polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Oakland State of Mind

by Natalia Echeverri

"Empire State of Mind," by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, has inspired many artists around the U.S. to create lyrics for their own cities. You can find on YouTube versions about L.A., Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, and many more. Production values vary from professional to amateurish, but most reflect proudly on their cities and describe an artist's rise to fame within a shared urban setting.

Oakland, California's version "Oakland State of Mind" tells a different story. It is not by a famous hip hop artist but rather an eclectic mix of teenagers: the Youth ROOTS (Youth Reaching deep to Overcome Oppression by planting Transformative Seeds of change in the community), a high school leadership organization in Oakland. Their vision "is that youth earn their rightful place in society by rooting themselves in their community as prominent leaders, culture producers, and change agents." This is reflected in their song and video which show how youth relate to Oakland, a city with a reputation for drugs and violence. Although very proud of their city, their message is not about seeking fame and fortune (Jay-Z's ". . . now I live on Billboard") but about how the young people of Oakland can improve the city through activism and creative expression. Although we all love HOVA's version, this Oakland song is more inspiring. (To be fair, see Alex's post Empire State of Mind for a much more nuanced interpretation of Jay-Z's song.)

Second verse:

We in Oakland streets born in fear
They say people always fucked up
And niggas going nowhere
News report says every night it’s pop, pop, pop
Little kids dreams down, shot shot shot
Yeah we in the Town
Tryna make a change tho’
Always let my rhymes loose
Go an let my brain flow
Never ever silent
Always outspoken
Guess where I’m from
Yeah that’s right


So much oppression can blind you
We want to remind you
City of Oakland!
Love, strength, and spirit that shines through
The youth will inspire you
Let’s hear it for Oakland, Oakland, Oakland

Credits: Video of Oakland State of Mind from Oaklandleaf.org. Lyrics from Oaklandseen.com.