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Lyrics

"Yeah I'm out that Brooklyn, now I'm down in Tribeca / Right next to De Niro, but I'll be hood forever"
Quick Thought

Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs of New York… and it's the one that Jay-Z grew up in. TriBeCa, meanwhile, is a high-class, high-profile neighborhood in Manhattan.

Deep Thought

TriBeCa, a slightly goofy acronym for "Triangle Below Canal Street," is home to dozens of A-list New Yorkers, including Jon Stewart, Justin Timberlake, Derek Jeter, Leonardo DiCaprio, M Night Shyamalan, and (as the lyric says) Robert De Niro. De Niro may be the neighborhood's most famous resident; he once said, with characteristic humilty, "I am TriBeCa." De Niro cofounded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002.

"I'm the new Sinatra, and since I made it here / I can make it anywhere"
Quick Thought

Here Jay-Z borrows a lyrical snippet from perhaps the most famous Big Apple anthem of all time, Frank Sinatra's "Theme From New York, New York."

Deep Thought

Sinatra's "New York, New York" closes with these iconic lines: "If I can make it there / I'll make it anywhere / It's up to you / New York, New York." Originally written for Liza Minnelli to sing in Martin Scorsese's film New York, New York (1977), the song became more famous through Frank Sinatra, the New York icon who who recorded it three years later.

"Took it to my stash spot, 560 State Street"
Quick Thought

In the mid-nineties, Jay-Z lived in an apartment at 560 State Street, on a quiet side street just off one of Brooklyn's busiest corners, the triangular intersection where Flatbush, Atlantic, and 4th Avenues come together.

Deep Thought

Vulture checked out Jay-Z's "stash spot" after the song hit the radio even tracked down several of Jay's old neighbors. In the music video, Jay-Z actually raps this line in front of the real building at 560 State Street.

"Catch me in the kitchen like a Simmons with them Pastrys"
Quick Thought

Here Jay-Z's wordplay centers on the Pastry Footwear brand put out by Angela and Vanessa Simmons.

Deep Thought

Angela and Vanessa Simmons are daughters of Run-D.M.C. co-founder Joseph Simmons, better known as Reverend Run. In recent years, the family has been the subject of the reality-television show Run's House. Angela currently lives in New York while the rest of the family resides in Los Angeles.

"BK is from Texas"
Quick Thought

This is a shout out to Jay-Z's wife, Beyoncé Knowles.

Deep Thought

Beyoncé was born and raised in Houston, Texas. After rising to superstardom in the music industry, she and Jay-Z began a relationship in 2002, shortly before they collaborated on the hit single "Bonnie & Clyde 03." The couple have always been very private about their relationship; public records revealed them to have been married in April 2008.

"Me, I'm out that Bed-Stuy, home of that boy Biggie"
Quick Thought

Jay-Z grew up in the notorious Marcy Projects in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood… a.k.a. Bed-Stuy.

Deep Thought

Another famous Bed-Stuy resident: the late rap legend Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls. Bedford-Stuyvesant has been the heart of Brooklyn's African-American community since the early twentieth century; in recent times, it has produced an impressive lineup of hip-hop talent. Besides Jay and Biggie, Bed-Stuy also turned out Mos Def, GZA and ODB of the Wu-Tang Clan, Lil' Kim, and Aaliyah, among others. After enduring an epidemic of crime and poverty in the 1970s and '80s, the neighborhood is now facing a different kind of urban pressure: gentrification.

"Sittin' courtside, Knicks & Nets give me high five"
Quick Thought

A huge basketball fan, Jay-Z is a co-owner of the New Jersey Nets.

Deep Thought

Jay-Z, who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in the music industry and his associated business ventures, was part of the group of investors that bought the New Jersey Nets in early 2004. The plan is to move the team to Brooklyn sometime in the near future.

"I be Spiked out"
Quick Thought

"Spiked" as in Spike Lee, the famous director and New York Knicks superfan, a legendary figure courtside during games since the early 1990s.

Deep Thought

Spike Lee never misses a home game, whether the Knicks are contending for the championship or struggling to field a competitive team. Back in the early 1990s, he was occasionally even blamed for bad game results, as when his trash-talking battle with Indiana Pacers superstar Reggie Miller seemed to inspire Miller's heroic Knick-crushing performances.

"Catch me at the X with OG at a Yankee game / S---, I made the Yankee hat more famous then a Yankee can"
Quick Thought

"X" is short for The Bronx, the New York borough where Yankee Stadium is located.

