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.

Honorable Mention:
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


Esther said...

Joel! I agree!! First off I didn't know that this was a topic of discussion and I'm appalled to hear so. You right - Jay Z/Alicia Key's song is not THAT wonderful and I can think of plenty of songs that are a better representation of the city/state and will get a rise out of New Yorkers. I think all this song had on it's side is timing. It was released around the same time that the Yankees (finally) made it back to the playoffs/World Series. I know you're not up here anymore but although many people have enjoyed the song it doesn't get the same rise out of people as Frank Sinatra's Ode to New York, Ja Rule's "New York" or even Uptown. Point blank if it ain't broke don't fix it!

Arios Paul said...

I am going to have to agree with Joel on this one also. "New York, New York" was a huge record. It depicted the true essence of the New York hip culture from the rappers that performed the song to the many cameos of DJ's such as Red Alert, Kid Capri and a huge list of new York rappers that appeared in the video. It took you all around the 5 boroughs. Personally that song really made me proud to be a New Yorker. I have a few friends in AZ and Cali and they were bumping that song like they were from New York. I do like "Empire State of Mind" but I don't think it hit as hard as "New York, New York". The message in “Empire State of Mind” is a really good one and I believe it to be true. If you can make it in NYC you can make it anywhere, but I have to give the advantage to New York, New York.

Tf2nice4u said...

I like the jay-z joint but understand where your coming from. In Philly even after NY beat them in the world series they bump empire state of mind just as much as NY. but there were other joint i liked "honorable mentions" cuz i think u cover the greater of the new york joints. but ja rule jada and fat joe did another joint called "new york is back" via dj khaled album. Tru life New york New york. I liked the beat and sample and the direction and idea of it. And last but not least, diddys verse on welcome to atlanta remix...IN MY OPINION a great new york verse.. im curious to know who wrote it. "you can spot us out of town by the way that we walk, the way that we talk, cocky the state of New York"