Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Good" Talk of NYC from the Beastie Boys?

In the single "An Open Letter to NYC" by Beastie Boys, the environment of the New York City is created for the listener. Most explicitly in the chorus, the diversity of New York is elaborated upon: "Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten// From the Battery to the top of Manhattan// Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin// Black, White, New York, you made it happen." The five boroughs of New York are juxtaposed with various nationalities of people who live in New York to show the diversity that New York encompasses; with these lines being the chorus of the song, the listener is constantly reminded of this diversity with the different subjects discussed in the song.
The Beastie Boys also talk about the activity occurring in New York. The many ways of transportation where the various people above converge to make their way around the city is mentioned: "We're doing fine on the One and Nine line // On the L we're doin' swell// On the number Ten bus we fight and fuss// 'Cause we're thorough in the boroughs and that's a must." The violence and drug dealing in New York is also eluded to in the lyrics: "Hippies at the band shell with the L.S.D....You didn't rob me in the park at Dianna Ross// But everybody stated looting when the lights turned off."

As a combination of these two topics, the diversity is contributed to the various activities that occur in the city. However, I am a bit skeptical that this diversity is evenly spread along New York. As a result, can all these experiences that the Beastie Boys rap about be contributed to all nationalities mentioned in the chorus? Also, though the song seems to be a letter of endearment to NYC, there is many subjects brought up that would put the listener on the fence on whether this conclusion is valid. I point more specifically to verse two, where the act of looting is brought up. It seems as if the lack of being robbed in the park puts a good light on the looting that occurs afterwards; in other words, one bad action not occurring seems to put an optimistic look on life, despite the looting that occurs soon afterwards.

How do you guys make sense of this generalization of diversity to the experiences in NYC? Also, should the absence of some bad events put a good light on life, despite the existence of future bad events?


  1. You raise great points in your post. I do think that the song is a letter of endearment to NYC (read my post about how the song is an urban pastoral above)and the diversity that the city allows for. In my post, I describe how the city is in a way personified by the Beastie Boys as an accepting character, allowing for such diversity. Even though the diversity that exists in New York is not fully functioning, the Beastie Boys respect the fact that it does exist and how New York is truly a melting pot of cultures.

    To me, the song seems like an urban pastoral. They reminisce on their upbringing in the city and the diversity that existed within it. They appreciate this and admire this. The song is similar in a way to "N.Y. State of Mind" by Nas because in both, the artists construct an environment that may not seem ideal, however at its core it serves agreat purpose for them.

  2. I definitely agree that this song should be seen as endearing towards NYC, but I think it has more of an "I love NYC for it's good and it's bad" instead of the contradictory nature that you say it has.

    I think the mention of looting more so references the fact that there is crime in NYC, but we love it for what it is, that included.


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