New York

Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z

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Lined with casualties
Who sip to life casually
Then gradually become worse
Don't bite the apple, Eve Read full Lyrics
In "Empire State of Mind" (Part I) appearing on the 2009 album The Blueprint 3, the mysteriously infamous hip-hop artist Jay-Z refers to himself as "the new Sinatra." Although Jay-Z is about as "Frank Sinatra" as Alicia Keys is "Doris Day," there is something bizarrely apt in his analogy, at least from the music industry's perspective. This single took first place in the Billboard Hot 100 charts for five weeks running, making everyone a lot of money, perhaps enough to even compete with Sinatra. The single went platinum five times, if that is any indication.

But there is more to Jay-Z's comparison with Sinatra than just fame. Keys' vocal lick, which forms the chorus of the piece - undoubtedly the most catchy and memorable part of the song - repeats enough times for the lyrics to be permanently etched in your neural networks, and carries with it an infectious and jarring undertone of desperate inspiration: New York!!!! Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there's nothing you can't do, now you're in New York!!! These streets will make you feel brand new, the lights will inspire you, let's hear it for New York, New York, New York."

The Empire State Building as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City
Photo: Jacqueline F Cooper, Dreamstime

Inevitably, her endless repetition of "New York" (now on continuous loop in your mind for all eternity) stirs up memories of related songs. Eventually, you will find yourself humming "Dah, dah, da-de-dah" whilst kicking one leg up at a time in a slow-motion can-can, until you… "Start spreadin' the news. I'm leaving today. I'm gonna be a part of it, in New York, New Yoooork!" Once you have recovered your dignity (hopefully nobody saw you), you may make the connection between "Empire State of Mind" and the famous hit song "New York, New York," written for the Martin Scorsese picture of the same name released in 1977, words and music by John Kander and Fred Ebb. This connection may also be due to Jay-Z's self-flattering yet arrogantly factual version of the famous line "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere" (Jay-Z's edit goes "And since I made it here, I can make it anywhere").

The original performance of this song in the Scorsese film is sung by the timeless Liza Minelli, but this song is still most often connected with Frank Sinatra, who recorded his own grandiose version of it on his come-back album Trilogy: Past Present Future (1980). This album was extremely important in Sinatra's career, winning him six Grammy Awards and re-establishing his voice after six years of silence. The infamy that his version of "New York, New York" attained in the charts marked the veteran star's re-emergence into the limelight.

Although Sinatra was from neighboring New Jersey, both Jay-Z and Keys were born and raised in New York; Brooklyn and Manhattan respectively. New York is the most populated city in the U.S.A., and what many would consider to be the main symbol of the so-called "American Dream" because of its status as the country's economic capital. During the Great Depression, it was a major port-of-call for those involved in the mass-migrations; in the years of economic success, many a phallic symbol of the city's limitless fortune rose up to the silver-lined clouds. The new World Trade Centre may be an indication that this golden-age is far from over, and that dreams are still made in New York...

In Allmusic, "Empire State of Mind" is described as "a New York flag-waver with plenty of landmark name-dropping that turns into a great anthem with help on the chorus from Alicia Keys." But it appears that this superficial tribute to her beloved city was not enough for Keys, who seems connected to the city on a slightly deeper level than her compatriot. She expanded on her chorus in the follow-up song "Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down," which appears on her album The Element of Freedom (2009), and also on the soundtrack to Sex and the City 2 (2010). In an interview Keys said, "I definitely wanted to give my version of it and my vision of how I see New York and how it feels to me."

The song originally contained a verse by the rapper, which was edited out before the release of this sequel. In light of this information, it should be noted that Keys' "vision" of New York, thankfully, does not include Jay-Z.

Douglas MacCutcheon
November 19, 2014
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Comments: 1

  • Binit from SdsheockwsdptofeMaybe jay-z took longer to acehvie what 50 cent did because he did all his things independently. Where as 50 cent had a already rich successful white boy like eminem in his corner. 50 cent signed a million dollar deal with eminem and had everything handed to him. He basically piggy-backed off of the success of eminem and the whole 8-mile movie hype. But jay-z was a black man who had to work his way from the ground up. That's why he has the respect of a lot of rap execs in america.
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