Deep Thought

"OG" is slang for "original gangsta," but the specific OG here is likely OG Juan (Juan Pérez), who headed Jay-Z's latin Roc-La-Familia label and also co-owns The 40/40 Club sports bar chain with Jay and Desiree Gonzalez. Juan Pérez has contributed background vocals to Jay-Z's music, and is credited as Juan "OG" Pérez. The Yankee hat is an iconic piece of Jay-Z apparel.

"Welcome to the melting pot"
Quick Thought

The melting pot, as anyone who's read the history of immigration can tell you, is a "metaphor for an American society capable of assimilating a sometimes wildly heterogeneous population into a single, unified American people."

Deep Thought

The melting pot was especially important to the formation of the modern New York City. The term was actually conceived to describe the diversity of the Lower East Side well over a century ago. Because Ellis Island was the central hub of European immigration to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, New York is known as a cosmopolitan place, with just about every kind of person represented there.

"Afrika Bambaataa s---, home of hip-hop"
Quick Thought

Afrika Bambaataa is an early rap artist commonly known as the grandfather of hip-hop.

Deep Thought

Like Jay-Z, Afrika calls New York home. When he was a kid in the 1970s, in the South Bronx, he helped found a street gang eventually known as The Black Spades. But after a trip to Africa, where he learned about peaceful community building, he co-opted The Black Spades into the Universal Zulu Nation, a music-oriented group that spread hip-hop dance and music, eventually, throughout the world.

"Eight million stories"
Quick Thought

New York City's population is about 8.3 million people.

Deep Thought

The Big Apple is, by far, the largest city in the United States. It is also the most densely populated, with 26,403 people per square mile. The phrase "eight million stories" also calls to mind the verticality of NYC; with 5,538 high-rises 50 buildings over 650 feet, New York has a lot of stories… in both senses of the word.

"If Jeezy's payin' LeBron, I'm payin' Dwyane Wade"
Quick Thought

Young Jeezy's song "24 & 23" makes reference to Kobe Bryant's and LeBron James's jersey numbers—24 and 23—an apparent allusion to the thousands of dollars he supposedly pays for kilos of cocaine.

Deep Thought

Dwyane Wade wears number 3, so Jay-Z is making a convoluted kind of boast here, saying that he has so much clout that he only has to pay $3k for something that costs a competitor $23 grand. Before he became a rap star, Jay-Z actually did deal drugs for awhile.

"Labor Day Parade, rest in peace Bob Marley"
Quick Thought

Every Labor Day weekend, Brooklyn hosts a giant West Indian Carnival and parade.

Deep Thought

During Carnival, the streets are filled with the sounds of Caribbean music—soca and calypso from Trinidad and the Eastern Caribbean, reggae and dancehall from Jamaica. Bob Marley, of course, became by far the world's most popular reggae musician before his death from cancer in 1981.

"Don't bite the apple Eve"
Quick Thought

In Christian mythology Eve, the first woman, discovered the knowledge of good and evil (mostly evil) when she bit into the "forbidden fruit," which has commonly been depicted as an apple.

Deep Thought

Here Jay-Z uses the metaphor of Eve and the forbidden fruit as a threshold of sin that is unforgivable and irreversible. But is this sin necessarily a sexual one? Is it the sin of complacency? What do you think?

"MDMA got you feeling like a champion"
Quick Thought

MDMA, or Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is the drug best known as Ecstasy.

Deep Thought

Ecstasy has been a popular party drug since the early 1980s. Some of its effects include hyperactivity and a feeling of intimacy (arousal) and happiness towards others. It is a relatively dangerous drug, with short-term effects like hyperthermia (overheating) due to the combination of dehydration and extreme activity associated with its use. Long-term effects include lasting brain damage.

"The city never sleeps, better slip you an Ambien"
Quick Thought

Ambien is a sedative taken to treat insomnia.

Deep Thought

More than half of Americans have insomnia symptoms at least once a week, and about a third say they suffer from insomnia symptoms every night. Some medical experts say that America is suffering from a sleep-disorder epidemic. In New York, after September 11, 2001, the sale of prescription sleep medication rose about 25 percent.

"Concrete jungle where dreams are made of / There's nothing you can't do"
Quick Thought

Does this hook sound familiar? It should…

Deep Thought

It sounds just like the hook in Coldplay's "The Scientist". This sonic resemblance is unlikely to spark the same interest that Coldplay's own accusations of plagiarizing Joe Satriani did. And how can it really, when this song is built on the more direct lifting (and sampling of) The Moment's "Love On A Two-Way Street" and Isaac Hayes' "Breakthrough." Nonetheless, the musical similarities speak to the frequency of particular kinds of melodies and hooks in pop music. It's hard to disagree with Pitchfork Media's criticism that "Empire State of Mind" will probably annoy itself into ubiquity when Coldplay's "The Scientist" did the same thing only a few years ago with a similar hook melody.

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