The rap superstars Jay-Z and Nas, who hurled bitter insults at each other in rhyme for years in one of rap’s most prominent feuds, have reached a deal that would formalize their much-publicized recent truce and transform the two onetime foes into business partners, according to music industry executives involved in the arrangement.

The long-rumored deal sets the stage for Nas to join the artist roster of Def Jam Recordings, the rap label where Jay-Z became president last year in an unusual executive shuffle. But the two stars’ personal cease-fire also evolved into an unconventional treaty of sorts between their competing record labels.

As part of the deal, Nas’s longtime record company, Sony Music, and Def Jam will split the profits – or any loss – from his next two albums, the sources said. Def Jam is expected to lay out the cost of producing and marketing the recordings, and to divide the profits after recovering its expenses. The two music companies will jointly plan and oversee the albums’ marketing campaigns.

The agreement pays Nas about $3 million, including a recording budget, for each of the first two albums, and provides for two additional albums with Def Jam, the sources said. Sony also retains the right to release a Nas greatest hits album, they added.

Representatives from Def Jam and Sony declined to comment.

As a result of the deal, Nas’s next album instantly becomes one of hip-hop’s most anticipated recordings of the year. It is expected to include the first significant collaboration between two wordsmiths who long battled each other for the title of New York’s best rapper.

The two stars stunned fans in October, when Jay-Z was to headline a radio-sponsored concert at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. He had titled the performance “I Declare War” and billed it as a chance to settle scores. Instead, near the end of the show, Jay-Z, announced, “It’s bigger than ‘I Declare War.’ ” Nas, dressed in an Army jacket, appeared onstage, and the crowd roared. The two performed and then embraced, ending their long-standing dispute.

The rapprochement was an unusual moment in modern hip-hop, where the list of “beefs,” or quarrels between rivals, is so extensive that the commercial rap field occasionally draws comparisons to professional wrestling. But there is a basic difference: the taunts and insults batted back and forth between rappers have occasionally turned into real-world violence, as when a shootout erupted between the entourage of Lil’ Kim and supporters of her rival Foxy Brown in 2001 outside the offices of the hip-hop station Hot 97, WQHT-FM.

Indeed, critics have complained that the industry’s top rappers, record labels and radio stations intentionally stoke such tensions and imperil lives for financial gain.

Some observers suggest that the rivalry between Nas and Jay-Z – regarded as veterans in a field where music trends shift overnight – had simply worn itself out.

The drama of a feud “sells when you’re young and you’re believably in a situation where it can be dangerous,” said Sacha Jenkins, editorial director of Mass Appeal, an urban lifestyle magazine based in Brooklyn. “It’s just not believable from two grown men. I think they’re making a unique and potentially wise business decision.”

Music executives at the two companies are betting it will be a lucrative one. Nas had one more album due on his contract with Sony; now the company will have, in essence, half of two Nas albums, while remaining in a position to keep working with the rapper on a variety of other projects, including a possible film. For its part, Def Jam and its corporate parent, Universal Music Group, add a respected artist to their ranks at a time when the label is trying to refresh its roster. (Def Jam also recently negotiated the exit of one of its veteran acts, DMX, who signed a reported three-album deal with Sony.)

Shifts in relationships among artists have driven the two companies to make power- and profit-sharing deals before, as in the case of the rock band Audioslave (created from the ashes of the Sony rap-rock act Rage Against the Machine and the Universal grunge-rock band Soundgarden). The two companies take turns distributing the band’s albums.

In this case, though, Def Jam and its president will be promoting a rap star whose commercial clout has been called into questioned by Jay-Z himself. Nas, whose real name is Nasir Jones, has sold more than 11 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan data, starting with his classic 1994 debut, “Illmatic.” (Jay-Z has sold roughly twice that amount.) Nas’s most recent release, “Street’s Disciple” in 2004, sold an estimated 687,000 copies, though it was a more expensive two-CD set.

Before their recent reconciliation, the two had skewered each other for years in a battle in which they appeared to represent two versions of hip-hop, with Jay-Z cast as the savvy hustler and Nas as the brooding street poet. The rappers emerged as adversaries during the jockeying over who would reign as New York’s top rapper after the 1997 shooting death of Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls.

It boiled over in 2001, when the two released new albums that included songs directly attacking each other. Jay-Z, in the song “Takeover,” teased his rival for selling fewer albums, rapping that Nas “fell from top 10 to not mentioned at all.” Nas fired back with the incendiary track “Ether,” in which he accused Jay-Z of plagiarism, asking “How much of Biggie’s rhymes is gon’ come out your fat lips?”

Jay-Z then responded with a hastily recorded track, “Super Ugly,” that described his affair with the mother of Nas’s child. In an interview later on Hot 97, Jay-Z apologized to the woman’s family and said his mother had called on his cellphone to chastise him for going too far.

More recently, the two had retreated from their harshest criticisms, but their public peacemaking still caught many fans by surprise.

Mr. Jenkins suggested that the two stars might have realized they had beaten the odds and had the chance to enjoy career longevity in the corporate music world. “In order to be productive in that world,” he added, “certain things have to change and you leave certain things behind.”

Credit: The New York Times


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