This Blueprint 3 track features Jay-Z's fellow New Yorker, Alicia Keys. On The Howard Stern Show November 15, 2010, Jay explained that he had Mary J. Blige in mind for the female vocals, but when he heard the piano stabs in the song, he decided to go with Keys.
On this track the Roc Nation CEO details his rise from the Marcy Projects to his SoHo Penthouse, comparing himself along the way to other famous New Yorkers such as Robert De Niro and Frank Sinatra (The lyrics, "Since I made it here, I can make it anywhere," reference the crooner's Big Apple classic "New York, New York
"). New York is the "Empire State."
The title is similar to Nas' 1994 track, "N.Y. State of Mind" and Billy Joel's 1976 song, "New York State of Mind
This song is very anthemic, meaning it gets the crowd singing along to the chorus. It even works on non-New Yorkers. "It's all about New York and people might not gravitate to being from New York because that's not where everyone's from," Keys told NPR. "But it's not about New York, it's about hope. It's about the chance that we'll leave, and that is what made it relatable."
This samples "Love on a Two Way Street" by American '60s soul group The Moments.
Keys explained to MTV News about how the collaboration came about: "I've admired Jay-Z for a long time. Reasonable Doubt is my all-time favorite album, period, and he's been on the scene for long time. I always figured that we would do some type of collaboration, and finally, it came together with this. He reached out to me said, 'I have this big New York record. I feel its right for us to do it together. It has this big Frank Sinatra, take-it-there feeling. I feel like you could really do something with it.'
I went by [the studio], took a listen to it. I really felt the energy of New York all through it. It felt classic, it felt so good; the piano obviously was in there. I said, 'I love it, so let's do it.' We communicated a lot during the process. I think we both are really happy with how it came out."
Keys told MTV News that she wanted to make sure she got the hook right. "I did try it a couple of times, but it was more about capturing the kind of grand feeling of it," she explained. "With the way I sang it the first time, I was actually kind of sick, and I knew that he needed the record, so I was like, 'Let me get to it.' I came back and revisited it so that it could be what it is now," she added. "So it actually took a couple of times, but every time, the energy was just so high."
The Hype Williams-directed video was filmed on October 1, 2009, in Harlem and around Ground Zero of New York City. The images of the city were intercut with shots of Jay-Z and Keys performing in Times Square. Keys told MTV News: "It is a masterpiece video. The way it's put together, it is so New York. You totally get it and understand it. It's artistic. It's hard. It's beautiful. It's like everything. And definitely getting to be in the middle of Times Square on my piano [with] Jay, representing our home city is a triumph. It was unbelievable."
Jay-Z performed the song with his backup singer Bridget Kelly at the Yankees' victory celebration in New York on November 6, 2009. Kelly has regularly filled in for Keys on performances of the song, including one at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2009.
This was the first Jay-Z song to top the Billboard Hot 100 which featured on one of his albums. The New York rapper was a featured artist on all his previous chart-toppers, which include, "Hearbreaker
" with Mariah Carey, "Crazy In Love
" with Beyoncé and "Umbrella
" with Rihanna. Sales for this unofficial hometown anthem were aided by the New York Yankees' unprecedented performances at the World Series and their victory parade during which Jay-Z performed the song.
This song was originally written by Brooklyn-native singer/songwriter/producer Angela Hunte and her writing partner Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic. Hunte, who penned and produced the track about her beloved hometown, actually grew up at "560 State Street," the street address Jay-Z mentions on the tune. Among the other songs she has written are "Do Somethin'," which was the second single from Britney Spears' Greatest Hits: My Prerogative compilation, and "Show Stopper" for Sean "Diddy" Combs' Danity Kane group, which reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Hunte told Billboard magazine: "I come from the same building where he [Jay-Z] lived, and we knew each other from Brooklyn, but we never worked together. Not in a million years did I think I'd make this hit for him. I still have no words even for the World Series performance. You get your hopes up with artists but then things happen and the record doesn't make it for whatever reason. But Jay loved the song, it made the album and it sounds crazy."
Hunte explained to Billboard magazine that she created the track with Sewell-Ulepic after the two shared their homesick feelings during an overseas trip. "My writing partner and I were in London, missing home. Her mother was ill at the time and I was sick that summer, and we were just down. We said to ourselves, 'we complain so much about New York - about the busy streets, about the crowds and the pushing, about the subway system - but I would trade that for anything right now.' Before we left the hotel that night, we knew we would write a song about our city."
The duo secretly sent it to Roc Nation a month later in hopes that Jay-Z would like it and use it. During a summer BBQ, EMI's Jon "Big Jon" Platt heard the track and loved it, realizing according to Hunte, "it would be perfect for Jay-Z.
The next day, Platt sent it to Jay-Z and he "loved it and recorded it that night." Hunte recalled. "We were just so happy he wanted to honor our work and our production. Two female producers/writers and for him as a rapper to take our song - that's not a combination you see a lot. For him to be so open-minded about it, we just couldn't be any more grateful and thankful."
Jay-Z penned all new verses inspired from the original lyrics and left Hunte's hook. But when the songwriting duo were asked if they thought someone else would be more appropriate for the chorus, Hunte suggested Alicia Keys. "She's never done a record with him and she also has my same vocal tone. She made the song sound so close to the original," said Hunte. "She just nailed it and brought it home. It was a great choice."
The line, "now I'm down in Tribeca, right next to DeNiro" is referencing Robert DeNiro's involvement in starting The Tribeca Film Festival.
Joshua - Decatur, TN
This was voted the top single of 2009 in the Village Voice annual "Pazz and Jopp" critic's poll, which includes votes from 697 of the top Rock critics.
This won 2010 Grammy Awards for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song.
The song was an international hit reaching the Top 10 in many countries around the world, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Keys admitted in an interview with UK newspaperThe Guardian she and Jay-Z were surprised as to how well it did. She said: "I'll never forget when Jay and I were finishing the song, and he said, 'Do you think it's too New York?' and I said, 'Kind of, but what else is it going to be?' But it's not about New York, it's about coming from nowhere and being successful. Anyone can relate to it. Just cross out 'New York' and put in the name of wherever you're from and it's relevant."
Jay-Z gives a shout out to Chicago Bulls NBA star Dwyane Wade.If Jeezy's paying LeBron, I'm paying Dwyane Wade
Wade told Genius
: "This is when I felt like I made it in pop culture. Once Jay Z did it, I felt like I was on that respect level of artists that I respect. I remember where I was, I was with my guys and we were hanging out and somebody texted me like, 'Yo, listen to this song.' So I listened to it and then when I heard it, I'm like, 'Did he just say what I think he said?'"
Alicia Keys, who was born and raised in Manhattan, had concerns the song would come across as being too "New York." She told Billboard magazine: "We wondered if everyone would be able to understand it. Little did we know EVERYONE would understand it because it's not just about New York, it's about the HOPE that New York represents; the possibility. The chance to follow your dreams no matter who you are or where you come from."
"When people sing the lyrics to that chorus they are reminded to dream as big as they possibly can!" she added. "That's what 'Empire' is about! It gives me chills! In these crazy times, I hope we stay a city (and a country) where that remains true."