From A Very White Person
Re: Why "Granite State of Mind" is better than your original
First, I'm sure you're wondering how I, a very pale Irish-American, might be quailifed to critique so-called "rap" music. My answer is simply that, as a white person who reads the Internet, I feel qualified to critique anything.
As you may be aware, the spoof video "Granite State of Mind" blew up on the web recently. It is a take-off, obviously, on your "Empire State of Mind." I want to explain why it is better than the original.
(Note: This has nothing to do with New Hampshire itself, the subject of the song. While I've been there a few times, it holds no special place in my heart.)
I have three main areas to discuss my hypothesis. Let us examine:
"Granite" features tightly written lines about apparently notable New Hampshire landmarks, personalities, and quirks about life there. Granted, Juvenal or Evelyn Waugh will not exactly be losing sleep over their wittiness being surpassed by the writing (their being dead also helps in that regard); nevertheless the song still consists of easily understood observations accessible even to those who know nothing about New Hampshire.
"Empire," on the other hand, features mirthless, pointless bragadoccio about yourself. Quick internet research reveals that such is the typical metier of rap; however, one must question whether a listener, expecting to hear a love song to the Big Apple, will really find himself satisfied by instead learning that despite your ability to hang with DeNiro, you will still remain "hood forever." Also, for a paean to New York, you tend to paint it as a drug-infested sex pit. That's not the way to get many class trips from the Midwest!
Until we heard "Granite," we have to say, we weren't really aware the song had a tune, so to speak. Sure, the bridge features Alicia Keys, and she's been name-checked in a Dylan song. (In terms of white cred, that's even better than a guest appearance on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.)
But the verses in your version of the song are overshadowed by your vocals, which tend to, let us say, wander around the melody a bit. As with Juvenal, et al., we're not arguing that George Gershwin (also dead) is losing sleep over the song, but come on -- you're sampling "Love on a Two-Way Street," don't lose the melody on a lonely highway (Ha!!)
Again, you might deem me unqualified to render an opinion on this. Again, I refer you to my race and Google skills.
The fact is, the vocals on "Granite" fit the meter and rhythm of the song, rendering them instantly more understandable and available to the listener. You, on the other hand, stretch the line beyond all conceivable recognition. Not to mention you mumble.
The very whitest people in the world can be consulted on the matter: Stephen Sondheim tortures himself over how his lyrics sit on the melody. In terms of trying to squeeze too many words into a line, we need only seek the wisdom of Elvis Costello, talking about writing songs with Burt Bacharach for Painted From Memory (the whitest album since An Osmonds Hannukah): "He's very precise," Costello said of Bacharach. "Sometimes I tried to steal a couple of notes -- you know, 'I've got this great line that would fit if you'd just give me another semiquaver!' But in the end I'd find a different way to say the same thing. It was good discipline."
Learn from the white people, Jay-Z -- the Elvis Costellos, the storied ranks of New Hampshire rappers. We've seen your Glastonbury opener, which featured both Oasis and AC/DC, and surely that's as white as it gets outside a Sarah Palin rally.
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Follow this advice, take heed from a white person, and maybe you can have a career. Not saying you don't have talent, just that you might learn a thing or two to help you along.
No need to thank me, by the way.