The thing I love about music is how it gets into your DNA and becomes a part of you. Even now, I can remember songs from childhood, high school, college and beyond and know where I was and what I was doing when I heard them. For example, I remember listening to Madonna sing "Borderline" on the radio. I was home sick and bored and I thought that I never heard anyone like her before. Or "Slim Shady" by Eminem--I was working in Harlem, and wherever I went, that song was playing from radios, cars, and bodegas, and the posters for his first album were all over buildings. I had no idea who he was--I just knew that he made me laugh. The artists and albums on the Stuff for the Teen Age 2010 List are also filled with songs and moments that are just as unforgettable for me.
It's August, it's humid, hot and miserable and I am standing at a bus stop in the East Village. I am listening to my mp3 player's radio and watching people work out across the street in Tompkins Square Park. The DJ on the radio comes on and says that he has a leaked track off of The Blueprint 3 to play and although he could get in trouble for playing it he's going to do it anyway "because that is just how awesome it is" and that track was "Empire State of Mind." I was transfixed. I loved the beat, the rhymes, the wordplay, the way Alicia Keys’s voice soared at the chorus and the way Jay-Z’s mc'ing was all swagger and pride. I remember getting on the bus giggling with a perma-grin on my face. When the song ended, the DJ said, "That song was so great, I have to play it again." (I think he ended up playing it 4 or 5 times in a row). Every time, he played it I got more out of it. It was a pure love letter to the glory of New York City and the resilience of New Yorkers, about what it takes to make it here, live here and play here. It's meant to be sung at the top of your lungs from the middle of Times Square, the top of the Empire State Building, the railing of the Staten Island Ferry, the walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge, and a cross-town bus. By the time my bus reached its destination of 6th Avenue, I was singing along with the chorus and probably annoying my fellow riders:
"Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can’t do,
Now you're in New York!!!
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York"
So can you remember the first time you heard "Empire State of Mind"? Or maybe there was another 2009 song that changed your world or was the soundtrack to an unforgettable moment in your life?
Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3, the album that contains "Empire State of Mind," appears on the Stuff for the Teen Age 2010 List.