... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

399: ..and now the latest news live from Newport

I know this is old news, and we bloggers are supposed to be cutting edge reporting on the scene of riots and revolutions, but instead I'm going to talk about a YouTube video that is over a year old. I want to talk about the timeless magnificence that is Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind). Here it is (don't read me, just watch it):

It's a parody of the not nearly (but almost) as wonderful Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. If you don't know it skip to the end of this post to watch it. They are both glorious lyrical, visual and musical invocations of a particular time and place. Jay-Z raps with his trademark conversational swagger, referencing musical and architectural landmarks of New York, as he attempts to invoke the magic that is New York City. A city envied the world over for its culture and heritage, a real honest-to-goodness fairy tale land. Like most of his verses however he soon descends into arrogant boasts about his own wealth, power and importance (on Kanye West's magnificent Diamonds (From Sierra Leone) he follows Kanye's verse, about the shame and guilt of blood diamonds, with an horrendous inappropriate and un-ironic verse about his own wealth). Empire..., a song which could have been about the entirely universal desire to succeed – to reach out and touch the greener grass – is almost pulled down by Jay-Z's crass self-obsession.

The reason why Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind) is so superior is it manages to turn the small and trivial into the glorious and grand (kind of the opposite of what Jay-Z managed). Descriptions of Newport's shopping centre, its night life and tongue-in-cheek boasts about its minor celebrities invoke love and pride in one's own insignificant corner of the world. I have never been to Newport, but Newport immediately gets me thinking about all the little cities and towns that have played a part in my life: Morecambe, Lancaster, Heysham, Sale, Seascale, even Manchester. Newport succeeds in the same fashion as many classic works of literature: the everyday and the mundane is elevated to the level of epic.

Alicia Keys' chorus and final verse achieve spectacularly where Jay-Z's two verses fail. She invokes the desire any right-thinking human has to visit New York, and the righteous pride any New York deserves to feel. I'm being too hard on Jay-Z; he only occasionally undermines his point (but you'd think a professional would be able to iron out such imperfections). The second verse references Afrika Bambaataa, home of the hip hop ; love it – that's one of the many wonderful things that comes to mind when I think of New York. (Course Jay-Z has to have a stab at ruining it; what he actually raps is Afrika Bambaataa shit, home of the hip hop – I just don't get it.)

Point is Empire/Ymerodraeth is a brilliant hip hop song combining rapping and beats (obviously) with two of the rarest finds in hip hop music: a decent chorus, and a singer who know what a tune is. Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind) is far superior because it better achieves artistically what it sets out to do, and creates a much more universal experience. Of course you'll disagree if you happen to live in New York, or perhaps any other massive city (you know, like London and that).

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