GQ

How “Empire State of Mind” Became New York’s Greatest Anthem

Where were you the first time you heard “Empire State of Mind”? For most New Yorkers, it was in the fall of 2009, a time that signaled the promise of better days ahead. Earlier that year, a charming state senator from Illinois, who had campaigned on messages of hope, became the first African American president of the United States. The Great Recession, which caused 8 million Americans to lose their jobs and 2.5 million businesses to close their doors, was ending. And on November 4th, the new Yankee Stadium was christened with the team’s first World Series win in nearly a decade. The city was buzzing with pride, and seemingly every cab, bodega, radio station, and bar was bumping the same infectious song: “Empire State of Mind.”

Jay Z and Alicia Keys’s cinematic record impacted New York like no hometown anthem had in years. After its release earlier that fall, the instant hit ascended to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 by November 26th, and remained there for five consecutive weeks. It was a victory for its creators, and for the city it repped. “It just sounds like a victory,” says Carl Chery, Head of Urban Music at Spotify. “What song has come out in the past 10 years that feels more celebratory, more like an anthem, or more aspirational than ‘Empire State of Mind’”?

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