Friday, August 20, 2010

The allusive and elusive Jay-Z

by Lauren

As you may recall, I’m a bit of a poetry fan. Truth be told, though, I enjoy breaking apart its rhythms and allusions much more than I ever have any sentiment it’s meant to convey. I like the challenge of memorization and figuring out the appropriate intonation, as well as the more scientific analysis of form, which is both nerdy and perhaps a real violation of the spirit in which many poets endeavor. I myself am a fan of the just slightly too clever type of poet—Paul Muldoon and the like—instead of poetry in which form doesn’t play a strong role. I have a vague recollection of once reading a poem about poetry that was so clever, it actually demonstrated each term as it discussed it, and while I instantly fell in love I can’t for the life of me recall what it is.  Does anyone know what I’m thinking of? It’d certainly be some canonical thing from an English class.

I was reminded of this type of analysis while reading a Guardian article on Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” a song I quite like, not least because it sort of sounds like nonsense if don’t understand the allusions. I certainly don’t get much of it on my own, which is why I lost a bit of time down the rabbit hole of this blog entry and subsequent comments on The Awl a while back. The analyses of various parts of the song and the allusions that may or may not be contained therein—as well as this very detailed explanation of the entire song linked to in the comments—are really kind of mind blowing. If you like the song, are confused by it, or just love when people put words together in an interesting way, do check it out! And if the bad grammar of the chorus bothers you as much as it does me, you’re going to love this solution.

P.S. I really need to teach my nephew to do this once he learns some more words, because I’m thoroughly impressed with the way this kid captures the nuance and rhythm required for this poem to make sense. (Thanks, Michael, for sharing the link!)


  1. I just spent way too much time perusing the comments on The Awl, but they made my inner linguist happy. Prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar debate, just not labeled with those terms! Thanks for the links.

  2. I love that song and used it in a blog post about inspiration. Thanks for the in depth analysis via the links!


  3. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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