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Comment: Ex-library book. The item shows wear from consistent use, but it remains in good condition and works perfectly. All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting.
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Decoded Hardcover – November 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2010: Like its multi-hyphenate author, Jay-Z, Decoded is many things at once. At its core, Decoded is an eloquent and candid memoir detailing the story of a man who was born in a Brooklyn housing project, spent his teen years dealing drugs on the streets of Trenton, New Jersey, and grew up to be one of his generation’s most successful artists and businessmen. But Decoded is much more than a memoir: it is an intensely personal homage to hip-hop, as written by a man who so clearly adores the art form; it is a rare glimpse of the unexpectedly deep meanings behind the most recognizable rap lyrics of the last decade; and it is a truly moving collection of essays on topics ranging from Hurricane Katrina to the decline of the music industry. Unconventional type design, line drawings, and photographs visually emphasize the author’s message that rap is a form that transcends and defies easy categorization. There’s not much in the way of celebrity gossip here, but what we get, instead, is a gritty and enormously compelling look inside the cultural phenomenon of rap, from one of the men who contributed so much to its shape. --Juliet Disparte

Jay-Z on Decoded

When you're famous and say you're writing a book, people assume that it's an autobiography--I was born here, raised there, suffered this, loved that, lost it all, got it back, the end. But that's not what this is. I've never been a linear thinker, which is something you can see in my rhymes. They follow the jumpy logic of poetry and emotion, not the straight line of careful prose. My book is like that, too.

Decoded is first and foremost, a book of rhymes, which is ironic because I don't actually write my rhymes--they come to me in my head and I record them. The book is packed with the stories from my life that are the foundation of my lyrics--stories about coming up in the streets of Brooklyn in the 80's and 90's, stories about becoming an artist and entrepreneur and discovering worlds that I never dreamed existed when I was a kid. But it always comes back to the rhymes. There's poetry in hip-hop lyrics--not just mine, but in the work of all the great hip-hop artists, from KRS-One and Rakim to Biggie and Pac to a hundred emcees on a hundred corners all over the world that you've never heard of. The magic of rap is in the way it can take the most specific experience, from individual lives in unlikely places, and turn them into art that can be embraced by the whole world. Decoded is a book about one of those specific lives--mine--and will show you how the things I've experienced and observed have made their way into the art I've created. It's also about how my work is sometimes not about my life at all, but about pushing the boundaries of what I can express through the poetry of rap--trying to use words to find fresh angles into emotions that we all share, which is the hidden mission in even the hardest hip-hop. Decoded is a book about some of my favorite songs--songs that I unpack and explain and surround with narratives about what inspired them--but behind the rhymes is the truest story of my life.


“Compelling . . . provocative, evocative . . . Part autobiography, part lavishly illustrated commentary on the author’s own work, Decoded gives the reader a harrowing portrait of the rough worlds Jay-Z navigated in his youth, while at the same time deconstructing his lyrics.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“One of a handful of books that just about any hip hop fan should own.”—The New Yorker

“Elegantly designed, incisively written . . . an impressive leap by a man who has never been known for small steps.”—Los Angeles Times
“A riveting exploration of Jay-Z’s journey . . . So thoroughly engrossing, it reads like a good piece of cultural journalism.”—The Boston Globe
“Shawn Carter’s most honest airing of the experiences he drew on to create the mythic figure of Jay-Z . . . The scenes he recounts along the way are fascinating.”—Entertainment Weekly

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; First Edition edition (November 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068924
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068920
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (279 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Bedford Stuyvesant was his country, and Brooklyn was his planet. With these words we are led into a world that you cannot imagine, that no film can do justice to. It requires hundreds of pages to absorb, and with each page you become further and further immersed. The graphic work accompanying the printed message is among the best I have ever seen, and it will help you to understand this very special person.

Somewhere in every person's life if you can experience transformation from where you were born to what your soul intended you to become, there is always a MENTOR figure. Sometimes it is a teacher, a relative, or a friend, but always someone.

