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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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)
on August 17, 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 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 June 18, 2014
Jay-Z's contemporary rags-to-riches story is a more detailed, thorough, insightful, and powerful story than any kind of fiction you might read in an inspirational genre. This book is terrific reading for artists and entrepreneurs, especially, although anyone who wants to be inspired, as well as anyone with interest in his music, would enjoy it.
The book consists of lyrics "decoded," where Jay-Z explains both where the song ideas came from and the way all the lyrics are connected to each other, as well as portions of his real-world story, rising from the Marcy Projects to a best-selling artist competitive with the Beatles in terms of how many #1 albums they've had.
In particular interest to me were the chapters regarding his break-out crossover hit, "Hard Knock Life," and how Jay-Z had the realization that "Annie's story was my story." Jay-Z applies this knowledge to building a brand and identity for himself, which led to his pop crossover success on the charts.
Those kinds of insights, from a man who self-transformed into a superstar, are crucial for artists, entrepreneurs, and anyone out struggling with personal identity and their own success struggles.
I highly recommend this book. If I were a business professor or music teacher, I would make this required reading for students.
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.