205 of 214 people found the following review helpful
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.
You will understand the hopelessness of ghetto life, of thousands upon thousands of young people who get destroyed before having a change to figure out what they are even involved with. Only a small number will come through the funnel to survive and thrive, and occasionally break out. Jay-Z is one who broke out, and every aspect of this life biography is fascinating to the uninitiated. Here's why?
* The money is not in the singing, it's in the producing, owning the company.
* Kids treated automatic weapons like clothing, they would wear them the way they would wear their sneakers.
* In the hood, it was life during wartime.
* Rap is the story of the hustler, and it is the story of the rapper himself.
* Jay-Z starts wearing clothes designed by Iceberg, a European Sportswear designer. Upon meeting the designer, they offer him free clothing. The rap star walks away and builds a billion dollar clothing company from scratch. The story is all here and like the rest of the book, it's a page turner.
* His views on politics will grip you. He meets Obama the candidate, and astutely figures out that the most important thing the future President brings to the table is that he will help millions of black kids realize that they can aspire to something other than being drug dealers.
* He tells the future President that in one moment we will go from centuries of invisibility to the most visible position in the world.
* From housing projects designed to warehouse lives, to knowing that the truth will always be relevant, he will tell you that it's not about brainpower but stamina, self-motivation, willpower, and standing up to the mental and physical challenge of meeting life head-on.
I came to this book with an open mind, and I could not have been more pleased with it. From the discussions about Quincy Jones who revolutionized musical arrangements in his lifetime, to Bono and his commitment to use his celebrity and money to transform society, the whole book was an exercise in literary pleasure. It is a demonstration that Dag Hammarskjold the UN Secretary General who gave his life for peace was right when he wrote the following. "It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses". Thank you for reading this review.
Richard C. Stoyeck
65 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2010
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."
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2011
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. This is a piece of black history and a perspective that is as important to this countries literature as classics such as "Manchild in the Promised Land" and "The Autobiography of Malcolm X".
Though many may not agree nor appreciate the experience, that is not really the point. To a part of the American population, that at times feels invisible in the greater conversations of this country, this book is a testament to it's triumphs and possibilities.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2010
I got this as a christmas present for my nephew who is into the hip hop scene. I skimmed through it and read a chapter or two and was impressed. Jay Z is about 10 years younger than me, but dicuss a lot things I remember from high school (Run DMC, Sugar Hill, Grandmaster Flash, etc). Its interesting to see it discussed from a generation behind me perspective. The prose is put together in an interesting almost melodic way... I guess its what we should expect from a poet / rapper. Anyway, the whole rap scene sort of ended for me when Ice Cube / Dr. Dre / Tu Pac left the building. But I think it will put things into good perspective and sort of give a history lesson to the current set of listeners. If I see it, I will buy an audible version for myself.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2010
I loved the book from beginning to end. Gave me a greater respect for Jay-Z and what he encountered to reach the top of the rap game. Hats off to him!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2011
While Decoded by Jay-Z is one of the most popular books at the moment, I didn't enjoy it. Decoded is full of pictures and lyrics and it is written by one of my favorite people on the planet, but I found it to be difficult to follow. Jay-Z, as he said in his own comments of the book, is not a linear thinker. To be honest, I would have preferred the book to be chronological. Throughout different points in the book, I found myself confused about how old Jay-Z was at the time of the particular story. That means I was unsure of what had already happened in his career/life, what he was already capable of, and what he already knew. That threw me off a bit. For example, on page 140, Jay-Z says, "When I was a kid my family loved sports." So it is obvious that he is a kid in this particular story he is about to tell. But, in a different paragraph on that very same page, he says "the first time I met Jordan [Michael Jordan] was at St. John's University, where he was giving the keynote address to their graduation." I am pretty sure he is much older than a kid when he met Jordan, but he doesn't tell the reader whether he has aged since the preceding story. Also, on page 148, he shows the lyrics to his first song, but on the 147 pages before it, he lists and explains parts of 19 other songs (obviously written after his first song yet they are explained in the book before the first song is mentioned.)