For Jay-Z it was Slate, who was among the first street rappers, before they even put a name on the movement. He would stand in a circle; he could go 30 minutes just rhyming, as though he was trained for it. The young Jay-Z would stand and just be mesmerized by Slate, who seemed like an ordinary fellow until he stepped into the circle, and Jay-Z would transform himself by uttering the words, I can do that.

And therein begins a WILD RIDE, from the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn to king of the hip hop movement. He would go from drug dealing and drug running to a billion dollar self created empire that would be the envy of any businessman. Years later, Russell Simmons another hip hop master, and mentor to Jay-Z would say, that one grows up wanting to wear a suit, but hip-hop would mean never having to grow up and instead one would wear sneakers to the board room.

Jay-Z Decoded will have an interesting audience. Yes there will the kids who will own it and never read it, but for those of us, who read this book cover to cover, I promise you that you will not put this book back on the shelf without being affected by it.
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65 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is definitely one for your collection of good books based on hip-hop. I grew up in the Bronx during the 70's and 80's and a lot of the "rap" traditions and "crack" traditions he writes about are valid and true. Once you read through the book you will learn a few things. My favorite new fact was how Memphis Bleek was originally not going to do Coming Of Age. I won't spoil it for you.

While the book is great to read, it's also great to look at. The pages are thick. There are pictures on almost every page which relate to that particular topic. The art direction, overseen by Jay-Z, looks really good. Honestly, they should make this book a coffee-table edition.

Now, the reason I did not give this book a five is for two reasons.

1. I wanted more. I have a few songs and lyrics from him that I would have like to have seen addressed.

Example: "...the fire I spit burn down Happy Land / Social Club, we unapproachable thugs..."

Growing up in the Bronx, I knew what that line meant, but many people don't.

"Happy Land Social Club was an unlicensed social club in the Bronx. On March 25th 1990, 87 people were killed in an fire set by Julio Gonzalez."
- Wikipedia

That line isn't deep but it made me stop and say "Wow! I forgot about when Happy Land got set on fire."

2. It didn't address one of my 9 year discussion over a line Jay-Z says in You Don't Know (Blueprint).

"I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell, I am a hustler baby, I'll sell water to a well/whale."

Either word works, but I'd like to know the true word. Did he intend to confuse us with a clever play on words?

Nevertheless, the book is great. The people who gave the book 1 star ratings didn't read the book, as they say in their reviews, so please rate those posts as unhelpful. However, If you actually read the book, and still give it one star, then that's justified.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By cainspain on September 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
An example of what really makes this book special is near the beginning of the chapter titled "Politics as Usual". Jay-Z describes his love/hate relationship with America and details an experience that is misunderstood by more than a few people. If anyone ever wondered or ridiculed Michelle Obama for her statement that she was "finally" proud of her country, then they ignore this countries ongoing conversation that basically commutes, as Jay-Z unabashedly states, "I hate your black ass". Jay's love for uniquely American experiences coupled with a distrust and oft-times disdain for it's politics are prime examples of the psychic duality of the black American existence as portrayed by literary greats like W.E.B. DuBois and James Baldwin, among others.

This book is a surprisingly accurate depiction of not only a ultra-successful rap artist, but also the psychological state of a minority within a minority of this country we live in. It is complex and refuses to be labeled as any one thing. In the end, it demonstrates how hip hop as a culture is a reflection of the people who created and performed it, along with the many relationships of those in larger society and how they have responded to that culture.

The book also triumphs in it's ability to demonstrate hip hop as an art and to display the level of intelligence most artists bring to the craft. Comparisons to Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan create a readily visible tie-in to the idea that it is more than just natural cultural ability that makes this art great, but traits and attributes that we all know to be necessary for any successful venture.

The style and graphics are sleek and catchy and create a visual complexity that is synonymous with the subject matter.
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