Monday, August 15, 2011

Music Review: Empire State of Mind

If I could speak with you on a real tip again (am I saying that right?), I'd like to introduce you to one of my rivals: the city of New York.  Let me explain by teaching you something as a bonus.  On the Eastern American Seaboard is something called the "Boswash" or "Northeast Megalopolis", that is, a chain of major cities comprising, for starters, Boston, New York City, Philadephia, and the capital Washington, DC.  Ask anyone from out of the area to define it, and the one city they'd be most likely to leave out is Philadelphia, whereas they'd probably give New York as their first answer.  And here's where the problem lies.  See, I'm from Northeast Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I'm gonna stop there.  I've been constantly annoyed by the lack of recognition suffered by Philadelphia at the expense of our neighborino to the north.  Let's face it; New York has so much more over Philadephia, so much that shaped the image of America as a whole, particularly over the past century.  Whereas the only thing Philly's good for was... only the foundation of America, our land of the free and home of the brave!!  If it weren't for Philadelphia, our Founding Fathers... would've done the same thing elsewhere.  Why do I deflate my own points so often.  Seriously, New York may have been the nation's capital first, before Washington DC was built, but Philly held the title for longer: TEN YEARS!!

This rivalry issue came to a head during the 2009 MLB World Series.  Now, I don't watch sports, but the Philadelphia Philles winning the championship from the previous year was such a rush for me.  Which was why hopes were high when the Phillies made it all the way to the World Series again the following year, in hopes of a repeat.  The only problem was our opposing team: the New York Yankees, the most well-paid and famous baseball team in the nation, if not the world.  While the so-called Phightin' Phils put up a good... "phight", they ultimately lost four games to two.  While I admit it was a fair fight, I was... offended.

From an incident I read about, before the start of home games the Yankees have a bad tendency to introduce their team lineup to the Star Wars main theme, and the visiting team to the Imperial March.  Everyone was saying how fitting it was that they related the Phillies to the Empire, being the returning champions and all... NO.  1) The Yankees have won the World Series 27 times (as of the middle of the 2011 season) whereas the Phillies have just two under our belt, 2) they got some of the most famous baseball players like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter through sheer monetary force, and 3) they debuted the new Yankee Stadium that same year.  Allow me to say, "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed.  The ability to win a World Series is insignificant next to the power of the Force."  ...Wait, what's with all the Doctor Who references?

In other musical news, Game 2 at Yankee Stadium was preceded by a performance of the following song: "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys.  Let's take a look at this musical middle finger to every place that's not New York City:

Empire State of Mind
  • Artist: Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
  • Album: The Blueprint III
  • Single Release: 20 October 2009
  • Label: Roc Nation / Atlantic
  • Producer: Al Shux
  • Writers: Angela Hunte, Alicia Keys, Alexander Shuckburgh, Burt Keyes, Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Sylvia Robinson

Yeah, Imma up at Brooklyn, Now I'm down in Tribeca
Right next to DeNiro, but I'll be hood forever
I'm the new Sinatra, and since I made it here
I can make it anywhere, yeah they love me everywhere

Umm, speaking musically, the new Sinatra would be someone like Michael Buble - and he didn't have to write a song like Ol' Blue-Eyes' "New York, New York" to get where he is today.  Besides, he already has someone he can compare himself to.  Like Michael Jordan, he's in the top of his field, but has a bad habit of temporarily retiring.  Don't believe me?  He's even made that reference himself.

I used to cop in Harlem, all of my Dominicanos
Right there up on Broadway, brought me back to that McDonald's
Took it to my stash spot, 560 State Street
Catch me in the kitchen like a Simmons whipping pastry

The critics have called this a coming-of-age song for Jay-Z, and in between all the incessant boasting about himself and his home, I can see shades of that.  Then again, Vanilla Ice claimed to have a gangsta background, and we all know how that turned out.  Not well.

Cruising down 8th street, off-white Lexus
Driving so slow but BK is from Texas
Me I'm up at Bed Stuy, home of that boy Biggie
Now I live on Billboard, and I brought my boys with me

Look down.
Now look up.
Where are you?
You're in Philly.
The town your town could smell like!
Dude, why are you name-dropping so many place names in the first verse?  Just tell me where exactly your home is at this point in time and get on with it!

Tell by my attitude that I most definitely from
[Alicia Keys]
New York

Oh, I can tell from your attitude, alright.  You're trying to tell everyone that everyone sucks but you and your home.  And I don't have to buy that.

Watch me at the X with OG at a Yankee game
[...] I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can

GAH if I hear the word Yankee one more time, I am going to get so angry that I could just run into a store and utterly mutilate any copy of the latest Shrek movie I can find!!!  At this point I would like to revise my score of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to 0% because Short Round wears a Yankees cap the whole time on-screen.

