27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2011
I happened to catch an episode of Oprah a few weeks ago when she was in Australia and Jay-Z was a guest on her show. They talked about his book, Decoded, and how it changed the way she thought about Jay-Z and rap in general. A Jay-Z fan, I was intrigued and purchased Decoded for my Kindle.
Decoded was the perfect title and conveys multiple meanings. Jay-Z has the lyrics to many of his songs "decoded". The lyrics are seen in corresponding chapters with an extensive footnote section where he explains why he wrote some of the more cryptic lines. But more than just decoding his song lyrics, Jay-Z decoded many more issues for me: his early life, the drug culture, his business dealings, his philosophies on the music biz, politics, and why rap is so misunderstood by so many.
I came away from this book with a new appreciation for Jay-Z...his frankness and lack of apologies for his thug past, the affect of his father's abandonment, the intricacies of his lyrics, his business-savvy attitude and his apparent understanding of the world around him. But perhaps the biggest thing I came away with is a respect for Jay-Z the man. He's intelligent, articulate, and talented as well as paranoid (self described) and private. Rather than writing raps, he would speak them and transcribe them. In 6th grade, he was reading at a 12th grade level. He has a photographic memory. And whether it was by dealing drugs or having a rap career, Jay-Z strove to be the best at his game.
For people expecting a tell-all memoir, you will be disappointed in the book. Beyonce's name doesn't even appear. There are also many, many pages of song lyrics throughout the book that probably appeal to the most diehard fans but I skipped a lot of them. Decoded is a great read, and a book I expect will expand some people's minds (at least a little).
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2011
I approached Decoded from a "businessman's" perspective to get insight on how and why Jay does what he does. Like his rhymes, his writing takes a moment to digest, and re-read (often over and over again) as I believe he operates strategically to the "tee." I say this that because during his developmental years (from his early teens into his mid to late 20's) he spent his life in an environment where first level thinking would get you killed, or in jail. Someone of Jay's caliber has to think and process multiple levels down as he took on a leadership role even during his time working in capacities that weren't productive to American society. Instead of staying in Brooklyn to sell drugs, he chose to take a pioneers route and explore new territory (which is the fastest way to get killed, or arrested - Jay reflects on this within his writing as well). Thinking about that perspective, you will see how and why he was successful, and many times within the book if you actually take time to read (I'm not saying that you didn't take the time to read, I'm just rambling a bit here) what he's writing, he even repeatedly notes it himself. Someone who chooses to title his book "Decoded" is not an average thinker, nor will a reader totally digest all he has to say in one reading. In a way, I believe Jay wants you to dig deeper into what he's always saying whether written or "spoken" word. Think about it....
He sold drugs, yes, but, from what I took from his writing was that he was always looking at a larger goal. He fully embraced rapping from age 9, so I'm sure he always had a goal of transitioning and using his "past" life to fuel his future. He personified his "hustler" status from day one, and from his many successes and failures (there are more than any would like to think) but it was Jay being real with Jay. Why no one knows much about his personal life? My opinion is that as anyone who is extremely successful, they keep their circles tight which likely keeps them successful. If you pick up any "how to be successful in business, or life" book, they all speak about having "think tanks" (think generalities with this term), thus meaning they keep their circles small.
All said, I am enjoying the book, and Jay offers many, many "gems" which show why and how he is where he is today. Additionally, if anyone is foolish to think this will be Jay's only book, I'll place all bets and say that within 5 years he will write a "business" book for all to gobble up, and likely delve deeper into his thinking during his drug dealing years, and how it ties into his latter thinking, and even influences his decisions today.