Another reason why I didn't enjoy this book is because I went in thinking it was going to be an explanation of the experiences Jay-Z has had over the years. But, not just any experiences, the ones he chooses to talk about in his raps. So, I was looking forward to making more sense of his raps and therefore liking them even more. But, I was unpleasantly surprised when I realized that this was a book about Jay-Z's experience with rap as a whole and his opinion on the evolution of rap. Rather than explaining the experiences that he uses in his song, he picks potentially unclear words in his raps and clarifies their meaning. For example, on page 28, he clarifies the word "flyer" in his rap by saying, "The flier/flyer homonym also carries the momentum of the fire/supplier rhyme for one more line." Rather than explaining certain unclear lines and their meaning, he picks words and defines the slang in everyday language. He also speaks about rap as a whole and its importance to who he is. He explains how he used to sell drugs in his home town but rapping helped him get far away from that life. People in his home town, believed that either being a drug dealer or playing basketball were the only two ways to make it in the world, but he proved them wrong.
Decoded was a nice change for me, though, because most of the books I read are more serious novels. So I cannot say I regret reading it, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for the same things I was. But, if you are interested in Jay-Z's perception of rap and how it changed his life, then this is definitely the book for you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2014
First, let’s get past the obvious: if you’re a true Jay Z fan (and when I say “true fan”, I mean you own his music, not just like his music), you must own a copy of Decoded. Ditto if you have a real passion for hip hop as an art form and cultural phenomenon.
But if you’re going to buy Decoded, it’s critically important that you actually take the time to read it. If you treat this book as just another addition to your collection of H.O.V.A. paraphernalia, something to flaunt along with your complete collection of The Source and XXL Jay Z magazine covers and Rocawear gear, you will be cheating yourself, along with a couple of generations of African Americans, and black males in particular, who desperately need you to listen and learn, even though you may not ultimately agree.
(Excerpted from a review originally written for BlackEnterprise.com)
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2010
Chris Rock famously said that certain rap, good rap, you can defend and explain on an intellectual level. Jay-Z is most definitely that kind of rapper, but he has done something that none before him have bothered to do; written a book offering his defense by way of explanation. He deconstructs the objections that many people have to hip-hop, its images of violence, explaining how the story in the music is the story of the life that he lived and the world that he knew. Haters hate rap for the same reasons that they tsk tsk and change the channel when a story about a shooting in the projects comes on the news; because they don't want to hear about the suffering of poor black people, and the struggles faced by those caught in the cycle of poverty that was imposed upon them.
But honestly, I loved it most for the personal stories; the rags to riches "here's the moment when it all went down and everything changed" reflections. I mean seriously, why couldn't that jerk at Cristal just say "thank you"?
This is a very good book. I really recommend the Kindle Edition for its ease of flipping back and forth from the endnotes to the lyrics just by touching the number in supertext.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2011
As someone not particularly familiar with the hip hop industry or its history, I had a very hard time connecting to the book. The references to major hip hop figures, classic groups, and older hit tracks were totally lost on me; and I felt like if I were to understand the book better, I would need to do a lot of googling and listening. For a person with extensive knowledge of the rap world, this book could be a gold mine; because I don't believe any other book has been written with such detail and intimacy about the rap culture and history. We all know Jay-z is a very private person and the book reflects this. He almost exclusively writes about his beginnings as a rapper, music he respects, his albums, his inspirations for music etc. Beyonce isn't mentioned once so if you are looking for a typical celebrity memoir, this isn't it. He also gives a kind of vague look into the world of the projects and what its like to be poor and black in America. My biggest complaint is how conceited the writing sounds. When Jay talks about his work, his wording sounds like his biggest fan wrote it; it really bothered me. Lastly, he frequently uses the n-word throughout the book and the contrast between that ignorance and how sophisticated he tried to come off during other passages left me believing he was confused about the impression he was trying to give the reader and that he must have had some major help formulating some of the passages. Overall, I found the book disappointing and I hope he tries again one day because he has a wealth of hip hop knowledge and experience that could be very interesting if used right.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2010
I am a big fan of hip hop/rap although I have never been a big fan of JayZ but knew I had to read this. The book was good not great; its worth a read though. He skims the issues and never really goes deep into any of the issues; he kind of jumps around issues too. Lastly he puts down a lot of lyrics, lyrics that you can find on the internet. Yes he does give a little info here and there about where he was at when he wrote them but overall, nothing concrete-nothing really. He does talk about meeting Oprah and Bono and stuff but what about Dame? Kinda disappointing if you want to know more about his relationships and such...