10 hours ago
Thursday, December 3, 2009
What's New York's Hip-Hop Theme Song?
(Again, all words that appear in red are links. It's amazing after a year of reading this blog how many people still haven't figured that out.)
So, I read this ridiculous piece of news the other day that said there was an ongoing discussion going on in my home state in regards to what the unofficial theme song for New York should be. As everyone knows, Frank Sinatra's ode to New York is not only a beautiful, classic song, but they even play it at Yankee Stadium after every home win. What could be better than that?
However, some people feel that the new Jay-Z/Alicia Keys tune should usurp Sinatra's as the new theme for the Empire State (you damn right I looked up "usurp" to make sure I was using it correctly). Not only that, but MSG's website is holding a poll to see which song people think should be the unofficial theme. Granted, I understand that Hov wears Yankee caps and sits at Knicks games and performed at the World Series and even at the Yankee Parade, yada yada yada. I get it. But, really? Jay-Z over Frank Sinatra?? Come on, people. This shouldn't even be a serious debate.
In my opinion (and hopefully yours), "New York, New York" is and always will be the main theme song for New York. I don't see how anyone over the age of 18 could think otherwise. But this post isn't really about that. Sinatra's song is a different genre and should be kept in a class of it's own... but is the Jay song even the best hip-hop record about New York?? In a backhanded celebration for Jay-Z's 40th birthday today, I'm going to list a number of hip-hop songs that I feel represent New York better than "Empire State of Mind."
There are A LOT of songs from New York rappers about New York. But as a self-proclaimed Nas stan, obviously the first song that comes to mind is "New York State of Mind". Nas uses this song to kick off his classic Illmatic LP, and it's one of those songs that just feels like New York. And really, that's one of my major qualms about Jay's song. It doesn't really make you feel like you're there. The exact same song could be about any other city in the country, and you wouldn't think twice about it. Not to mention the fact that Jay-Z has three forgettable verses and A. Keys pretty much carries the entire song with the way she belts out that chorus. And I know I wasn't the only one that felt some sort of way about Jay-Z all but stealing Nas' song title and not even putting him on the record. Ugh, let's just move on...
Of course, another New York dedication that most other people think of is the song titled, simply, "New York". This song, by Ja Rule featuring Jadakiss and Fat Joe, was an amazing record that made New Yorkers such as myself act obnoxious at parties. Once you heard those synth notes at the beginning of the song, it just made you wanna pull your hat down real low and mean mug. Also, weren't those three verses all amazing? The biggest surprise of all had to be Fat Joe, who arguably had the best verse of all ("Now we killin' em hard, niggas sayin' I musta found Pun's rhyme book"). This song is also better than "Empire State of Mind".
Next, we have a classic from Mobb Deep entitled "Shook Ones". Now, this song isn't actually about New York, but you couldn't name me another song that has the gutter, subway riding, slapboxing, c-lo playing, bodega shopping feeling that so perfectly defines the nature of New York. I know I mentioned this before, but when I heard this beat come on during "8 Mile", I damn near lost my mind. There's something about this beat that brings you back to Gotham City. Again, better than "Empire".
This next song is one that I'm sure many of you haven't heard, but if you haven't, you should. It's called "Where It Started At (NY)", and it's on Hi-Tek second album. What makes this selection particularly embarrassing is the fact that Hi-Tek isn't even from New York; he's from Cincinnati, Ohio. Of course, when you make a song featuring Jadakiss, Talib Kweli, Papoose and Raekwon, you really can't lose. This is another song that feels like New York.
Oh, I almost forgot... "New York Sh*t" from Busta Rhymes featuring Swizz Beatz! Man oh man... this song is a monster. Busta and Swizz actually take the time to explain to you various ways through which they are on their New York ish. This may be one of the strongest New York songs ever, considering the lyrics ("Tims with the shorts on my New York sh*t... Razor in my mouth on my New York sh*t"). If you don't know why this song is better than "Empire", I really don't know what to tell you.
Obviously, my sentiment here is very clear: the song has to feel like New York in order to represent New York. I actually like Jay's song; I just don't think it's a "New York song". As a New York transplant who's no longer living there, I think the biggest indicator that this song doesn't do the state justice is that whenever I hear it, I don't particularly miss New York, or even think about it. New York songs are supposed to make New Yorkers proud, and make everyone else jealous. I don't know how envious out-of-towners feel when they hear this record, but if I were them, I wouldn't be.
Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz - Uptown (Deja Vu)
Cam'ron ft. Jay-Z - Welcome to New York City
Jay-Z ft. Notorious B.I.G. - Brooklyn's Finest