Song of the day: Alicia Keys – Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down

// 11 September 2012

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Alicia Keys.JPG

It might not be quite as famous as its parent song, the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys collaboration ‘Empire State Of Mind’, but this understated and cinematic answer record is rapidly catching up in terms of recognition and may one day overtake the original.

Part One was written by two songwriters from Brooklyn, Angela Hunt and Jane’t ‘jnay’ Sewell-Ulepic, while both were staying in London and feeling very homesick in February 2009. The sentiment of the original song then is that of straightforward eulogy to the city of New York, heightened in both power and sentiment by Keys’ rendering of the hook. Although hugely successful, it wasn’t to everyone’s taste. The Guardian‘s Stuart Jeffries called it an “insufferably bombastic expression of civic pride”, and the song has been parodied on a number of occasions, most famously in ‘Newport State Of Mind’, which was so successful EMI contacted YouTube with a copyright claim, also ‘Northeastern State Of Mind’, which appears to be a recruitment drive for a US University.

Following the huge success of ‘Empire State of Mind’ in late 2009, Keys announced that she was working on an answer record to the track, and within a month of the original appearing, Key’s version was out.

‘Empire State Of Mind part II Broken Down’ was never intended to be a single in its own right, instead it appeared on Keys’ fourth album The Element of Freedom But as the Wikipedia page dedicated to ‘Empire State of Mind part II Broken Down’ relates, the song was being downloaded in such huge amounts that in the end Keys’ record company released the song as a single officially, albeit seemingly only in the UK.

A heartfelt ode to the city, this time from Keys’ personal perspective, the drive to succeed and the mention of Broadway echoes Keys background and her education at New York’s Professional Performing Arts School as well as echoing the sentiments of one of the many films filmed in the city, Alan Parker’s Fame but Keys song is subtler in tone than its parent, and even Stuart Jeffries would surely agree that this soul meets Broadway musical atmospheric soundscape is less bombastic than ‘Empire State Of Mind’. That said, Keys’ version has also inspired at least one parody: the understated and considerably more downbeat ‘Burnage State Of Mind’.

Keys was already an industry veteran by the time she collaborated with Jay-Z, her debut album Songs in A minor was released in 2001 when she was 20 and was very well received. It generated the hit single ‘Fallin’, a mesmerising swirl of gospel and R&B which remains undimmed by time and is generally regarded as Keys’ signature song.

As Caroline Sullivan wrote in the Guardian following the success of both versions of ‘Empire…’, Keys has now been elevated “to a level of stardom where it will no longer do to merely traipse on stage and sing” but she is a classically trained composer, not usually given to dance workouts and skimpy outfits, and as Sullivan found in 2010, music was still winning over showbusiness.

Image is of Alicia Keys performing in Central Park in New York on 25/6/10. Image is by asterix611 and is included thanks to a flickr creative commons licence

Video commentary: Video is of Alicia Keys performing the song as part of an AOL music session. She is positioned at the centre of the stage, playing piano. Around her are three backing singers, and a full band.

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