Jay - Z's book will force you to look at him how he views himself, as a hustler, artist, business, business-man, and HUMAN. He manages to weave personal trials and tribulations and turn them into meaninful songs which people from all backgrounds can relate to. His world is not exclusive, and if you've read any other books on "How to Be Successful" you will see how Jay, from a young age, even to this day fully embodies these characteristics which ensure continued success. I went on to purchase "The Seat of the Soul" by Gary Zukav. I know, the two don't seem to pair well together unless you've read "Decoded" yourself. So, happy reading with some great tributes, fantastic images, and a compelling story.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2011
Although, I am a Jay-Z fan, I firmly believe that this book, much like the man's music, rings with universal truth in every word that anyone around the world can relate to on many different levels. It can mean a million different things to a million different readers. Doesn't matter whether you are a fan of hip hop or not, you will appreciate his child-like sense of wonder that he approaches his life with. Whether you appreciate his music already or not, you won't be able to see him in the same light. This is a book about life, spirituality, self-discovery, music, poetry, business, craftsmanship, and society.
This well crafted auto-biography in many ways runs parallel to his music in the aspect that it is inspired stream of conscious, contains vivid imagery, and layered metaphors. He speaks about his life, his upbringing, his struggles, his paradigm-shifts, and his music but also dissects dozens of his songs. In this book Jay Z picks his own brain by analyzing his music. Below are excerpts from the book on some of the topics he touched on. I left out the parts where he really goes in and dissects his lyrical content so you can pick up the book and enjoy the journey yourself.
"I love metaphors, and for me hustling is the ultimate metaphor for the basic human struggles: the struggle to survive and resist, the struggle to win and make sense of it all."
"When you step out of school and have to teach yourself about life, you develop a different relationship to information."
"I don't spend a lot of time on records talking about spiritual ideas in an explicit way, although I think a lot of my music sneaks in those big questions-of good and evil, fate and destiny, suffering and inequality...at the heart of a lot these competing ideas of the afterlife and heaven and hell and thug angels and all that is the idea that if the universe is just, things have to even out eventually, somehow. And sometimes that's a scary thought."
"Competition pushes you to become your best self, and in the end it tells you where you stand. Jordan said the same thing about Larry Bird and Magic"
"I've discovered that there really is such thing as win-win situation. And sometimes, I'm only competing with myself, to be a better artists and businessman. To be a better person with a broader vision"
"The flow isn't like time, its like life. Its like a heartbeat or the way you breath, it can jump, speed up, slow down, stop, or pound right through like a machine. If the beat is time, flow is what we do with that time, how we live through it. The beat is everywhere, but every life has to find its own flow."
"Knowing how to complicate a simple song without losing its basic appeal is one of the keys to good songwriting"
"This is another place where the art of rap and the art of the hustler meet. Poets and hustlers play with language, because for them simple clarity can mean failure. They bend language, improvise, and invent new ways of speaking truth."
"A poet's mission is to make the words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level. For instance, a poet makes words work sonically-as sounds, as music....the point of those bar is to bang out a rhythmic idea, not to impress you with the literal meaning of the words"
"He knew that great product was the ultimate advantage in competition, not how big your office building is or how deep your pockets are or who you know. In the end it came down to having a great product and the hustle to move it, which is something I learned working the block"
"But in business, like they say, you don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. So I mind my business and I don't apologize for it.
"The thing that distinguishes Jordan wasn't just his talent, but his discipline, his laser-like commitment to excellence. That's something I always respect, especially in people who have great natural talents already."
"when we take the most familiar subject in the history of rap-why I'm dope'-and frame it within the sixteen-bar structure of a rap verse, synced to the specific rhythm and feel of the track, more than anything it's a test of creativity and wit"
"To tell the story of the kid with the gun without telling the story of why he has it is to tell a kind of lie"
"Its like listening to Maya Angelou and ignoring everything until you heard her drop a line about drinking or sleeping with someone's husband and dismissing her as an alcoholic adulterer"
In summation this book should come with a warning label because anyone who picks this book up with an open mind is sure to put it down a different person. You'll also never be able to listen to his music the way you used to as well. This book is an auto biography, a book of poetry, bible, a text book, a reference manual, a blueprint, but most importantly.... A roadmap on becoming `Dope'. And no one like Mr. Carter can say "I'm dope" with as much poetic eloquence.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2013
Decoded is an interesting piece of writing in which Jay-Z performs his version of American Blackness in writing as opposed to speaking. He has achieved cultural iconic status in many areas of our consumer economy but at the end of the day, sans entourage, would Sean Carter be able to hail a cab on the street without assumptions being made about his color? This question harkens back to DuBois' omnipresent concept of "double consciousness" wherein the lived experiences of Black Americans are continually qualified inextricably by color. There are several questions relative to double consciousness that swirl around this book like, what can we learn from how Jay-Z has crafted his performances of identity and how does his Blackness, maleness and Americanness figure into the mix? And, is his attempt to illustrate how double consciousness has informed his journey effective?
