Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ Is 1 of Bono’s Favorite Songs — Here’s Why

U2’s Bono isn’t a rapper, however, he cited Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” as one of his favorite songs ever. In a fan letter, he praised Jay-Z and Keys at length and said the song saved his life. Here’s what he had to say — and how the public reacted to “Empire State of Mind.”

Jay-Z in a suit
Jay-Z | Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Bono said Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ saved his life

In Rolling Stone, Bono published a list of his 60 favorite songs or, as he put it, the songs that saved his life. While the list included many classics of the Baby Boomer generation like Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand,” it also included more recent tracks by Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Billie Eilish. No. 23 on the list was “Empire State of Mind.” 

“Dear Alicia & Jay,” Bono wrote. “Now, here we go… the masculine and the feminine… in such perfect opposition. And who would take on [Frank] Sinatra, to write a better theme song for this great city? Only you.” Bono seemed to reference Sinatra’s classic song “New York, New York.” 

“New York, New York”

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Bono discussed why he liked “Empire State of Mind.” “Forget the Empire State Building, the braggadocio, the front, the attitude, the persona required to pull this off is as tall and defiant as the Freedom Tower,” he said. “The people that you, Jay, give permission to exist is the thing… the somebodies and the nobodies, the wannabies and the washed-up-me’s all feel welcome in your language. And then outside of the persona — or is it inside? — such a sweet soul. I guess that’s where the bitter fruit personas have to hang out and circle wagons around the old-school shyness and kindness.”

In addition, Bono praised Keys. “Alicia, I chose this song because it soars and you are that soaring,” he opined. “There are no brighter lights than truth-tellers and people who just carry the luminosity of goodness and grace like you…. Your fan, Bono.”

“Empire State of Mind”

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How the world reacted to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State of Mind’

This raises an interesting question: Did the public embrace “Empire State of Mind” as much as Bono did? The track reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed on the chart for 30 weeks. In addition, its parent album, The Blueprint 3, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the chart for 55 weeks.

Beyond that, “Empire State of Mind” was apparently popular enough to warrant a sequel song: “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down.” The sequel song wasn’t a huge hit, merely reaching No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100. On the other hand, its parent album, The Element of Freedom, was a bigger success, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard 200. In addition, the original “Empire State of Mind” seemed to resonate in pop culture years after its release, as Tove Lo name-dropped it in her single “Not on Drugs.” Bono loved “Empire State of Mind” — and the world seems to have loved it as well.

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