Long before they became legends in hip-hop, Shawn Carter and Trevor Smith Jr. attended high school together. They were also joined by Christopher Wallace.
Nobody in George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School could’ve predicted that those three would go on to be JAY Z, Busta Rhymes and the Notorious B.I.G. (There are also conflicting sources that say DMX attended the same school, but if he did he didn’t graduate, nor was he mentioned by the other three.)
The fact that three emcees who helped to shape hip-hop culture went to the same school is fascinating - how could that possibly be a coincidence?
It’s clear that rap brought them together as all three interchangeably collaborated back in the ‘90s. Even before they became famous, though, they interacted with one another in high school, and one of the most famous stories comes in the form of a rap battle.
Being a teenager and getting lunch in the cafeteria was never the wave (off-campus lunch FTW), but that mentality is why I would’ve missed one of the greatest rap battles we’ll never get to see.
Jay’s thing was freestyling and speed rhyming. He was around folks like Jaz-O, who also enjoyed the sport. As the story goes, some kid found Busta Rhymes during one of these lunch periods and invited him to spit something. He was with it.
“One day, somebody came up to me and was like, ’Yo, Hov is in the cafeteria,” Busta Rhymes told MTV News in 2010. “They weren’t calling him Hov at the time; they were calling him Jay. ’Do you want to step to him on some rhyme sh–?’ So I go. At the time, when we were rhyming, it was speed rap. That was the thing to do. I knew how to freak it, and he knew how to freak it. And at the time, he was so ill, ’cause of the people he was with at the time, Jaz-O and them, it was their thing [that style]. He kind of got the best of the situation. I got to give it up. He was so ill and his arsenal was so long that he had more than what I did. I spit my one rap, and my tank was empty real fast. He came with two or three after that, and I was like, ’Here we go.’ But I gave it my best.”
Busta Rhymes admits he lost, but that set off a fire of determination in him to be one of the “most dangerous speed rappers.” Sitting down with Skee TV this past May, he spoke on what that L meant: “He inspired my desire to want to master it because, under the circumstances of how I took the L, it didn’t rest well with me.” Fast forward through his entire career, Busta Rhymes definitely made sure he was one of the illest in the art of fast rapping. He also playfully has stated that he’d beat Jay now.
What about The Notorious B.I.G? Where was he when rap battles like this were going down? Well, Busta provided an explanation: “I didn’t know Biggie rhymed in school ’cause in school we was cuttin’ a lot of class and we was smokin’ a lot of weed and bullshittin.” If Biggie knew this sort of thing was going down, would he have been in school? Or maybe he’d try to convince that particular group to join him in skipping school, instead battling and smoking weed outside.
Calvin Bacote, who is a friend of JAY Z’s, regrets not setting up a battle between Jay and Biggie. Lance “Un” Rivera worked close with B.I.G. In those days, the two were championing who they believed was the best out of the two, but it never turned into more than just a discussion. Granted, this battle wasn’t for high school lunch tables, but still an interesting notion. “I kinda regret the moment that when me and Un was going back and forth on who was the best that I didn’t bring Jay around for them to actually battle,” said Bacote.
In a rare interview with MySpace in 2010, JAY Z would also reflected on his time at George Westinghouse. He reaffirmed what Busta said about Biggie in the sense that he wasn’t discussing rap or alluding to the fact that he could spit. Hov also made sure to note that he beat Busta Rhymes: “I got him, I got him good.”
Fast forward to that Jay Z appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live following his TIDAL X concert, where he recalls the event in a slightly different fashion.
Instead of offering up the cocky answer he gave five years ago, Jay shrugged when Kimmel asked who won the battle, but also mouthed “me.” Both answers were very JAY Z-esque, just reflections of how he was feeling at the moment. When someone asks him in another five years, who knows the style of response we’ll get. Regardless, it's incredible to think of those lucky high school students who got to hear two of the greatest of emcees of all-time gather in the cafeteria.