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This or That? Jaz-O vs. Jay Z

The history of Jay Z and Jaz-O is not only shrouded in but also defined by mystery. Jay himself has often used his mythical beginnings to his advantage: when ‘Reasonable Doubt’ dropped he was shamed for name-checking local drug kingpins, but later on he’d be accused of falsifying his drug dealing history. The cold, hard facts have less to do with Jay’s success than how he extended the perception of them in his music (those 92 bricks he lost are probably on the Malaysian Airlines flight).

The enigma surrounding Jay and Jaz begins with their names. The alleged story of how Shawn Carter became Jay-Z is tri-fold. No. 1, the moniker was a nod to his mentor Jaz-O (who also went by Big Jaz, The Jaz and simply Jaz early on). No. 2, S Dot was nicknamed Jazzy as a child. No. 3, the J and Z trains had stops close to his home in Brooklyn. Regardless of the truth, the close kinship that both names share is hard to ignore, considering Jaz-O put Jay on in 1989. (Do remember, in 1986 Jay and Jaz combined as High Potent and released this dud.)

It was on Jaz’s first album, ‘Word to the Jaz,’ where ‘Hawaiian Sophie’ made an appearance, featuring a young Jay Zee, who would later face ridicule for his cameo in the video. His contributions were limited, more akin to a crony chiming in than a rhyming partner, but ‘D’Evils’ it wasn’t. Jaz’s first album was littered with similar useless contributions from Jay, and Jaz would go on to feature the young Marcy rapper on each of his next two projects: ‘Ya Don’t Stop’ and ‘To Your Soul.’

Fast forward to 1996, and Jigga is shopping his demo around to multiple record labels with no success. Taking it upon themselves, Jay, Dame Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke start their own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, and release Jay’s debut album to little initial fanfare. Jaz would produce one beat for ‘Reasonable Doubt,’ ‘Ain’t No N—-,’ which he apparently recorded live while hitting the sampler pad to loop the Whole Darn Family riff.

Jaz-O, along with another one of Jay’s rhyming partners, Sauce Money, was offered a deal to sign with Roc-A-Fella. Sauce Money refused and Jaz apparently didn’t like the details of the $300,000 deal, so he too left it on the table. Sauce had unspecified problems with Dame, and Jaz allegedly had similar doubts.

But that wasn’t the end of the relationship, so while the neglected deal might have provided a seed for future beef, it wasn’t the springboard. Jaz would go on to produce songs on Jay’s next two albums, ‘Rap Game/Crack Game’ in ’97 and ‘N—- What, N—- Who (Originator 99)’ in ’98. That same year, in 1998, Jay officially blew up with ‘Hard Knock Life,’ the biggest single from ‘Life And Times, Vol. 2.’

That seems to be where things get sketchy. In 2002, Jaz-O released an album with The Immobilarie called ‘Kingz Kounty.’ It featured a song with Jay-Z and Shareefah called ‘Let’s Go,’ but when Jaz prepared to do a video for the song, Jay never showed.

Some say Jaz went to Wendy Williams’ radio show to air Jigga out publicly, while others contend it was on Kayslay’s show where he slung the first disses. Jay responded on the intro to DJ Clue’s 2002 mixtape ‘I’m A Show Ya How To Do This, Part One’ by effectively sic’ing Roc dogs Freeway, Memphis Bleek and Geda K on Jaz. When Freeway said, “You like the bottle Kane dropped in ‘Menace’ / 40 and broke,” it was a wrap. Jaz would clap back with ‘Ova,’ but he never heard another response. Ever since then, it’s been Jaz doing inflammatory interviews about Jay being gay and Jay making jokes about Jaz in numerous songs.

Back in the early 90’s, you would have been hard-pressed to find people championing Jay Z over Jaz-O. Jaz’s best offering is the 1991 EP ‘Ya Don’t Stop,’ featuring bouncing production from Large Professor and DJ Mark the 45 King, but he was respected for his fast rhyme style and Afrocentrism on albums like ‘To Your Soul.’ We all know Jay Z won this one, but it wasn’t clear from the beginning.

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