002
- Rocawear exploded in popularity, eventually selling for $204 million in 2007
- Jay releases his own signature sneaker (not a collaboration with another athlete, like Drakes Jordans), the S. Carter Collection, which sells out almost instantly, and becomes the most successful sneaker ever by an artist.
- Jay becomes the president of Def Jam, and in turn wins back the rights to all of his own masters.
The Result: Jay wins this one, by a land slide. At the same moment in time, Jay was in control of his creative output, he was independent, and he had a group of commercially and critically successful artists around him. He'd branched successfully into both clothes and films. Drake is yet to achieve any of this.
Before the release of her third LP The Pinkprint, MTV ran a story on Nicki's obsession with Jay, including this quote:
I think everybody knows how obsessed I am with Jay Z. He's always been my favorite rapper -- him and Wayne. He did such a great job of creating this Blueprint brand for male rappers, I felt. And I studied a lot of his blueprint, just in terms of becoming a mogul. I wanted to do that, I wanted to be like Jay Z. I felt like with what I'm doing, I want female rappers to be able to pattern themselves with what I've done one day. And I think the album is soooo classic, it's gonna feel so good and it will probably be one that female rappers will look to as a 'pink print' for years to come.
While The Blueprint went multi-platinum and is heralded as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time (sitting at 88/100 on Metacritic), The Pinkprint was met with a lukewarm reception (70/100 on Metacritic), although it is certified double platinum, likely helped by streams. It's certainly no classic.
But Nicki also wanted to build her brand in the same way Jay did. On "I Am Your Leader", she raps:
"I'm a brand bitch, I'm a brand"
Very similar to Jay's lines on "Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)", about being a business. So, does Nicki stack up?
- Collaboration with MAC Cosmetics in 2010
- Nail polish collection with OPI in 2011
- Nicki Minaj Barbie Dolls in 2012
- Her Nicki Minaj KMART line, which has been discontinued as of late 2016
- In 2013 she had her own Beats speaker, the "Pink Pill".
- In 2012 she launched her own fragrance line, which continues to this day.
- Her own alcoholic beverage, a fruity Moscato.
- Her foray into the fashion world has been successful. She was the lead on a 2015 Robert Cavalli campaign, collaborated with designer Farai Simoyi in 2015, and allegedly inspired Giuseppe Zanotti to design a sneaker, although she's been vocal recently about his "racism and disrespect".