The phrase "Empire State of Mind" alludes to a couple of well-known earlier songs about New York. Most obviously, there is Nas' "NY State of Mind,"
one of the rapper's best-known songs, if not indeed the
best-known song in his catalog. Making the allusion (shout-out?) here more interesting is the history between Nas and Jay-Z; for years, the two carried out one of hip-hop's most famous feuds before eventually reconciling a few years ago. Nas was originally rumored to be up for a guest appearance on "Empire State of Mind," although he didn't end up appearing on the final track. Interestingly, though the two songs have similar titles, the raps couldn't be more different. Nas raps about "the smooth criminal" and Jay-Z raps about his incredible commercial success and how he owes it, in part, to New York City.
Billy Joel also has a song called "New York State of Mind,"
and it's not as big a stretch you might think to connect Billy Joel to Jay-Z considering how much both artists connect with the idea of Frank Sinatra's New York.