The end of the World Series means not having to hear Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” every time Derek Jeter comes to bat. Jeter loved the song so much, featuring Alicia Keys, that he demanded it be played each time he arrived in the batter’s box. It got so out of control that Jay-Z and Alicia actually performed the song during Game 2 of the World Series.
But just in case you’re interested, “Empire State of Mind” is not an original song. Original concept, yes. And Keys’ vocals make the record. But “Empire” is sampled very fully from the early ’70s hit “Love on a Two Way Street,” recorded by the Moments. That song was written by the late Burt Keyes (no relation to Alicia) and famed hip-hop entrepreneur Sylvia Robinson.
Sylvia, in fact, is famous for many things. She was the Sylvia from Mickey & Sylvia’s hit, “Love Is Strange.” On her own, she has a monster classic circa 1973-74 with “Pillow Talk.”
More importantly, in the late ’70s she co-founded Sugar Hill Records, which issued hip-hop/rap’s seminal Sugarhill Gang.
In “Empire,” you can clearly hear the piano parts and the melody of “Love on a Two Way Street.” It’s all there, just the way Jay-Z sampled in whole the Chi Lites’ “Are You My Woman?” for Beyonce’s hit, “Crazy in Love.” That sample made a fortune for the late Eugene Record, leader of the Chi Lites. He wrote the song.
In the same way, it’s hoped that Burt Keyes’ heirs, Sylvia Robinson and whoever played the instruments on the original Moments record is reaping the rewards of “Empire State of Mind.” If they’re not, they should go find themselves good lawyers. “Empire” is a gold mine.
The Moments later changed their name to Ray, Goodman & Brown — the three actual singers in the group — and had a huge hit with “(You Must Be a) Special Lady” in 1980. Another hit, one that I always loved, was called “Take It to the Limit” (1986).
Ray, Goodman, & Brown are not unknown to Alicia Keys. They performed with her on “Sessions at AOL” a few years ago.
Sampling is commonplace in this generation, although it’s still strange to us old curmudgeons. It’s not like “covering” an old record, where the original writer got credit. “Sampling” should be called “hiding” — on hip-hop CDs it’s known as “interpolating,” which is just hilarious. Even talented songwriters, like Alicia, have done it. Her great record, “You Don’t Know My Name” is largely borrowed from the Main Ingredient’s “Let Me Prove My Love to You.”
P.S. Here’s a record in a similar vein to the Moments’ hit — Bloodstone’s “Natural High.” Quentin Tarantino also featured it in “Jackie Brown.”