Your concerts today are pretty eventful; you have an extensive catalog. There are fans chanting for "Ether.” What are you thinking when they chant for it?
Awww, man… People come to the shows and start to go through eras with me, and that moment right there is the greatest rap battle of this generation. So of course they're going to chant that shit.

When did you decide to stop performing "Ether”?
After the first year, there was no need to be out there yelling people's names and cursing them out and shit. In 2003 I brought KRS-One out to Summer Jam, and he told me he don't like doing "The Bridge Is Over.” I understood. You're out there saying people's names that you've since reconciled [with]. You're talking about another person that's alive, and for the crowd it's exciting, but for the one who's saying it, that's some shit.

It's probably tougher for MC Shan.
I think it's tough for KRS-One because you're out there saying fighting words. It's fucked up. If there's no beef, that's fucked up.

At your show in New York City last December, Busta Rhymes came onstage and said you're the best ever. Are you the best ever?
Busta's my nigga. It's very humbling. I had to stop my head from swelling up after he said that to me. But it's a great feeling to have anyone acknowledge, especially someone as great as Busta.

So, do you think you're the best?
[Laughs] Um, [long pause] I don't know. I don't know nothing about that word. At times, I do. Yeah, definitely there are some times I do, but I don't like that word. If I complete an amazing record, I'm like, "I got this. Niggas can't fuck with me.” That's the attitude you have because, at that moment, you know niggas can't fuck with you. There are some great motherfuckers out there, so I'm going to watch what I say. There are some amazing niggas out there.

Do you think there is a best?
Right now in rap, nah.

Lil Wayne and Jay-Z continually say they're the best. But you've rarely, if ever, said it in a song. Why?
I said, "Niggas is this and that. I'm just the best.” But Pun told me to say that. He was like, "You got to say that. Fuck that.” It was on Fat Joe's record, "John Blaze.” Me and Pun were in the studio having a ball, and I'm writing my rhyme, and Pun leans over and says, "Just say, ‘Niggas is this and that. I'm just the best.' Just say that.” He was not letting me go without saying that. I'm sure I've said it another time.

Have you ever been bodied on a record?
I'm always kind of nervous of that to some degree. I don't know. On "Fast Life,” Kool G. Rap was so out of control. I was nervous to be on a record with him.

Did that thought cross your mind on "Black Republicans” or "Success”?
Nah, that wasn't even an idea with that. It was just a glory moment. It wasn't like, "I got to outrap this nigga here,” or nothing like that. It was like we were having fun. We weren't even thinking about it.

Most people wouldn't believe that.
I'm just basing it off the vibe and the way we were getting down and just having fun. Nobody was sitting there, like, "We got to make this shit incredible.” It was like, "Let's go.”

Have you talked to Jay-Z since he left Def Jam?
Yeah. Homie's chilling, man. He's plotting.

That's it?
That's it.

It was a five-second conversation? "How are you, Jay?” "I'm plotting.”
Basically. Plotting.

On "Success,” how did you get away with talking about Jay?
What do you mean?

"Worst enemies want to be my best friends…” Can you see how people can take that as a diss?
But could you see how Jay couldn't relate to that in his own life with his own situation? Everything in Jay's rhyme, I relate to. "Is this what success is all about?/A bunch of bitch niggas running around with big mouths.” I feel that every day. I'm sure he can relate to "Best friends want to be enemies like that's what's in.” We can both relate to one another's verses. It's about success.

Then you say, "I walk into the lion's den and take everybody's chips.” It sounds like you're saying the worst enemy who wants to be your best friend is Jay-Z. And "walking into the lion's den and taking everybody's chips” is you signing a lucrative deal with Def Jam.
Yeah, that's how a lot of people looked at it.

So was that line about him?
Of course, of course. But that's what's big about him. We don't get into the studio and just start rapping about fantasy shit. We talk about shit that's real. It's not like a blow to nobody; it's real. I don't think he would have expected me to say anything less.

Going back some years now, did you expect Pac to call you the ringleader on Makaveli?
Yeah, honestly, I didn't expect no less at the time. Pac now is Black Jesus in a sense; Pac is Lennon; Pac is Marvin. So, hell yeah, I love the fact that he starts his album off and says that about me. Hell yeah. I loved him before he died. I loved him before he said anything.

Did Biggie ask you to team up against Tupac?
Yeah, he called me. He said, "Let's get together.” He said that everyone was a little nervous about it, but he was calling me about getting busy.

Why did nothing happen?
Getting me and Big in the same room wasn't easy. I had just dropped my record, and my schedule was crazy. Biggie was in Miami recording Life After Death. It was just timing. We were supposed to get together and talk more, so who knows what would have happened.

Well, you guys were taking shots at each other.
On a song I did on my second album, Tupac thought it was about him, but it was really toward Biggie.

"The Message”?
[Nods] From the first lines all the way to "One life, one love, there can only be one king.” That was specifically going in that direction. The whole fucking song, really. Tupac was not even on my radar for going at him.

Tupac thought it was about him because of that line, "I got stitched up and left the hospital that same night.”
Nah, this is Queensbridge activities I am rapping about. I'm with dudes who have bullets in them, who just left the hospital, [and] we ride around smoking weed. So this is in my raps. We were in New York going at it. We weren't even thinking about no other place—Cali, Georgia, nothing.

I didn't think you were going at Biggie.
He did.

What did he say to you about it?
"Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns.” [Laughs]

Did you think you would still be making albums in 2008?
Did I ever see myself on a 10th album? No, because there weren't long careers for rap dudes back when I did my first shit, especially in New York. You had your Dana Danes, Slick Rick, Beastie Boys, Rakim, Run-DMC, Kool G, you had your superstars; then you had your underground dudes who would survive for two albums. I always saw myself as the more polished underground cat. I didn't see it really going past the first album. I did not see it. The plan was to get out of the P's. That was it. Get out the P's, set up a little something for the homies, go to school, try to learn how to write some other shit, novels, screenplays or figure out what you want to do in life. At the time, we didn't see any of our generation go platinum until Biggie. Him and Bad Boy showed me how to do it. I just thought it would be one record. At most, two.

Finish this sentence: Nas is like…
A father, a husband, a son and a brother. I'm all of those, to the true sense of every word.

Click here to read the first part of Thomas Golianopoulos's interview with Nas.