Playlist: Songs About Gentrification

By Judy Goh, originally published on Jump Into Limbo


Gentrification is a process of change in an urban locality. A sudden surge in popularity with younger, wealthier folks who move in and displace long-standing residents initiates a rapid transformation of the urban streetscape, property values and standard of living. Those who survive being edged out economically, have to deal with an invasion of popular culture. Yes, we’re talking about young, DINKY hipsters here.

Of course, not all gentrification is bad. It can revitalise a town with jobs (cue economically active working adults), bring in investors to rebuild the economy (public works! education! healthcare!). We’ve curated three songs that have taken inspiration from gentrification’s effects on the character, image and make-up of a town – all by independent artists whose music we’d like to highlight at the same time.

Brooklyn Girls // Catey Shaw 

Having gone instantly viral, Catey Shaw’s Brooklyn Girls is one of the most hated videos right now – simply because it seems to have appropriated Brooklyn as a borough in New York City and turned it into a hipster definition of cool, complete with Instagram-worthy graffitied backdrops, snapback-crop top-combat boot-wearing 11206 “residents”., among others, have slammed the music video for impersonating a town with tired cliches and stereotypes popularised by hipster culture, while Time.comhas come to Catey’s defense, saying that it has to do with glorifying a place for what it represents rather than what it is. That’s no different than Alicia Keys/Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind being about Manhattan and Katy Perry’s California Gurls about the golden state, or is it?

Ain’t Nothing The Same // Draze 

Used to own our homes, now we’re all renters / Got folks moving south like birds for the winter / They asked momma to sell her home, she said no / But then we had to shake when them when property taxes rose 

Independent hip-hop artist Draze talks about his hometown Seattle and his struggles with building a legacy there due to gentrification. His lyrics bleed the pain of a story that doesn’t have a happy ending: race and economic battles. In contrast to Catey’s music video, he’s featured real people who have played pivotal roles in building and contributing to the Central district and southend communities. It’s raw, it’s gritty and it’s the truth – the hood ain’t the same.

Kill A Hipster // Watsky 

Rent’s up (That shit’s no good) / Starbucks where the skate rink stood / It’s a fixture (it does no good) / (I know) kill a hipster (Save your hood!)

We delve into ironic territory here with indie hip-hop spoken word poet Watsky’s Kill A Hipster from his Cardboard Castles album. Why ironic? The video gets to that – it’s infectious, and Watsky could himself be considered one of them hipsters.

The lyrics say it all, about a city getting overrun with zombies aka young creative class-types that invade the culturally defined space that once catered to local communities who have put a stake down in the area. Gentrification is a phenomenon that is so widespread in American cities that places like Atlanta, Minneapolis and New Orleans are becoming unrecognisable as “Do-gooder types, commuters on bikes
Brooding 20-somethings with the coolest of ‘likes’” take over, supporting upscale places that sell whole foods like farm fresh bacon with their spending power. Watsky is a powerhouse when it comes to spitting verses packed chock full of references, and this one probably hits home for aspiring hipster zombies.

What do you think of this playlist? Can you relate to gentrification where you live? Got any other songs or music videos about this topic?

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