Kings of New York? Jay-Z the wrong choice for Yanks’ pregame anthem

Jay keeping it gangsta with his sweater and Kate HudsonIf you’ve been reading, you know SportsAngle is largely in tune with the hip-hop community. (As recently as this month, I shook hands with the great Ghostface Killah) So I watched with keen interest as the Yankees announced that Jay-Z – who has carved out more and more of a presence in sports lately as part-owner of the Nets and celebrity friend of LeBron James – would perform his new song, Empire State of Mind, at Game 1 of the World Series.

And I’m here to tell you the Yankees made a lousy pick.

Before Jay comes at me with Takeover Part 2 (which, admittedly, would be awesome), let me explain. I’m fine with the song itself. I like Alicia Keys, and I’m a fan of the glitzy, chill vibe of the song. Jay says he’s the “next Sinatra” – well, I like the first Sinatra, so I like this too.

But that’s the thing: This isn’t a pump-up song. You’re not going to hear Paulie Malignaggi rocking this on the way to the ring. It’s more a celebration song, which shouldn’t be what the Yankees need right now, particularly after a deflating loss in Game 1. He does allude to drug dealing and uses the “N” word in the song, aspects which will almost certainly be scrubbed.

I almost feel as if the Yankees arrived at the Series with a sense of entitlement, which is never the way you want to be. When you start feeling complacent and flip the switch from confident to cocky, that’s when someone gets the jump on you. And that’s when you have to figure out how to get back off the mat and get hungry again.

And playing a song that connotes how great you are, that’s not going to do it. I’m not passing judgment on the song itself, which gets frequent play on my iPod. I’m saying that they need to get gritty, get grimy – that’s the New York they need to channel, not Jay-Z drinking champagne in the back of a chauffeured Maybach.

Plus, you’re going to have Jay rapping that he “made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can”? Give me a break. Jay did more for the Yankees brand than DiMaggio, etc.? Get over yourself. Babe Ruth beat you to it, Jigga. Hell, even Fred Durst beat him to it!

Even Run This Town would be a better choice. It doesn’t explicitly reference New York, but the message resonates, and Kanye’s sort of the A-Rod of rap – it works.

Sidebar: I know we can’t play everything here at the modern-day Stadium, where you got business execs holding down the best seats. Some of the lyrics in here would cause your typical suited-up yuppie to roll over and die. I understand all that, my point is just that even if you can’t have these songs played at the Stadium, live or otherwise, they better fit with the Yankees are trying to do here than Jay does. You don’t want a party. You want a war.

Ok, let’s get started:

Instead of Jay-Z, how about old rival Nas, who decimated Jay when challenged back in 2001? He’s a Mets fan, but I bet if you asked him nice (and gave him some good seats) he’d do his thing. Flip back to Illmatic, when nobody was touching him, and you have NY State of Mind all ready to go. So instead of having

Jeter thinking of “street lights, big dreams all looking pretty,” he’s thinking, “I never sleep, ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death.”

Or how about The World is Yours — “South Bronx, the world is yours" is right there for A-Rod to vibe to – or at least to attempt to.

And yeah, Nas isn’t “hot” right now, but everyone respects him. The guy’s a legend. Not that Jay-Z isn’t, we’re just looking at songs that’d be better than Jay’s for the Yankees’ purposes.

Let’s get some real New York heads involved. If you’re down with Gang Starr – Guru and Premier – you have my respect. So let’s get them back out on the stage with New York Straight Talk, putting Burnett in a real Empire State of Mind.

Yo, it doesn't make sense, for you to compete against
this New York vibe that gets your whole body tense

Since I already brought up Ghostface, let’s get a head-banger from Supreme Clientele involved. Not for nothing, but nobody messes with Ghost. Even Jay wouldn’t go anywhere near him – and neither would the Phillies. Get Nutmeg going at the stadium, not your typical NYC anthem, but still — “Bronx! I know, I know, I know, I know…”

I’d say get Rakim’s New York – nobody touches Rakim, even Nas would admit that – but knowing the Yanks, they wouldn’t mess with it since it mentions all the New York teams. You know how they are – they want people to think they’re the only show. Too bad, since this is a crazy song – talking about how NY “parks release some of the world’s greatest athletes.”

While we’re on the subject of New York legends, can we rock

with KRS-One (left) for a minute? How about Kool G Rap (right), who influenced every great East Coaster? Jay’s the King of New York in terms of fame and money, but try putting him on stage with these guys.

Is anyone more New Yawk than the Beastie Boys, the John Starks of rap? I’m not the world’s biggest fan, but they have their place here. Maybe you don’t want to feature No Sleep till Brooklyn – wrong borough – but how about "An Open Letter to NYC”? It’s easily a more heartfelt tribute to the city than Jay’s effort, captures more of the City’s essence. The next time Jay hits the Fulton Street Mall will be the first time. By design, I listened to this track as I was finishing the NYC Marathon a few years back; it just felt right. And it’d just feel right if they played it at the Stadium.

You getting the picture now? Jay made a nice song. But it feels artificial and forced compared to some of New York’s true greatest. I respect Jay for making himself into what he is, a crossover star. Sitting on Oprah’s couch, invited to the White House. But along the way, I feel he lost his ability to rep the City like he’s still cooking on the stove and out on the corner. For that matter, I can look at him – I’ve always felt that Jay has embellished his past at least somewhat, as Nas alluded to in Ether (linked off the word decimated up above).

Obviously, even if the Yankees saw this manifesto, they’d go with Jay-Z. He portrays the image that they want to put out there. I’m fine with that, but they should at least push it to after the game if they win – but NOT before Sinatra.

But if Jay lulls the crowd – and A-Rod – to sleep, just mark my words here and remember that there was a better way to go.


One Comment

  1. Ole!!!
    So thorough, down to the song clips!
    Love your writing style…you miss no opportunity to slip in lingo that links you to the rhythm of that which you endorse…and that which you throw off the horse…

    How about Elton John’s NYC song….the best, son.


    Promise to visit more often…I’m enriched by it.

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