To further deconstruct how American and Blackness are used in this work, it is valuable to consider Jay-Z's self-stated goals for writing the book, "The first thing was to make the case that hip-hop lyrics--not just my lyrics, but those of every great MC--are poetry" (235). Jay-Z appears to consider himself one of the great MCs, and this is evident by the foundational MCs that he weaves into the book as influences and by comparison. By juxtaposing his personal experiences as a black kid from the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn through his transformation as a hustler to a music industry power broker to an economic mega star against his song lyrics, Jay-Z lays his product out for public consumption. The book's art compliments the content like a cartographer who exposes distant locales on a well created map, and so if the goal for Jay-Z was to show that Hip Hop lyrics a true African American genre are poetry to the mass media music consuming public (i.e. white males from the ages of 12-30) he succeeds. His second goal in writing the book was "to tell a little bit of the story of my generation, to show the context for the choices we made at a violent and chaotic crossroads in recent history" (235). Jay-Z succeeds to this end because he lays out his experience as a young man of color, repeatedly describes the reality of racial profiling by cops and how difficult it can be to rise above poverty in an America that has subjugated Blacks for centuries. Jay-Z's marketing genius shines through here because he continually provides consistent messaging of his themes. One theme is that violence on the streets often comes from a hopeless caused by institutionalized racial policies. Another theme that surfaces through the work is how families deal with the pressure of this hopelessness. Jay-Z processes the departure of his father from the family and their eventual reconnection in a way that exposes multiple sides of the experience. By portraying these themes in manner aimed for mass public consumption, Jay-Z brings to the fore the very same themes that have been affecting black families for countless decades, the pressure that hegemonic political, economic and social policies put on Black Americans. Decoded does then show that the double consciousness is still a very significant part of the Black American experience. Although he says in a discussion in the context of celebrity "it's tough never being able to let your guard down" this can also be applied to the experience of being Black in America as well (86).
One of the things I found most powerful about Jay-Z's storytelling, both as a lyricist and in his writing that surrounds the songs is how he characterizes the idea of choice and decision making. Sean Carter is clearly a very good decision maker, whether in his choice to use the underground economic opportunities present in the drug trade but not be a user, or his choice not just to record but to have a recording company. These choices allowed Carter to become Jay-Z on his own terms and he makes decisions with purpose. It is this conscious goal setting that has allowed Carter to create his empire, taking what resources were available at that moment and make calculated risks that allowed him time and time again to increase his investment exponentially. So, for a guy who has taken his business acumen and created a kingdom be it in the music, fashion or sports industries is he an American icon or must his status be qualified as a Black American icon? Honestly, it is hard for me to separate Black and American in this case because these parts of his identity are so intertwined. When asked why he was wearing a Che Guevara shirt at a show Jay-Z replied "I consider myself a revolutionary because I am a self-made millionaire in a racist society" (26). The intersectionality of being Black and American is what inspired Sean Carter to create Jay-Z and he used his business intelligence to market his intersectional experience to the masses. Like the Black American musical cultural workers that went before him from the black face minstrel era, cakewalk dancers, the blues women, jazz, big band, chitlin' circuit, rhythm and blues, Motown, soul, funk, and disco, Jay-Z has used his authentic Black American identity to carve a significant place for himself in popular culture. But, creating American cultural history does not necessarily allow the creator to achieve Americanness without the caveat of race but I am not sure in this book that is Jay-Z's goal.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2014
This book was interesting at times, but it was like a picture book. I read it on my kindle. I have to say, if this is Jay's attempt at writing, I'm not impressed. The only interesting thing was how he dealt crack and some of the instances of his father and their relationship. I feel that Jay can do a better job in telling his story, without being this lazy. If you're a huge fan of his music, you will enjoy this--I did. But I felt that he could have done better. Some interesting stuff in there, though.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2013
I was riding with Jay, through the whole book, and I think the videos in this enhanced edition are invaluable and definitely add to the work. To hear him explain his thought process on certain songs is a bonus to the literature.
