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Empire State of Mind

Empire State of Mind

by Jay-Z & Alicia Keys

Empire State of Mind Introduction

The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. The Capital of the World. Gotham.

New York City, by far the country's largest urban center, has always held a special place in the American imagination. Washington, DC may be the official national capital, but NYC is the real cultural and economic capital of the United States... and it has been for almost 200 years. New York is, as Alicia Keys sings, the place "where dreams are made of."

Unsurprisingly, Gotham has inspired more than its fair share of musical tributes. For the past few decades, the anthemic tune of the big city has surely been Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" (which, appropriately enough, Jay-Z name-checks in this song).

But is it time for a new Big Apple anthem for a new generation? If so, "Empire State of Mind" may just be that song.

About the Song

ArtistJay-Z & Alicia Keys Musician(s)Jay-Z (vocals), Alicia Keys (vocals)
AlbumThe Blueprint 3
Year2009
LabelRoc Nation, Atlantic Records
Writer(s)Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), Alicia Keys, Al Shuckburgh (Al Shux), Angela Hunte, Janet (J'Nay) Sewell-Ulepic
Producer(s)Al Shux, Angela Hunte, J'Nay Sewell-Ulepic
Learn to play: Sheet Music
Buy this song: Amazon iTunes
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
Jay-Z's New York is a city with two faces.

On the one hand, it's the fabulous place "dreams are made of," with "streets [to] make you feel brand new" and "big lights [to] inspire you." If you make it there, as Sinatra sang, you can make it anywhere.

On the other hand, it's also a place where a dream can turn quickly into a nightmare, where the "city is a pity, half of y'all won't make it" and the sidewalks are "lined with casualties."

In other words, Jay-Z's New York is the same city of hope and fear that has provided the stage for dozens of great works of American literature. Hasn't Ralph Ellison's Invisble Man walked the same streets, rode the same buses, felt the same cold breeze? Hasn't Jay Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby) chased the same dream? Haven't Truman Capote's Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's) and even Edith Wharton's Lily Bart (House of Mirth) struggled to avoid the same fall from grace?

On the Charts

In December 2009, "Empire State of Mind" reached the #1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was Jay-Z's 16th Top Ten hit, and his fourth #1. Oddly, though, "Empire State of Mind" was the first of those four in which Jay-Z featured as the lead artist. (On the other three, the rapper made guest appearances on Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker," Beyonce's "Crazy in Love," and Rihanna's "Umbrella.")

The song didn't perform quite as well overseas, peaking at #2 in the UK and Ireland, #3 in Canada, and #4 in Australia.

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