Study Guide

Empire State of Mind 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" (source). 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, yeah, they love me everywhere


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-'90s, 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, and 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 whippin' Pastry


Quick Thought

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. The family became the subject of the reality-television show Run's House.

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 "'03 Bonnie & Clyde." 

While the power-couple has always been very private about their relationship, they were married in 2008, had their daughter Blue Ivy in 2012, and turned the world upside down when they announced in 2017 that they'd be having twins.

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 20th century and in recent times, 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's now facing a different kind of urban pressure: gentrification.

Sittin' courtside, Knicks and Nets give me high fives


Quick Thought

A huge basketball fan, Jay-Z became a co-owner of the New Jersey Nets, who then became the Brooklyn Nets.

Deep Thought

Jay-Z, who's 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? Move the team to Brooklyn.

I be Spiked out


Quick Thought

"Spiked" as in Spike Lee, the famous director and New York Knicks superfan, is a legendary courtside figure during games, and has been 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, like when his trash-talking battle with Indiana Pacers superstar Reggie Miller seemed to inspire Miller's heroic Knicks-crushing performances.

Catch me at the X with OG at a Yankee game
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's located.

Deep Thought

"OG" is slang for "original gangster," but the specific OG here is likely OG Juan a.k.a. Juan Pérez, who headed Jay-Z's latin Roc-La-Familia label and co-founded the 40/40 Club sports bar with Jay-Z. 

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 knows just a smidge about the history of immigration can tell you, is a metaphor for a diverse American population.

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 around 8 million people.

Deep Thought

The Big Apple is, by far, the largest city in the United States. It's also the most densely populated, with about 27,000 people per square mile. 

The phrase "eight million stories" also calls to mind the verticality of NYC. With over 250 skyscrapers, and thousands of other buildings that are no small potatoes, 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' 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. A true New York rags-to-riches story.

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, and 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? Food for thought.

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 a.k.a. arousal and happiness toward others. 

It's a relatively dangerous drug, with short-term effects like hyperthermia, or overheating, due to the combination of dehydration and extreme activity associated with its use. And 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

Millions of Americans suffer from bouts of insomnia, and as a whole, one third of the country isn't getting enough sleep.

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%. (Source)

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 accusations of Coldplay plagiarizing Joe Satriani did. And how can it really? This song's directly built on the 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. And it's hard to disagree with the criticism that "Empire State of Mind" has only overplayed itself into ubiquity, like Coldplay's "The Scientist" did only a few years earlier with a similar hook melody.