Being a fan of Jay Z, I wasn't just interested in the decoding of his songs, I was decoding his words about the songs. So when it gets near the end and Jay offers up his defense of the word n****, everything in the preceding 300 odd pages becomes cloudy, or a hustle.
You can't reduce n**** to "just a word," when you just spent an entire book talking about words and meanings of words. You can't describe situations where you heard "words" and reacted based on what you were hearing, and then reduce-arguably-the most potent word in the English language to "just" a word. Utterly ridiculous.
Because if n**** is just a word, then they are all just words, so none of it actually matters, why then try to decode anything, if the most muscular word has no meaning, then the little words have even less meaning. And I've heard all the arguments for the use of the word, the spelling, context, etc., even read the book.
For me it's about courage, if you are courageous enough to take the pain and history out of n****, then why stop there? Why not take on other words that are offensive and derogatory towards other ethnic groups. Why? Because we know the use of n**** is cheap, it doesn't cost one anything, it won't prevent your record from being released, it won't prevent you from being invited to the White House, it won't keep you from riches. There is no cost to using that word.
Now, think of a degrading word directed at any other ethnic group and imagine the liberal use of it, could any artist have achieved the heights of Jay in such a scenario? The answer is so obvious it's laughable.
I digress, back to the book. I found it potentially inspirational and his defense of the culture of hip-hop is definitely laudable. For those who don't really listen to music and lyrics, this is a good book for you to understand all the nuances that can exist in a song. And Jay is one of the best to ever do it in the rap genre, so to read about and see on the pages layers in lyrics and rhymes within rhymes, will help those gain a better or deeper understanding.
There were some surprises in the decoding of certain songs, some I heard and others I missed until I read the book. Jay takes you through a chronological history of rap, delineating how the styles changed along with the times and even providing context for the alliance with hustling.
I think it is a worthy achievement and if not for the lame excuse and explanation of n****, I may have gone higher on the rating, but that cop out is tremendous, and Jay is talented enough to offer more meaning to his use of n****, but alas as he tells us throughout he has a hustler's spirit. And so that becomes just another part of his hustle. As long as you get that, it's all good.
on August 18, 2014
This book reads like a mix between an autobiography and a poetry reading. Jay-Z gives you a glimpse into his hustling days, breaking into the music business, growing up in Marcy projects in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the affect not having his father around and the death of Biggie had on him emotionally. Jay-Z also includes lyrics and commentary to several of his songs spanning from Reasonable Doubt to the Black Album. I liked getting his lyrical context. It helped me understand "Shawn" better instead of his alter ego: HOV. Decoded does an excellent job of sharing Shawn's philosophical views on a variety of topics.
I recommend this book for anyone that's either a Jay-Z fan or a Jay-Z hater. Fans will get more of what they're accustomed to: Jigga's bravado, The rags-to-riches or "hustler's" story, and the poetical/lyrical talents of Jay-Z. Haters will get an opportunity to see beyond their prejudices about Jay-Z being a flossy, bling-bling, misogynist (Oprah even had a change of heart once she realized there's more to Jigga's than meets the eye). In fact, haters will realize the sensitive and emotionally scarred man known as Shawn Carter. He's a man deeply wounded by his father's absence (a common theme for young-black men) and much of that pain is masked by a false sense of male bravado. Jay-Z occasionally removes the mask in some of his lyrics and within this book.
I rated the book five stars for several reasons. First, because I'm a fan of his music. Secondly, I can relate to his plight of dealing with those inner demons. Thirdly, we represent the same generational/cultural cohort. Finally, reading Decoded was like having a lengthy conversation with a family member you hadn't seen in awhile and being amazed when you look at the time and realize how quickly the hours passed during that convo. This book is a page turner.
