When Nas’ first album under his new Def Jam Recordings pact is released later this year, it will mark the latest chapter in his truce with fellow rapper Jay-Z, the label’s president.
Nas’ jump to Def Jam after an 11-year tenure at Columbia comes on the heels of the rap icons’ headline-making, onstage lovefest last October during R&B/hip-hop WWPR New York’s Power House concert.
The two had battled over who would wear the New York rap crown following the 1997 death of the Notorious B.I.G. The feud kicked into high gear in 2001 when Nas’ fiery “Ether” countered Jay-Z’s teasing “The Takeover.”
Nas (born Nasir Jones) told Billboard then that “battling back and forth is tired. Hip-hop should be (about) moving to the next level.
“It was time for (the beefing) to go in a direction that benefits the people who live for and love hip-hop. Our whole point is to move hip-hop to a much bigger level.”
As part of Nas’ four-album deal with Def Jam, he will get his own imprint, the Jones Experience.
Def Jam and Columbia will participate as financial partners in Nas’ first two albums. Def Jam will provide A&R, promotion and distribution for the two sets, while the labels will share marketing.
The recording budget for each album is $3 million. It has been reported that the $3 million includes advances for Nas, but sources familiar with the deal say the rapper received a separate, substantially higher advance.
Columbia’s Sony parent retains ownership of the masters from Nas’ tenure with Columbia as well as the right to release a greatest-hits collection not shared with Def Jam. Under terms of the pact, Nas will deliver two new tracks for a Sony hits package. Sony may also include up to three tracks from the joint albums on a hits compilation.
Prior to the new agreement, Nas had one album left on his Sony contract. Def Jam was motivated to share profits, says Nas’ attorney, Kenny Meiselas, a partner with Grubman, Indursky and Shire, “because Nas and Jay-Z wanted to start together immediately.”
Although this is believed to be the first arrangement of its kind for a rap artist, it is not the first time that Def Jam parent Universal Music Group and Sony have shared an act. Albums by Audioslave, which comprises members of former Sony act Rage Against the Machine and Universal act Soundgarden, alternate between the two labels.
Nas revealed his peace-building mind-set two years ago with the release of his Ill Will Records/Columbia double-CD “Street’s Disciple.” The album has sold 687,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (He has sold a total of 12 million albums in the United States.)
Nas is recording tracks for the first joint album. Although it is widely anticipated that Jay-Z will appear on the set, Nas would say only that guests and producers are still being decided.
The Jones Experience imprint will concentrate “first and foremost on hip-hop,” Nas says, adding that he is open to other genres. Signings will be announced shortly.
“This is so much bigger than me and Jay-Z,” Nas says. “We’re both excited by what this could potentially mean for hip-hop as a whole.”