“Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z (ft. Alicia Keys)

Succinctly put, “Empire State of Mind” is recognized as a modern-day anthem for New York City.  Both Jay-Z (Brooklyn) and Alicia Keys (Harlem) are New York City natives, and they teamed up on this track to represent their hometown. Accordingly the titular “Empire State” has been a popular nickname of New York since the 19thcentury.  This is one of the best raps Jay-Z has ever written, and the song deals with topics as diverse as recognizing celebrities who live in the city to chronicling the tale of a female runaway who got caught in the snares therein. 

And Alicia Keys joins Jigga in bigging-up New York as a place “where dreams are made of” and that “make(s) you feel brand-new”. This strong feeling of affection for the NYC can actually be traced back to the song’s original writers, both native New Yorkers, who penned the track while they were in London and suffering from homesickness.

Writing Credits

This song was originally conceived by a pair of writers named Janet Sewell and Angela Hunte, who are from New York City.  In fact they conceptualized the tune while visiting London in 2009 and suffering from homesickness.

The way it came to the attention of Jay-Z and co. was after the two of them submitted the tune (twice) to Roc Nation. And by the time all was said and done Sewell and Hunte received both writing and production credit for the song, as did Al Shux. And the track’s other co-writers are as follows:

  • Sylvia Robinson
  • Jay-Z
  • Alicia Keys

Robinson is an old school performer who is actually one of the pioneers of hip-hop. And the reason she is credited as a co-writer is because “Empire State of Mind” samples a track she wrote that came out in 1970 entitled “Love on a Two-Way Street”, by the Moments.

According to some reports, it was Angela Hunte, who originally sang the hook, that Alicia Keys got involved. Other reports imply that it was Jay-Z’s idea, as he felt the same in terms of Keys’ fit into the song. But he had also considered Mary J. Blige as the feature.

Release Date of “Empire State of Mind”

This track is a product of Roc Nation, who put New York State of Mind out on 20 October 2009. It’s the third single from what would actually be Jay-Z’s 11th studio album, “The Blueprint 3”.

More Facts about “Empire State of Mind”

Janet Sewell actually grew up in the same apartment building, located at 560 State Street in Brooklyn (which is mentioned in the song), that Jay-Z did. In fact the two of them knew each other even before this track came out.

As aforementioned Hunte and Sewell submitted this song twice before it was ultimately approved by Jigga himself. And of course after the first rejection they were discouraged accordingly. But what ultimately inspired Hunte in particular to try a second time is when she received what she interpreted as an omen in relation to a Notorious B.I.G. figurine that she possessed.

And of course “New York State of Mind” went on to become a major success. In fact it was ranked one of the 10 best songs of 2009 by the likes of the following major publications:

  • Rolling Stone
  • MTV
  • The Village Voice
  • The New York Times
  • Entertainment Weekly 
  • NME

And despite the tune being about a particular locality, it did go on to chart in well over 20 nations worldwide. This included scoring a number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as on three other Billboard Charts. The tune also topped music charts in Greece and the Czech Republic and reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. And in terms of its certifications, it achieved triple-platinum status in the US and Australia.

The song also went on to be adopted by the New York Yankees themselves. They even played it during the 2009 World Series (with Keys and Jigga once performing it live during the event). And the track was even utilized by the NYRA during the 2010 Belmont Stakes.

Additionally “New York State of Mind” took home a couple of Grammys in 2010. It won in the following categories:

  • Best Rap Song 
  • Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

Music Video

Legendary hip-hop director Hype Williams was responsible for putting together the music video to this track. And the largely black-and-white affair was in fact filmed in New York City.

There is also an alternate version of the video – which had Justin Wu as its director – that Jay-Z featured on his personal blog. And that particular take actually includes images of models lip syncing the song.


And for the record, Alicia Keys dropped a sequel to this hit in 2010, which itself is called “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down”. The original version of the sequel does in fact feature Jay-Z. However, the final version, which was released on Alicia Keys’ album “The Element of Freedom”, did not.

Notable Live Performance

The first time this song was performed live by both Jay-Z and Alicia Keys was at the 13 September 2009 edition of the MTV Video Music Awards.

Dwayne Wade

On this track Jay-Z gives a shoutout to NBA star Dwayne Wade. And D-Wade went on to express this as the moment he personally “made it in pop culture”.

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