Empire State of mine: your April Press-Playlist

Jaeden Pinder, Arts Editor

​​Concrete jungle, Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, we’ve heard these colorful nicknames from tourists and family members alike. While many fear what New York City has to offer, students traveled from close and far to attend college here, all because of what city living can enrich and excite their lives. The city is our campus here at Pace, so for our April edition, The Pace Press is highlighting our favorites songs about New York by New Yorkers. 

Wind down with deep hip-hop cuts from rappers like Childish Gambino and Yasiin Bey to classic rock pioneers in the New York music scene, like Leonard Cohen and Talking Heads. Finish out this semester strong, and enjoy this month’s Press-Playlist!

A Tribe Called Quest – God Lives Through

The ‘90s was the golden age of hip-hop, and A Tribe Called Quest was one of many groups that championed New York City, renowned for their Afrocentric lyrics and themes. In “God Lives Through,” the final song off of “Midnight Marauders,” the group samples directly from their other song “Oh My God,” featuring Busta Rhymes. The song contains bar after bar, as Phife Dawg’s verse is just legendary in his cadence alone, and Q-Tip’s is just as impressive, especially in its final lines. To tie everything together the track ends with Q-Tip shouting out the boroughs of New York and other major cities in the States. “God Lives Through” oozes with NYC pride, and so does the rest of the corresponding record.

Yasiin Bey – Brooklyn

The artist formerly known as Mos Def, takes you on the auditory tour of his life in “Brooklyn,” through three beat switches conveying the multifaceted culture of the borough. Bey came to significance in the ‘90s with his acclaimed debut “Black on Both Sides,” which featured only NYC producers, including two-thirds of A Tribe Called Quest. The first two verses of “Brooklyn” start with the same line and then diverges from this path, showing the perseverance of Brooklynites in the face of hardships and then the grimmer side of this struggle. The final verse merges these opposing sides, showing that both coexist to make Brooklyn what it is and why it is so well-loved by both natives and transplants.

Run the Jewels – Call Ticketron

Comprised of Atlanta’s Killer Mike and NYC’s El-P, Run the Jewels know how to do one thing extremely well: boast. The unlikely duo came together in 2011 with El-P producing an album for Mike and soon discovered they found success as a duo by feeding off of each other’s strengths. Off of their third LP, “Call Ticketron” includes a sample from a Ticketron ad for Madison Square Garden from the ‘80s, courtesy of El-P’s ferocious production. Run the Jewels has yet to disappoint hip-hop fans, and if you’re looking to experience this energy materialized, the duo is touring with Rage Against The Machine this summer, playing five nights live from The Garden in August.

Childish Gambino – Les

Before the widespread acclaim of “Atlanta,” the psychedelic verve of “Awaken, My Love!” and the conceptual prowess of “Because the Internet,” Donald Glover starred as a quarterback turned nerd on a quirky NBC sitcom. Glover had always exhibited a generous vision across his work, but the one thing he is first and foremost is a comedian. Having written for “30 Rock” before his break into the mainstream, so much of Gambino’s early music has bars that make you belly laugh, like in “Les,” where he parodies the stereotypes of the Lower East Side. Somehow, even with the overuse of the term “hipsters,” the attitudes haven’t changed much in the last 11 years since its release. 

Suzanne Vega – Ludlow Street

Readers recognize this singer’s name because she is best known for “Tom’s Diner,” which has been remixed countless times since its inception. Here though we’ve opted for a track later in her career from 2007’s “Beauty & Crime” with “Ludlow Street,” named after the frequented LES road for NYC nightlife. Vega has said that the song was written for her brother, who passed away in 2002, and creates a melancholic yet beautiful soundscape with lyrics like, “I can recall each morning after/Painted in nicotine.”

The Strokes – Ode to the Mets

Ah, The Strokes. With just a dash of nepotism, The Strokes rose to fame exponentially, were credited with bringing rock n’ roll back to NYC and for subsequently having one of the most turbulent careers following their debut “Is This It.” The lack of a question mark in the title suggested an air of apathetic confidence, but to this day, critics still ponder if that first trial was all they had in them, as each album never met their first expectations. Despite this, and a much longer history not recorded in this abridged article, The Strokes found balance in 2020 with the ironically titled “The New Abnormal,” with the centerpiece of the record being “Ode To the Mets.” The track may contain cryptic lyrics but is referential of the shaky career of the NY Mets, who even with their missteps, are just as beloved as The Strokes are regardless.

Leonard Cohen – Chelsea Hotel #2

Though “Chelsea Hotel #2” is about a one-off encounter with Janis Joplin, an NYC icon gone too soon, it is highly intimate and moving as it unravels to reveal something new each listen. Like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen is one of many Canadians who sought sanctuary in New York, and Cohen found the Chelsea Hotel, which many NYC creatives called home. Through Cohen’s lyrics, “Chelsea Hotel #2” exposes the dark underbelly of NYC living that is so often subdued, instead favoring the attractive rock lifestyle. Even the lyrics display this apathetic attitude, like “You fixed yourself ‘Well nevermind/We are ugly but we have the music’” plainly depicts the commonality of heroin use then, but are often overshadowed by the quotable line following.

Gil Scott-Heron – New York is Killing Me

Posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, Gil Scott-Heron is one of the most influential voices in funk and jazz, even credited as pioneering rap music. Most know Scott-Heron for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” or through his many appearances in Kanye West songs by way of sampling. Though praised beyond his time alive, Scott-Heron didn’t have an elegant story, as he spent several years battling addiction and in and out of prison, disappearing from music for nearly two decades. Coming from his final album, “New York is Killing Me” differs from his early work as it is a sparse industrial song, and listeners can hear the grit and age in his voice. The reference to New York here is less than favorable, but it could symbolize Scott-Heron’s addiction instead, and we wouldn’t put it past the poet.

Talking Heads – This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)

You might’ve heard this song in the movie “Wall Street,” on Tik Tok last year or you might be a superfan of Talking Heads. Regardless, there’s no denying that David Byrne and company were a fixture of New York City through the ‘70s and ‘80s. Probably the only love song written by the group, “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” had the band swap instruments to create the looping and whimsical refrain heard throughout the song. So while not explicitly about New York, The Pace Press likes to imagine that every time students return to the city, whether after the holidays or summer break, they take a deep breath in and sigh, “this must be the place.”