We New Jersey natives tend to have a bit of a chip on our shoulders. Growing up in the shadow of New York City, we feel like New Yorkers have a superiority complex and are constantly looking down upon us.
We proudly represent a state that many like to call “The Armpit of America” in a derogatory manner. And, thanks to a certain reality TV show from MTV, everyone in the country looks at New Jerseyans as fist-pumping, gelled-up loudmouths with Burnett’s vodka pulsing through their veins.
While we members of the “Turnpike trash” clan take all of this hatred in stride, my experience of growing up in New Jersey was far more multidimensional than what New Jersey stereotypes might imply.
In my personal experience, New Jersey is a rich tapestry of mixed cultures. With the location of Ellis Island and our close proximity to New York City, New Jersey natives are gifted the opportunity to be exposed to all different kinds of people, different kinds of foods, and different ways of living.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, New Jersey does have its own culture. Our glorious state has also contributed heavily to the world of music. In fact, Francis Hopkinson and James Lyon were some of the first-ever composers in the United States back in the 1700s, and both of them hailed from the Dirty Jerz.
Since those days of classical composition, New Jersey has continued to produce quality musicians that have grown to the levels of international fame. From rock to jazz to hip-hop, indeed, some of the finest musicians to ever walk the earth have come from the Garden State. In this article, I’m going to go through a few that I believe are the best musicians to ever hail from New Jersey.
When people think of New Jersey musicians, the first name that comes to mind is typically Bruce Springsteen. Getting his beginnings in the iconic venue The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, Springsteen is now known all throughout the world.
However, nowhere is he as loved as in his home state. When Springsteen plays a show in the Prudential Center or any other New Jersey venue, you’d better believe that it’s going to sell out.
The amount of intimate New Jersey references throughout Springsteen’s music is definitely part of the reason why Garden State locals are so infatuated with him. If you’re from our state and you take an hour or so to listen to a Springsteen album, you’ll undoubtedly hear a line referring to one or two geographic locations that you’ve had a memorable experience at. You can still enjoy Springsteen if you’re not from New Jersey, but it’s definitely not the same.
Songs to Bump:
- Born to Run
- Thunder Road
- The River
Many people associate Frank Sinatra with New York City, which is very understandable considering one of his most famous songs is “New York, New York” and his career took off after he signed a major contract with the Paramount Theatre in New York. However, the world-famous jazz singer was actually born in Hoboken, New Jersey to a pair of Italian immigrant parents.
Sinatra would eventually leave his New Jersey roots and perform all over the United States. However, he made his way back to Jersey by the time his daughter Nancy was born. Born in Jersey City, not far from her father’s birthplace of Hoboken, Nancy would go on to become an extremely successful musician in her own right. It seems that music just runs through the Sinatra bloodline.
Songs to Bump:
- Fly Me to the Moon
- That’s Life
- My Way
- When You’re Smiling
When people talk about the best singers of all time, they always talk about Whitney Houston. With over 200 million records sold worldwide, Whitney is one of the top-selling artists of all time.
Most people have heard her name, but many people aren’t aware that the legendary soul singer was born in Newark, New Jersey. She attended Mount Saint Dominic Academy in Caldwell, New Jersey, and graduated in 1981.
Unfortunately, Houston’s career was ended prematurely after her devastating death. Afterward, an invitation-only memorial service was held for the beloved singer at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey and she was buried in the nearby town of Westfield, New Jersey. Although her career ended in an extremely sad way, this New Jersey native will forever be remembered as one of the greatest musicians of all time.
Songs to Bump:
- I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
- I Will Always Love You
- How Will I Know
- I’m Every Woman
There have been quite a few mainstream musicians to come out of the state of New Jersey, but the Garden State is also home to a band that has one of the largest underground cult followings ever: Misfits.
The band was formed in 1977 in Lodi, New Jersey and was soon propelled to fame for their over-the-top antics and lyrics. The band is known for pioneering the horror punk genre, a mix of punk rock and heavy metal that incorporates some truly terrifying lyrics and guitar riffs.
The band’s original members were singer Glenn Danzig and drummer Manny Martinez, who decided to name the group after Marilyn Monroe’s final film The Misfits. On top of their unique and horrifying musical style, the band gained recognition for sporting outrageous hairstyles and often wearing facepaint.
Since then, Misfits has become a symbol for underground punk rock all across the world. Sure, their music isn’t for everyone, but those who do enjoy sadistic lyrics and unrefined rhythms have an undying devotion to the band.
Songs to Bump:
- Last Caress
- Hybrid Moments
- London Dungeon
- Astro Zombies
Most people rightly think of New York City as the birthplace of hip-hop. However, with New Jersey’s close proximity to the Big Apple, the Dirty Jerz has produced quite a few notable hip-hop acts as well.
One of the greatest hip-hop groups to come out of the Garden State has to be Fugees. The trio of Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras Michael quickly gained wide recognition for their provocative political messages and for incorporating melodies not typically heard in mainstream hip-hop into their songs.
The group focused heavily on reclaiming a sense of pride for Haitian immigrants in the United States and brought the immigrant experience into the national spotlight through their music.
Fugees influence on hip-hop is undeniable. Lauryn Hill deserves to be counted as one of the most versatile hip-hop artists of all time, capable of delivering raw and lyrical verses and then transitioning into soulful melodies. Wyclef Jean would also develop into an extremely successful solo artist in his own right.
However, Pras, Wyclef, and Lauryn (who all hail from Essex County, New Jersey) all got their start when they formed Fugees in the early 1990s. Years later, the group would come to be called “the hip-hop Beatles” by certain prominent members of the music industry.
Songs to Bump:
- Ready or Not
- Nappy Heads