In this short track from his first album, Reasonable Doubt, JAY-Z plays drug kingpin and condescendingly dismisses an outsider Jay believes is planning to take over his market.
The verse is structured as a one sided conversation with said outsider. According to this blog, Jay’s foe was played by Hov’s barber.
And check out what happens next in “Friend or Foe ’98”!
Producer DJ Premier talked about the track in an interview with Spin magazine:
That one I was just thumbing around for a beat. They paid me for other tracks and I just started looking for sounds that just sounded funky and original. I’m always known for having the obscure samples, so that’s still my trademark. And if it’s one that’s familiar, I still play it in a fashion where it’s like, “Wow, he put the end at the front and he put the front at the end.”
I’m known for twisting things a whole different direction than how everybody else does and that’s what made me get a name — besides my scratching style. So that too is how I got “Friend or Foe,” and I remember Jay heard those horns and he was like, “Lay that down.” This was before Pro Tools [where] we could just dump music in five seconds. This was straight to two-inch tape.