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Jay-Z: The next Frank Sinatra?

December 31, 2009 |  2:06 pm


Here's hoping you're not yet tired of "Empire State of Mind." The Times' Geraldine Baum writes in this Sunday's Calendar that the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys hit appears to be ready to stand the test of time.

The question Baum raises: "Can any hip-hop song prove as universal and enduring as Duke Ellington's 'Take the A Train' (written by Billy Strayhorn) or Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's 'Manhattan'? Or, for that matter, that other easy-to-whistle 'New York, New York,' by Leonard Bernstein and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green, which explains, 'the Bronx is up and the Battery down, the people ride in a hole in the ground'?"

You'll have to read the story to explore the varying answers to the question, but Pop & Hiss is here to give you the music. Take a listen to some of the songs explored in Baum's piece -- or just revisit your favorite East Coast anthem -- below. 

First, of course, is the song Jay-Z and Keys brought to the World Series in October. Baum writes that in New York, the song "has become something of a cultural phenomenon. The lyrics are mapped in the blogosphere and have been translated into a suburban boast by Stephen Colbert disguised in a hoodie. The local Madison Square Garden Networks re-aired Jay-Z debuting the song at the venue on Sept. 11 at a concert in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack back-to-back with a performance there by Sinatra in 1974; the concerts were promoted together as 'Two Generations of Cool' or 'Bada Bling!' "

Next up is, perhaps, the song most associated with New York. Baum writes, "For the last three decades, Frank Sinatra's 'New York, New York,' from the songwriting team of Kander and Ebb, has ruled as the city's sentimental favorite -- in ballparks, at weddings and to signal determination." Baum spoke to composer John Kander, who is described as being "intrigued" by Jay-Z's anthem. "I thought it was kind of interesting because it juxtaposed totally different styles of music," Kander says in the piece.

New York has proved to be an alluring topic for many a songwriter. Baum writes, "There are generations of songs that capture New York's magic and allure, its extremes of wealth and poverty, of uptown and downtown, of private misery and public joy. Most date themselves by casting the city in a moment; others hang onto enduring ideals. Bob Dylan, in 'Talking New York,' reveals it through the eyes of an outsider; Billy Joel's 'New York State of Mind' is about a native coming home."

Here's Dylan:

And here's Billy Joel:

The Ellington classic:

There's plenty more mentioned in Baum's piece, and plenty, of course, that isn't. Take this recent, albeit far lesser-known -- at least when compared to Jay-Z -- entry from dance-rock genre hoppers LCD Soundsystem, "New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down." There's plenty of videos lying around YouTube, but we're most fond of this one, for obvious reasons:

And one doesn't even need to live in New York to write a classic ode to the city, as London's Irish punks the Pogues proved:

What's your favorite New York song? Tell us below. And it doesn't necessarily have to present a romantic version of the city, as evidenced below.

-- Todd Martens


Is 'Empire State of Mind' the new 'New York, New York'?

Photo: Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. Credit: Getty Images