Is Jay-Z Trying to Oust the Chairman of New York Anthems?
By Laura Ferreiro Posted Nov 12th 2009 09:31PM
It seems that everywhere you turn, Jay-Z's ode to New York, 'Empire State of Mind,' is being played at top volume, not just by fans but also by Jay-Z himself. The rap star performed it with Alicia Keys at Game 2 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium last month, and used it to close out the NYC-based MTV Video Music Awards. What's more, Bono introduced him as "the Mayor of New York" when he performed at U2's Berlin Wall concert last week.
Could it be that Jay-Z is angling to displace Frank Sinatra's famous song 'New York, New York' with his own 'Empire' as the anthem of the Big Apple? The rapper has long compared himself to Ol' Blue Eyes and makes some boastful claims in the song, which appears on his latest album 'The Blueprint 3'.
"I'm the new Sinatra," he raps, "and since I made it here I can make it anywhere."
The two crooners do, in fact, share a lot in common. Both grew up just outside New York City and transcended poverty with a combination of street smarts, talent and business savvy. They've both paraded around town with beautiful women on their arms and have found themselves hobnobbing with young Democratic presidents. Now it seems that Jay-Z is out to challenge the dominance of Sinatra's enduring ode to their beloved city.
PopEater spoke with several music and pop culture experts to find out if they believe 'Empire' could be the New York anthem for a new generation, and if it has a chance of enduring the way Sinatra's 30-year-old tune has. According to Jessica Robertson, news editor of Spinner.com, Jay-Z's tune has a good shot.
"I believe 'Empire State of Mind' could certainly be the modern anthem of New York," she says. "It's a new city in many respects, and Jay-Z's song, along with Jay-Z himself, represents this new era and does so without neglecting the old, or classic, New York. That said, it would have to stand the test of time. Sinatra's has up to this point. Will Jay-Z's? We have to wait."
Ann Powers, pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times, agrees that the tune must first withstand the test of time. "Other artists have to reference it and/or cover it," she says. "It has to be used in movies, television shows, marketing campaigns. It needs to permeate the culture until it transcends its association with Jay-Z."
Powers points out that when we hear Sinatra's 'New York, New York,' "we only think of Frank peripherally -- we think of the city itself, the buildings lit up at night, the taxicabs, the challenges and glamour of the city. Frank embodies the New York he sings about but he also merges with it -- and whoever's listening also enters the song and imagines herself as the one 'making it there.' If 'Empire State of Mind' becomes THAT kind of song, then it will be definitive for New York."
Jay-Z and fellow New Yorker Alicia Keys perform before Game 2 of the World Series between the Yankees and Phillies, Oct. 29 in New York. Click for More Pics of Jay-Z >>>
Sinatra scored a Top 40 hit with 'New York, New York' in 1980, three years after Liza Minnelli debuted it in Martin Scorsese's film of the same name. Since then it has been played at ballgames, political rallies, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and anywhere people want to invoke the grandeur of the Big Apple. Tracey Ford, managing editor of TheBoomBox.com, believes that Jay-Z's tune may function similarly for new generations.
"Jay-Z's 'Empire State of Mind' serves as the perfect anthem for this generation's New York," she says. "A lot has changed since Martin Scorcese's 1977 film, and now, New York is represented by a different type of man/woman. And much like 'New York, New York,' Jay-Z's 'Empire State of Mind' shares the same feeling of "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere."
Ford points out that Jay-Z's tune may not appeal to the senior set, however. "'Empire State of Mind' may never be as popular to a certain audience, particularly the older generation, just like 'New York, New York' does not resonate with today's teen."
Variety music and film critic Andrew Barker isn't entirely convinced that Jay-Z's hip-hop tune has the cross-over potential necessary to make it into a modern-day anthem.
"There really are still so many people who are uncomfortable with the very idea of hip-hop music, and I can't see it being fully embraced until the generation that grew up with the music starts to occupy the spot that baby-boomers occupy now," he says. "And when you think about it, 'New York, New York' was a very retro-styled number back when it came out -- even people who were still uncomfortable with rock and roll back in the late '70s could still get behind it -- and 'Empire' isn't."
"On the other hand," Barker adds, "I can't see myself ever drunkenly grooving to 'New York, New York,' while I'm pretty sure I already have to 'Empire.'"
Even if Jay-Z's tune is able to reach beyond a hip-hop audience and withstand the test of time, it still has some pretty stiff competition, Powers points out. "What's wrong with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 'New York, New York' as a hip-hop anthem for the city? Or Billy Joel's 'New York State of Mind'? Jay-Z may want the crown all to himself, but I think he's gonna have to share."
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