Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ Named Top Single of 2009
The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Poll is a fascinating study for trying to take the pulse of divergent music critics across the country. With no genre requirements, 689 music journalists from the Voice and other major print and online outlets submitted ballots. In 2009, the electronic psychedelia of Animal Collective's 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' took home top album honors and Jay-Z lead the singles list with the inescapable 'Empire State of Mind.'
Hov received a solid 89 mentions and was the only hip-hop single to make the Top 20 other than Kid Cudi's 'Day n' Nite,' which came in at No. 18. It's a fitting critical victory for Jay-Z. 'Empire State of Mind' was his first No. 1 single in a long career and seemed to capture all of the qualities that Jay's ever-growing fan base has come to love.
As Sean Fennessey points out in a corresponding essay, many older hip-hop fans yearn for the street-smart drug metaphors and lyricism of a younger Jay-Z. 'Empire' gave them that through veiled references to Young Jeezy's '24-23 (Kobe-LeBron)' and some lyrics referencing those younger days in the gritty drug world. Newer fans have come to expect glitz, soaring choruses and dance floor-ready theatrics. Alicia Keys' wallpaper-peeling chorus fulfills that requirement with ease. If you haven't already figured it out, it's sort of the perfect combination for chart domination.
In a summer Voice piece, Jay spoke on the need to progress from what people originally loved about him: "You have to get in a space where you can't even all-the-way listen to your friends, because they love you so much that they have places they want you to be. They have moments in time that felt great for them. 'Oh, I wanna hear 'U Don't Know' again,' but we done that already. I can't."