-- Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Rahman Dukes, Elon D. Johnson and Jermaine Linton
Last month New York radio station Hot 97 set up a battle-of-the-beats showdown between Nasir "Nas" Jones and Shawn Carter, a.k.a. Jay-Z. In one corner was Jay, boasting of an affair with Nas' baby's mother and threatening to come to Queens to hem up his adversary over the musical backdrops of Nas' "Got Ur Self A ..." and Dr. Dre's "Bad Intentions" on a freestyle he calls "Super Ugly."
In the other corner was "Ether," Nas' reply to another Jay dis, called "Takeover." On "Ether," Nas interjects, among other things, innuendo about who is really behind Jigga's stabbing of Lance "Un" Rivera and what he calls a striking resemblance between Hova and "Good Times" character J.J. Evans.
Even before Nas' 52 to 48 percent victory, which was decided by listeners calling up and faxing in their choice for the most scathing barb record, it was apparent that the streets were leaning toward the former Mr. Escobar.
"How does it fit?" a smiling male fan recently asked Nas as Queensbridge's General tried to make his way to his car in midtown Manhattan.
Visibly perplexed, Nas hollered back, "How does what fit?"
"The crown, man," the fan answered, garnering chuckles from the rapper and his small entourage.
"Nah, I'm not trying to be the king."
Nas doesn't want the pressure.
"The animosity thing has always been about somebody wanting to be the king of New York," he explained later that day, referring to the origins of his and Jay's war of words. "Me, myself, I never wanted that crown. That crown's a big responsibility. Ask [former New York Mayor Rudolph] Giuliani."
And ask Jay-Z, who to many people's surprise seems to be the loser in the back-and-forth with Nas.