Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hip Hop Regionalism

Regionalism in hip hop is fairly common, with many rappers taking pride in the neighborhoods that they grew up in, even though many of them do not live there anymore. Many people believe that when rappers reference their hometowns, it does not do that town any good because mentioning the town is not going to decrease poverty rates, clean up the streets, or create a better education system. So why mention your town in a rap track?

I believe many rappers do this to show that they take pride in where they come from, regardless of where it is. Without that place where they grew up, they wouldn't have gotten to the place they are today. That's why I don't feel that rappers who reference their towns, or shoot music videos in their hometowns is a bad thing. They are allowed to take pride in their past, and if anything, the town can benefit from exposure to the world.

One instance of a rapper taking pride in his city is when Jay-Z raps about New York City in his track "Empire State of Mind." He talks about how he grew up in Harlem, the places he traveled to in his childhood, and then how he is living his life now. He went from the streets of Harlem to sitting front row at the Knicks and Nets games. Jay-Z takes great pride in his city, and he raps about how great of a place it is in his track "Empire State of Mind."

"Empire State of Mind" Lyrics


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  2. To relate this post to another topic that we discussed in our class, I also think that “Empire State of Mind” is a good example of an urban pastoral. Like pastoral poetry glorifies the rural setting, this song glorifies the city of New York, as we can see in the chorus:

    New York, 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
    Big lights will inspire you
    Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York

    The description of the city as a “concrete jungle” emphasizes the idea that urban settings can hold much of the same natural beauty as rural landscapes. Pastoral poetry depicts the rural setting as a place where people go to escape, to relax, to rediscover their lives, and to seek inspiration. The lines “these streets will make you feel brand new” and “big lights will inspire you” portray New York City in a very similar way. Finally, nostalgia is a common theme in pastoral poetry that is also found in this song when Jay-Z talks about growing up in the city. I agree with this post that this song is all about New York City pride. This pride idealizes the urban setting described in this song, making “Empire State of Mind” an urban pastoral.

  3. There is no denying that "Empire State of Mind" raises pride in New York City and that Jay-Z refers to his origins at times. However, the imagery in the song refers overwhelmingly to the glamorous and upper-class aspects of New-York City. Besides one verse in which he alludes to his beginnings in Harlem, the other verses refer to "bright lights... Yankee stadium... sitting court side...Statue of Liberty." All of these images refer to his life in New York after he became a star.

    Therefore, while he takes pride in New York, the state that he grew up in, the nature of the two New York's in discussion are so different, that "Empire State of Mind" is not exactly a return to his beginnings. Instead, it is a statement of pride in Jay-Z's achievements as well as a declaration of the possibilities and dangers that exist in New York.

  4. To expand on Jason's comment, Jay-Z's persona on this song seems to favor the rich life way more than his roots. It's common for rappers to take pride in where they come from, but in this song, Jay-Z seems to spite where he came from, replacing it with his new life of magnificence. in his first lines, he says, "Yeah, I'm out that Brooklyn / Now I'm down in Tribeca," and he says this triumphantly, insinuating his relief in getting out of his old neighborhood. This feeling that the persona shows in these lines aren't exactly promoting his Brooklyn regionalism. This song is less about hailing where he came from and is more about how awesome his life is right now ("sitting courtside," "Off-white Lexus," "I'm the new Sinatra," "Catch me at... a Yankee game," etc.).

    There is no doubt that Jay-Z takes pride in New York, but taking in pride Brooklyn? Well, not in this song at least. Brooklyn's not even benefitting from exposure in this song.

  5. I agree with the fact that Brooklyn does not benefit from this song, but I personally don't think that Jay-Z meant for the song to help in any way. I believe he is just referencing his past to be proud of where he came from and accentuate the fact that he became successful from such a meager beginning. After he says "Now I'm down in Tribeca," he says "Right next to DeNiro/ But I’ll be hood forever" signifying that his roots are with him no matter where he goes or how much money he acquires. But we will never know if that is just his persona speaking or actually how he feels.

  6. I agree that this song does not actually express a sense a pride of where Jay-Z came from. Despite the fact that he does indeed mention that he's from the "hood," there is an extremely strong focus on the luxury of New York City. It seems more like he's describing New York merely through the perspective of the rich. Also, for some reason I feel like the song has a tourist-vide to it, because how many people who actually live in NYC (besides the rich, I guess) do the things he mentions on a regular basis? It sounds like he's trying to appeal to a wider audience by mentioning things like the Statue of Liberty and multiple sports teams.

  7. I believe that rappers reference where they are from to do more than just be proud (although I definitely believe that to be true). I think they do it to be relatable. Especially for famous rappers, once they enter the spotlight, they are suddenly from a different world than their listeners. But, when they rap about being from a run-down neighborhood or an impoverished area of a city, they suddenly become the relatable figures that rap prides itself on.


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