Category Archives: New York City

Jay-Z and Elvis

“The first time I heard our voices playing back on tape, I realized that a recording captures you, but plays back a distortion-a different voice from the one you hear in your own head even though I could recognize myself instantly. I saw it as an opening, a way to re-create myself and reimagine my world. After I recorded a rhyme it gave me an unbelievable rush to play it back, to hear that voice.” (5)


After reading this I could see how Elvis must receive the same kind of rush when he is doing his impersonations. For Elvis to do his impersonations he has to change his appearance, but if he were to still look in the mirror he would still recognize himself. The same way that Jay-z can recognize his own voice but knows that something is different. Jay-z gets a rush from trying to re-create himself and Elvis gets a rush from trying to recreate someone else. I think that for Elvis the only person he saw that could dance with the same passion that he had was Elvis. He didn’t have a buddy to practice moves with or to challenge his craft. He was always discouraged to dance, because he needed to find a real job. I wonder if Elvis was videotaped doing his routine if he would feel the same way> I wonder if he would be inspired to re-create himself or if he would feel discouraged and see what everyone else sees when he dances.

Music and Modernity

In Jay-Z’s Decoded, he talks about how rap is an art form through which one can truly express oneself. Rap, he says, “is built to handle contradictions”(239). In his eyes, hip-hop and rap have “created a space where all kinds of music could meet, without contradiction”(240). Throughout our readings this year, we have seen people from all walks of life come together in the cities of the world. At times, there have been conflicts, but in the end, people show us who they really are. To me, that is what being in a city is, and it is also why I love music so much. Having been around music and theatre for my entire life, what is most heartening to see is not a great piece of music being performed, but seeing the heart and soul of the person doing the performance come alive on stage. By reading Jay-Z’s thoughts, I have a whole new appreciation for him and what he does, even though I am not generally a fan of hip-hop and rap. Like myself, he believes that music is life, nothing more and nothing less, and that the best music (or poetry) is made when whoever is creating it is being completely open and honest with themselves.

This same ideal is present whenever I think of the livelihood of the city. It has its complexities and values, an identity as a whole, but that identity is only formed from the people who inhabit it. Every individual in a city has their own identity, and in some contexts, that part of themselves has to be hidden away. But when push comes to shove, everyone’s true self comes out.  Maybe it’s the person who has the courage to wear his Derek Jeter shirt to Fenway Park. Or a slam poet, soapboxing to whoever will listen. Perhaps you are just like me, who if you see walking down the street, chances are I am not talking on the phone into my earbuds, but instead singing along to the music in my ear, enjoying the sights and sounds like I am on the stage at Carnegie Hall, singing my heart out. Jay-Z’s thoughts are compelling because they are universal. Music has often been described as a unifying force, and so too is living in a city. Both ideas have places for the individual to shine while being a part of something greater.