Last weekend, Jay-Z started his concert series inaugurating the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the new home of the Brooklyn Nets. Now, a cynic might be inclined to point out how Jay is only a minority owner of the team, how this is a commercial move, and branding the team with the hip-hop cool of Brooklyn makes for a potential merchandise goldmine and yadda yadda yadda. Whatever. I say hogwash to thee, go take your grinch-ass somewhere else while we enjoy a historic moment! Who would’ve thought something like this was even possible 20 years ago, when hip-hop was still treated as a blight upon pop culture in general? Besides, even the most anti-capitalist, David Stern-hating, corporate monopoly-boycotting, anti-establishment hip-hop traditionalist (like this guy!) will have to admit… Those jerseys look fly as hell.
In honor of the festivities, we’ve assembled the 10 greatest moments where Jay pledged his allegiance to the borough. Brooklyn stand up!
10. Empire State of Mind (Ft. Alicia Keys)
Yeah, I’m out that Brooklyn
Now I’m down in Tribeca
Right next to DeNiro
But I’ll be hood forever
Jay & Alicia’s epic tribute to their hometown gets kicked off with a reference to a specific part of NY, which of course can be no other place than Mr. Carter’s original stomping grounds. You could argue the song itself deserves a higher ranking in the list but it gets knocked down a couple slots in this case since it’s more about NY as a whole than about the BK.
9. Some How Some Way (Ft. Beanie Sigel & Scarface)
I planted my seed on unfertile land Myrtle Park
Marcy, Flushing and Nostrand and
Still I grew some how I knew the sun will shine through
And touch my soul take hold of my hand
Look man a tree grows in Brooklyn
A solemn verse about escaping the hood finds Jay reflecting on his past. Far from a party joint, but emotional and introspective, the final line of the first verse offers a subtle comment in referencing Betty Smith’s novel A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Now can I get an encore, do you want more
Cookin’ raw with the Brooklyn boy
So for one last time I need y’all to roar
Hip-hop records simply don’t get much bigger in scope and impact than ‘Encore,’ the lynchpin of Jay’s intended swan song, which of course could only work with firmly rooting himself in his origins as he did in the infectious hook.
7. Brooklyn Go Hard (Ft. Santigold)
Boom bye bye like Buju I’m crucial
I’m a Brooklyn boy I may take some gettin’ used to
Jay-Z & Santigold collaborated on this track to aid Bono’s PRODUCTRED organization which provides prevention and care programs to victims of HIV/AIDS in Africa. The song also appeared on the soundtrack to the Biggie biopic Notorious. Built around a sample of Santi’ ‘Shove It,’ the song also features a new verse by her and the beat was the hot beat of the minute, with the whole game dropping freestyles over it in 2008. There’s also an official remix featuring Foxy Brown and Wayne Wonder, but you don’t really want to hear that.
6. So Ghetto
I’m from the M-to-the-A-baby-R-C-Y
So it’s hard for me to let the larceny die
Jigga & Primo create that roughneck BK magic together. Thugged out Jay even picks up his old Iceberg Slim alias again for this track in which he packs gats to the Grammy’s and pops bottles on the White House lawn. “Spit the Brook-Brook-Brooklyn everytime that I bust, radio’s gotta play me though I cuss too much.” Gutter music to bob ya head to.
5. Hello Brooklyn 2.0
Like a mama you birthed me, Brooklyn you nursed me
Schooled me with hard knocks, better than Berkley
Back when American Gangster dropped, many people pointed out this cut as a weaker moment in a strong album. Not me though, and probably not a lot of Brooklynites either. Jay-Z’s update of the menacing ‘Hello Brooklyn’ part from Beastie Boys classic ‘B-Boy Bouillabaisse’ is built around a metaphor of Brooklyn as a woman that might not be the most unpredicatble, but is utilized to great effect and doesn’t lose a step throughout. Those electronic drums still knock after 20 years and even Lil Wayne’s faux-Prince croak works on this rare occasion. Yeah, he eventually didn’t call his daughter Brooklyn Carter, but that other promise, at the end of the song? “My fine ho we got some victims to catch, so in a couple years baby I’mma bring you some Nets.” That one sure is hard to beat.
4. Cam’ron – Welcome to New York City (Ft. Jay z and Juelz Santana)
I’m a B.K. brawler, Marcy projects hallway loiterer
Pure coke copper, get your order up
On Cam’ron’s first Roc-A-Fella album Come Home With Me there wasn’t a trace of the animosity that would arise between these two as they effortlessly trade rhymes over a dramatic beat paying tribute to their hometown. Killa reps Harlem while Jay goes in for… you guessed. “BK’s banger” and “Harlem’s own gangster” sure had chemistry, at least on record, for a hot minute there.
3. The Borough (Young Guru Remix)
Grew up on Lexington ave, my sights real high
Moved to the marcy project round the time I was five
Had a great-grandmother in the heart of the ‘Stuy
So on the fourth of July, we would always stop by
Man I ran through the bushes, bought pounds from tha dreads
They had the best beef patties and cocoa bread
Danger Mouse’s blend of The Black Album vocals with beats built from samples of The White Album by John, Paul, George & Ringo has become a ubiquitous pop culture milestone, but this relatively unknown gem from Jay’s catalogue finds him reminiscing on childhood in the hood, over a soulful organ playing the melody from ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ deftly sampled by ROC studio technician Young Guru for this cut from Green Lantern’s Invasion 2K10 mixtape. I have no idea what machinations or considerations where at work here that relegated it mixtape material but this definitely deserved to be on an album. The Evil Genius had a great deal of luck when they passed him this one.
2. Brooklyn’s Finest (Ft. The Notorious B.I.G.)
Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls, nigga shit your drawers
(Where you from?) Brooklyn going out to all
How you gon’ hate on this? Two of the greatest emcees of all time pushing each other to new heights. The way these two go back ‘n forth trading verses is close to rap perfection. Competition probably did loosen their bowel movement for a moment, and justifiably so. For once, a title like this was no hyperbole.
1. Where I’m From
I’m from where the hammers rung, news cameras never come
You and your mans hung in every verse in your rhyme
That opening line might the be ther hardest-hitting thing someone has ever said on record reppin’ their hood. Feelings got hurt over that one, for real. All kinda cats might’ve felt like they were hit with a subliminal there, but really, when you make a town sound this cool, despite the harsh imagery depicted in the lyrics, everybody wants to be a part of it on some level. How real is this? Real enough to make people sing out “cough up a lung, where I’m from, Marcy son!” from Timbuktu to Tytsjerksteradiel.
BONUS: Hello Brooklyn 2.0 (Brooklyn Soul Remix)
German beatmakers Shuko & The Gunna did the succesful Jay & Marvin remix project, combining American Gangster‘s a cappellas with samples from Marvin’s many classics. While ‘Sexual Healing’ might not seem as the top choice for sampling material at first (Marvin Gaye handled similar subject material on the far superior ‘Let’s Get It On,’ for one thing), this great pairing efficiently proves these guys have a far better ear for matching samples with vocals than I have. This typography video by Greg Solenström is pretty awesome too.