I’ve wanted to put this up for a while, but I’ve been too lazy to actually finish it. I’m not sure there’s much more that needs to be said. Is this song still alive? I don’t know. It won’t die as long as the Knicks, Giants, Jets, Yankees, and Mets reside in New York. And 2Pac help us all if the Nets ever make it to Brooklyn. So here are some thoughts that actually date back about a month, when I was visiting North Carolina and saw people–non-New Yorkers–reacting to Jay-Z’s monster track.
Here it is: “Empire State of Mind” has become something larger than itself. It has stepped beyond Jay-Z and far beyond the confines of Blueprint 3. It is an autonomous entity, a symbol of a rarified, dream New York that now exists in the minds of listeners.
Jay-Z did a brilliant thing.
He turned himself from King of New York into New York’s #1 Ambassador. Not since Sinatra (to whom Jay has so readily been compared by the media) has an artist encapsulated the public perception of a place so perfectly in song (“Straight Outta Compton” comes to mind, but N.W.A.’s song was representative–coincidentally–more of a state of mind than an idealized locale). Like recent film New York, I Love You, “Empire State of Mind” does nothing to portray the real New York, but rather the dreamy, anything can happen, artists live here New York that exists in the minds and hearts of countless starry eyed teenagers across America itching to make their way to the city that doesn’t sleep (or itching to denigrate it in response to all the above).
But this is the brilliance of Jay Hova. He has latched himself onto something timeless, something that cannot be placed. Certainly, as a piece of Hip Hop history it will be easily identified, even more so in the grander scheme of modern American music. Like Sinatra’s ode to the Big Apple, however, Jay has attached himself to an idealized notion that cannot be defeated merely by time. Machiavelli idealized ancient Greece, Frank and Jay idealized New York–it doesn’t matter that things will change or that the ancient Greeks were pedophiles, it’s all about a classical notion that hardly needs its referent to exist.
And so I give tremendous credit to Jay-Z. In the midst of an entirely disposable album that flounces about searching for trends while simultaneously attempting flaccidly to predict the future of Hip Hop, Jay created the one thing he didn’t have in his catalogue: a timeless classic. A song that had nothing to do with its era of origin and, therefore, looks as if it’s going to transcend its era (if transcendence is even possible in our instant culture anymore, I’m not really sure).
As I mentioned in my previous thoughts on “Empire State of Mind,” I’m not sure if this was Jay’s intention–or if he even believed this song would become what it has–but I’m sure he’s ecstatic about the result. He’s finally made his “comeback” (oh, you forgot he retired? well I hope you forgot about this too) seem worthwhile, something even Jordan couldn’t do (the Wizards comeback, of course).