You should know I bleed blue, but I ain't a Crip though

Oh, I thought you were talking about blue blood as in royalty.  Because you certainly have the ego to be a king.

Welcome to the melting pot, corners where we selling rocks
Afrika Bambaataa [...], home of the hip-hop

That is... actually a good point.  I mean, Philly hasn't pioneered any musical genres I'm aware of.  I hereby cede a point to you.  One point.

Yellow cap, Gypsy cap, Collar cab, holla back
For foreigners it ain't fitted act like they forgot how to act
8 million stories out there and they're naked
City is a pity, half of y'all won't make it

Wow, I do not like those odds.  So I guess it's not worth trying to make a new start in NYC if you have a 50% chance of not "making it", whatever that entails.

Me I gotta plug Special Ed and I got it made
If Jeezy's payin LeBron, I'm paying Dwayne Wade

Wait a minute, now you're fixing sports games?  Okay, that is IT, Jay-Z, you owe the Phillies a rematch!!  ...Actually, I am aware that Jay-Z does own the New Jersey Nets in real life, but Dwayne Wade plays for the Miami Heat.  Kinda defeats the purpose of your bragging if you name-drop someone from another team.  Then again, can you name any famous player from the Nets?  ...Exactly.

Edit 13 April 2012: Actually no, I looked up this line, it's a reference to Young Jeezy's “24-23 (Kobe-LeBron)” and it has to do with getting cheap cocaine.  Like, LeBron's jersey number is 23 and Wade's is 3, so Jay-Z's paying $3,000 US for a kilogram of...  See, if I have to explain the joke, it's not worth it!  Also I incorrectly reported that Jay-Z co-owns the New York Knicks instead of the Nets.  Good thing, too, because the Knicks recently acquired Jeremy Lin, someone who actually became famous, so luckily the joke still stands.

Statue of Liberty, long live the World Trade
Long live the king yo, I'm from the Empire State

Aww, you gave a shout-out to the 9/11 victims!  That's a pretty sweet sentiment, I said in sincerity mode!  ...I suppose it would be in bad taste to gloat about the fact that Philadelphia has not suffered any terrorist attacks that I am aware of.  So I'll just mention it like that.

Lights is blinding, girls need blinders
So they can step out of bounds quick, the side lines is
Blind with casualties, who sipping life casually
Then gradually become worse, don't bite the apple Eve
Caught up in the in crowd, now you're in-style
And in the winter gets cold en vogue with your skin out
The city of sin is a pity on a whim
Good girls gone bad, the city's filled with them

Congratulations good sir, you just created an insult out of an attempted compliment.  I mean, when I hear "good girl gone bad" in that context, I think "prostitute", don't you?

Mommy took a bus trip and now she got her bust out
Everybody ride her, just like a bus route

I do believe I'm being offended.

Came here for school, graduated to the high life
Ball players, rap stars, addicted to the limelight
MDMA got you feeling like a champion
The city never sleeps better slip you a Ambien

And again, offended.  Is this song trying to date-rape me for wearing the wrong colours?  And by colours I mean Phillies red.

So there we have it; I've just suffered the slings and arrows for my hometown in the interest of science, or... something.  And what did I think of it?  Well, this song is... pretty good, in the grand scheme of things.  Take a look at the other hip-hop songs that were charting at around the time this came out: "Imma Be?"  "Break Up"?  "Kiss Me Thru The Phone"?  "Bedrock"?  "I Can Transform Ya"?  Anything else with Lil' Wayne on it?  Yeah, Jay-Z is still one of the best and, dare I say, only good rappers of our time.  So what if his flow falls out of tempo every now and then?  Alicia Keys, who was drafted for the choruses and final verse, is equally as talented.  As for the backbeat, minimalist snap music this is not.  Painful as it may be for me to do, I have to give Empire State of Mind its fair share of credit for all the work that went into it.

Lyrics: 3 Yankees out of 5
Composition: 4 Yankees out of 5
Production: 5 Yankees out of 5
Peformance: 4 Yankees out of 5
The Call: 4 Yankees out of 5 (B) 

Now, in case all this fan wanking for New York is too much for you to handle, allow me to provide an alternative.  A response to this song from a Philadelphia 'state of mind' was made during the 2009 World Series, and it's called "Ill State Of Mind" by independent rapper NeeKo, featuring Deena Marie.  If you'd rather root for the City of Brotherly Love, or are just feeling too cheap to buy a copy of the real thing, you can get this song and others for free from NeeKo's mixtape (download link here).  Whichever version you prefer, feel free to support your home town but please, be cool about it.  And remember, anything's possible when your town smells like Philly and not New York.

I'm on a horse.

You are the resistance.

No comments:

Post a Comment