Try it! You won't be disappointed.
on June 29, 2014
I distinctly remember the first time I heard rap (shout out to Run DMC's Raising Hell on cassette!) and have been a fan since-- though I would say my exposure to the genre has many gaps. I have a few bands/acts/performers I love (Fugees, Lauryn Hill, De La Soul, Tribe, Beastie Boys, Ice Cube...) but I wouldn't say I am a superfan. In fact, I don't own any of Jay Z's music. It is what it is. But I heard about this book and borrowed it from my library. It was one of those "borrows" that I returned after one day and bought a copy for myself.
It is fascinating to hear the story of a person like Shawn Carter, whose life is very different from mine, and to see how he grew and changed, and lived his version of the American dream. I think that's interesting just as a piece of social history.
But what sucked me in and made me love this book was the way he talked about his art. There is so much there about voice, seeing the world and recognizing what you see, being honest, being a hard worker... that ALL applies to writing. It's like a Master's thesis on rap, but, you know, interesting to read.
Here, in his words:
"It's brutal, but if you step back from it, it's beautiful, too. What you're looking at is a culture of people so in love with life that they can't stop fighting for it-- people who've seen death up close, literal death, but also the kind of dormancy and stagnation that kills your spirit. They've seen it all around them and they don't want any part of that sh*t, not at all. They want to live like they want to live-- they want to impose themselves on the world through their art, with their voices. This impulse is what saved us. It's what saved me."
"I've been able to create my own kind of social commentary. Artists can have greater access to reality; they can see patterns and details and connections that other people, distracted by the blur of life, might miss. Just sharing that truth can be a very powerful thing."
"But this is one of the things that makes rap at its best so human. It doesn't force you to pretend to be only one thing or another, to be a saint or sinner. It recognizes that you can be true to yourself and still have unexpected dimensions and opposing ideas. ...The real bullsh*t is when you act like you don't have contradictions inside you, that you're so dull and unimaginative that your mind never changes or wanders into strange, unexpected places."
on January 6, 2012
This book was purchased for me as a gift at my request. I am a fan of Jay- z's. While I can't say I've listened to every one of his songs, I know a few and enjoy them. Jay is one of the most creative and intelligent artist of his era. What I most enjoyed about the book was how he took us back to his childhood in Brooklyn and how he grew (matured) into the businessman he is today. Also, I enjoyed the way he paid respect to so many of the other artist of this era especially one of the best Lauren Hill (one of my favorites). Jay-Z inspires me because he was not afraid to go after what he wanted once he realized his true calling, skills, and potential. He comes from my time, even though I'm six years older than him, I felt like he allowed me to relive my years through this book. I believe that if this book is given to some of our younger struggling brothers without direction they will be able to see another outlook for their purpose for life. Thank you Jay for sharing, for caring, for you foundation to help others. You have done your thing well!
If anyone has contact with Jay I would like to request a complimentary appearance at my 50th birthday party in 2013, just asking you never know!
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2012
Jay-Z and Dream Hampton put together something which is not quite memoir, not quite manifesto and not quite full-blown lyrical analysis. Instead they just sort of dip in and out of each of these things, usually for just a few pages at a time before shifting moods. As someone who has been more or less conditioned to think of Black Pop Stars as eccentrics who live in their own insular, occasionally tragic little worlds. (Prince, George Clinton, Michael Jackson, Sun Ra, Sly Stone et al), I found his pragmatism and ice-cold level headedness both refreshing, and daunting. Yet no amount of business acumen or street smarts can disguise his giddy enthusiasm for both rapping and, breaking down said raps for the rest of us. And what a delirious, crazy verbal ballet it all is. Turns out, a bunch of poor kids from Brooklyn who wanted to make some easy cash are actually doing more to functionally expand our idea of what our language can do, and what it can express, than many rooms worth of portentous linguists and writers. Figures.
Oh, and it's beautifully designed and laid out.