At some point in the mid-early '90s, at a small, smoke-filled pool hall in the Bronx, a Brooklyn-based emcee named Jay-Z battled an up-and-comer from Yonkers known as DMX. X, who cabbed in to town from Baltimore just for the event, stated in his 2003 autobiography that he had no original intentions of getting involved that night. He was there as a witness, who’d only enter the fray if absolutely necessary. And, soon enough, it was. “The people knew that were the top dogs of our crews,” he wrote, “and they wanted us to go at it and after a few more rounds, I just couldn’t stand to the side anymore. It was time to hold down the fam.”
To this day, details of the battle between Jay (who was an affiliate repping Original Flavor at the time) and DMX (who stood alongside an Uptown-based group called the Harlem Knights) remain murky. So HipHopDX caught up with three people who were in attendance—Original Flavor member Ski (n/k/a Ski Beatz), Jay-Z/Original Flavor associate Sauce Money, and Ruff Ryders co-founder Waah Dean—to learn more about what went down that night. Each of the three admitted that many of the specifics have faded from memory, but that they’d recall what they could.
Waah Dean: We did [the battle] on neutral grounds. Instead of doing it in Brooklyn or Yonkers, we did it in the Bronx.
Ski Beatz: When I rolled up, I was with Dame Dash, Tone Hooker, Jay-Z, and I think some of Dame’s people from Harlem—his crew called The Best Out. That was the name of his crew, from Harlem. I think Dame set [the battle] up. It was like a Brooklyn-Uptown/Harlem kind of thing. So we all met at the pool hall, in the Bronx.
Waah Dean: We heard some things about Jay-Z from Brooklyn, and from Dame, and we’d bump heads with their people every now and again. The word was out that we had these guys that was doing similar things—traveling to different areas and [battling]—so we knew in a matter of time we was gonna be in a place where somebody was gonna make the phone call, and say, ‘Yeah, we got this guy standing here, and they all wanna be here…’ and that happened. So we knew what was up. We didn’t really look for anybody, we just dealt with the situation as it was there. We knew [DMX] was one of the best, one of the greatest, so we wasn’t worried about no artist coming after him.
Sauce Money: Everybody who battled, I think it was myself, there might’ve been a girl—we had a girl, her name was Roughness—and T-Strong, and Jay. We had to get on top of the pool tables, so whoever’s battling, they’re standing on the pool table, going at it.
Waah Dean: There was no room in the building to stand at, so the only way to do it was to stand on the pool tables so everybody could see.
Sauce Money: The pool table was like a boxing ring. We were standing on opposite sides of the pool table going back-and-forth. While we were rapping, niggas were pulling out guns—all kinds of crazy shit.
Ski Beatz: People came in there strapped; people from the Bronx had guns, and people from Harlem had guns. Luckily it didn’t go down like that, but the atmosphere was Hip Hop, [and] at the same time, it was gangsta.
Sauce Money: I battled some nigga real quick, I don’t remember his name though.
Ski Beatz: I battled, man. They had me battling some kid. Some little boy. I wasn’t a gangsta rapper; I was just a rapper. This little kid was just talking about his trials and tribulations from the streets, so it was a weird battle. I can’t remember if I won or lost, [but] it was just a weird battle. I’m rhyming about Hip Hop stuff like microphones, and mic devices, and shit like that, and this kid is talking about crack and guns. And I’m like, "Yo, you’re like 10. What are you talking about?" They had us battling kids. That’s crazy! Young kids from the hood that were hungry. I’m pretty sure one of those kids that was battling is probably someone in the game now.
Waah Dean: [The opening battles] set the tone for the big dons to come in and do the job. It was a good look. A couple of guns were flashed, and things got a little extra with that, but it went well. It was a very intense environment. Jay and X went for hours, going in. DMX came all the way from Maryland for that battle.
Ski Beatz: It was dope. DMX, at the time, I had never really heard of DMX. I didn’t know who this kid was. But to hear him rhyme live, I was like, "This dude is really ill." He was really good. But the battle was good. Jay did his thing; DMX did his thing. You could tell people from DMX’s side were feelin’ Jay, and you could tell people from Jay’s side were feelin’ DMX. It was a mutual, "Okay, both these guys are dope."
Waah Dean: Jay-Z spoke a little bit more, X flowed more. Jay-Z more talked in his rhymes. Both came out on top at the end. They learned from each other a lot of different styles. When they left, it was a mutual respect. That battle lasted for about four or five hours.
Sauce Money: I think it went three rounds. Yeah, they did three rounds.
Ski Beatz: It was both of their styles at their purest forms. DMX was definitely on that barking, that whole thing. That was his whole persona. His voice was just raw. Jay was the big willie, hustler poster child king. Everything he was saying was just vivid, street shit that was incredibly well thought out and well put together. You know how Jay-Z is with his word choices. You know he’s street, but at the same time you could feel that he’s super intelligent, which just made it crazy. Both their styles was just coming crazy in that battle.
Waah Dean: It was so close that we kept it mutual. They would’ve gone on an extra five hours if we had let it be.
Sauce Money: It was more about what style of fighter you liked, was what would [decide] the outcome. We were kind of in X’s backyard. They said it was a tie, but that was bullshit. Jay ate that nigga. You can tell when somebody won a battle, when you’re in somebody’s backyard, and they’re calling it a draw. When you’re in somebody’s backyard, even when that person lose, they’re saying he won. Jay got so busy on that shit, they tried to say it was a draw. But it wasn’t no fuckin’ draw.
Ski Beatz: [One side is] gonna say DMX won, then [the other is] gonna say Jay-Z won. In my opinion, to me, Jay-Z just had a little more finesse because of his style. But DMX was incredibly dope. He could not take that away from DMX. [DMX] was a fuckin’ star.
Waah Dean: Dame had a little footage, but at that time we didn’t have anything copywritten and all that stuff, so we didn’t want our stuff out there like that.
Sauce Money: It was pandemonium. It was crazy, just crazy. It was almost like going to Vegas and watching the Mayweather-Paquiao fight.
Waah Dean: The best battle in the world took place between X and Jay-Z in the birthplace of Hip Hop, the Bronx. Cats that came from two different boroughs, came to the Motherland, and did their thing. You know?