According to the rapper, he was “two seconds” away from phoning into Blige.
His most important decision was calling Alicia Keys next. Her brassy, soaring chorus is the song’s heartbeat — without it, it’s hard to imagine “Empire State” as more than a nice local hit. And it almost was. Jay-Z, now 40 years old, admits he was “two seconds away” from calling Mary J. Blige, his reliable longtime collaborator, to supply the chorus, a move that would have been safe and true to his heritage. But something about the piano sound and melody (and maybe the commerciality) struck him, and so it was. (Miami New Times)
The song’s co-writer, Angela Hunte, recently spoke on track’s success.
“I come from the same building where he lived, and we knew each other from BK, but we never worked together. Not in a million years did I think I’d make this hit for him,” says Hunte, who actually grew up at “560 State Street,” the street address Jay-Z mentions on the track. “I still have no words even for the World Series performance. You get your hopes up with artists but then things happen and the record doesn’t make it for whatever reason. But Jay loved the song, it made the album and it sounds crazy…[Alicia Keys] made the song sound so close to the original,” says Hunte. “She just nailed it and brought it home. It was a great choice…The original is so powerful it’s only a matter of time till you hear it down the line.” (Billboard)
“Empire” landed on the Billboard Hot 100 late last year.
Jay-Z will earn his fourth Hot 100 No. 1, but his first as a lead or co-billed performer, as his collaboration with Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind,” will top the chart to be released tomorrow. “Empire” takes Hot 100 Airplay Gainer honors as it rises 6-1 on the Radio Songs chart (up 15 million listener impressions to 109.5 million), the largest climb to No. 1 on that chart since Kanye West’s “Stronger” jumped 7-1 on the chart dated Oct. 6, 2007. (Hot 100 Charts)
Poking fun at the song’s popularity, rapper Game recently talked about the airplay it received in the West.
“How come Power 106 plays ‘Empire State Of Mind’ more than New York ?,” Game asked via Twitter. “If I hear it 1 more time b4 I get home, I’m startin a full fledge protest (picket signs) & Im gettin dem women dat R against abortion 2 help They go HARD !!! & when I was in NEW YORK, aint hear “Empire State Of Mind” once… they only played ATL sh!t……… #whatsgoinon ?” (Game’s Twitter)
Check out behind-the-scenes footage of “Empire” down below: