Amidst love, heartbreak, dreams, and desire, New York City have served as the inspiration for musicians to translate its wonder and mystery into music and lyrics.
Here are some of our favorite songs that name-drop the city that never sleeps.
*Cue the stereotypical movie montage of a protagonist who moves to New York to make their dreams come true*
Canal St. - A$AP Rocky
Stand out Lyric: Hit Canal Street, real as a gold medallion, Smokin' blunts in front of public housing, Wildin' 'til they throw me in 'em cuffs
Before he was an international rap sensation and fashion icon, Harlem native A$AP Rocky made his way by running drugs through the Lower Manhattan crosstown street for which this song is named after. In this homage to his past and specifically his involvement in the NYC drug scene, Rocky alludes to the gritty business of drug running and those who underestimated his abilities. He later correlates this to his rap career, in which his hard work has since allowed him to afford a luxurious lifestyle— one filled with designer goods and international fame. In this way, Rocky embodies a true New Yorker’s spirit, persevering through adversity and hustling in order to achieve his dreams.
No Sleep Till Brooklyn - Beastie Boys
Stand out Lyric: While you're at the job working nine to five, The Beastie Boys at the Garden, Cold kickin' it live.
This ballad from the rap-rock trio hailing from New York City exudes the stereotypical glamour and merriment associated with being a rock star. Members Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock, tell what life is like being famous musicians and touring around the country. Though their popularity grows and their level of fame rises, they remain true to one mission— rocking and partying wherever the music takes them. Everso true to their roots, they still consider Brooklyn home and allude to their intent to return in this hit single.
Empire State of Mind - Jay Z, Alicia Keys
Stand out Lyric: I'm the new Sinatra, and, since I made it here, I can make it anywhere, yea, they love me everywhere
Jay Z captures a multitude of New York’s wonders in his anthem dedicated to the big city. A Brooklyn native himself, Mr. Carter name drops everything from notable neighborhoods to famous residents and even the New York Yankees baseball association, of which he is a long-time supporter. In fact, Jay Z has been seen sporting a fitted baseball cap with the interlocking NY insignia since the start of his career and even performed this hit song prior to the start of Game 2 during the 2009 MLB World Series. The track would also go on to win two Grammy awards that year as well as becoming certified platinum five times over.
Welcome to New York- Taylor Swift
Stand out Lyric: Everybody here was someone else before, And you can want who you want, Boys and boys and girls and girls
Picture a peppy twenty-something fresh out of college walking down midtown with this blasting in their AirPods. Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York embodies all the feelings new-to New Yorkers might have when they take their first steps on the concrete sidewalks. While Swift’s upbeat pop tune might paint the city in a much more romanticized way, it does a good job picking up on all the aspects of the city that captivate and entice outsiders to move to New York, including the bright lights and promise of something greater than they’ve ever known.
N.Y. State of Mind- Nas
Stand out Lyric: I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death, I lay puzzled as I backtrack to earlier times, Nothin's equivalent to the New York state of mind
Nas presents the dangers of the New York he grew up in with this hit single off his 1994 debut album Illmatic. Depicting drugs, gang violence, and the volatile nature associated with the latter, the Crown Heights rapper illustrates the perpetual violence that plagues his neighborhood and its influence on the impressionable youth. Nas notably criticizes the generation of young men who use violence to stroke their egos as well as momentarily fantasizes about becoming a gangster and living a luxurious lifestyle. In one of the most notable verses, Nas asserts he “never sleep[s], ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death,” a fitting tribute to the city that never sleeps.
L.E.S.- Childish Gambino
Stand out Lyric: A New York nine's an everywhere else six, Time wise, the opposite goes for chicks
In this five minute ballad, off his 2011 album, Camp, Gambino describes his infatuation and attempt to woo a stereotypical hipster art school girl. Riddled with references to the Lower East Side and plenty of parody that pokes fun at hipsters, the song speaks to the resentment many now associate with enjoying “mainstream” popular culture in the belief that it’s cool to prefer obscure, “underground” culture. Though he ultimately asserts that hipsters, while sometimes irritating, have feelings and should, therefore, be treated with mutual respect, Childish Gambino finds his relationship with his own girlfriend ultimately deteriorating. Among his clever anecdotes and innuendos, he also name drops popular LES bar Pianos, as well as shouting out fellow comedian Hannibal Buress who he quotes “drinkin’ a handle of Jameson.”
New York State of Mind- Billy Joel
Stand out Lyric: It comes down to reality and it's fine with me cause I've let it slide, I don't care if it's Chinatown or on Riverside, I don't have any reasons, I left them all behind, I'm in a New York state of mind
Governor Cuomo recently proclaimed that July 18th would henceforth be known as Billy Joel Day, surely a dream-come-true for the Piano Man, who included this tribute song on his album Turnstiles in 1976. In this soulful melody, Joel professes his love for New York City and laments on ever deciding to leave. Throughout the song, he proclaims no other city holds a candle to the big apple and projects the image of him riding a Greyhound bus on the Hudson River line—something he actually did that inspired the song. Another shocker, New York State of Mind wasn’t an initial hit and was never released as a single, only becoming popular among fans in later years.
New York, New York- Frank Sinatra
Stand out Lyric: If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere, It's up to you, New York, New York
This quintessential tune about making it in the big city from ‘Ol Blue Eyes is still as relevant today as it was first released in 1977. Sinatra’s silky voice paired with a jazzy trumpet melody evokes a feeling of triumph and victory, as the singer asserts that making it in New York means that you’ve made it everywhere else. There’s a reason that this song is used time and time again in a slew of television shows and movies, it truly says it all.
Whether you want to crank up the radio or your iPhone, listen to these beats as you imagine yourself dramatically walking through the streets of this lit city (it's literally lit).