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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2011
With "Empire State of Mind," Zack O'Malley Greenburg delivers on his promise to chronicle Jay-Z's compelling journey from drug-dealer to 9-figure businessman.

As it turns out, Greenburg pitched the book to Jay-Z's management, but they refused to participate and instead went on to write "Decoded" so they could profit directly.

"Decoded" reads like one of those Donald Trump autobiographies: a very self-congratulatory, shallow look into how he thinks (which is somewhat valuable in its own right), but devoid of any juicy revelation beneath the surface.

"Empire State of Mind," on the other hand, paints a very nuanced picture of Jay-Z's character and gives detailed insight into his major business decisions, including the flops and near-misses that Jay-Z doesn't seem to talk about publicly.

If you want direct testimony from key players in Jay-Z's early life, including former business partner Damon Dash, former mentor Jaz-O, and Dehaven Irby (the guy who introduced Jay-Z to drug-dealing), this is probably the only place you'll be able to find it, since most of them have fallen out and don't talk to him anymore.

Greenburg has done a metric ton of research and reconnaissance work, yet his prose flows smooth like Jay-Z's rhymes. The end result is a fascinating read. Highly recommended.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2011
Put simply, this book is a wonderful, engaging profile of a figure worth reading about, and will teach even hip-hop devotees something about Mr. Carter they did not know before.

Jay-Z is naturally an intriguing figure, part-musician, part-former hustler, part-executive - just to name a few of the roles he has played. Yet Greenburg - to his credit - does more than simply kowtow to the great lyricist. Greenburg digs further to paint a comprehensive, inquiring, insightful and often less-than-flattering view of one of the great entrepreneurs of the last 50 years.

Greenburg's book reveals Jay's obvious successes, to be sure: rising from dealing in Brooklyn to a career as a recording artist, a successful turn atop Def Jam Records, a happy marriage with Beyonce. But Greenburg also covers those items Jay doesn't want you to know about: a covert deal to profit from Armand de Brignac champagne; a failed attempt at making a basketball documentary; an aborted effort to release a Jay-Z edition Jeep; and repeated failures as part-owner of the Nets.

Greenburg's warranted conclusion is that Jay-Z is a tremendous businessman and individual. The unique piece Greenburg brings to this story is that Jay came to this success through a portfolio approach, dabbling in so many different industries and fields that while some ventures flopped (see: LeBron in South Beach), many others have resulted in unprecedented revenue and publicity (see: Live Nation). Jay would have you know nothing of those failures. Fortunately, Greenburg thinks otherwise. Do yourself a favor: Read this book.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2011
I didn't know much about Jay-Z before I read this book. Once I started reading, though, I couldn't put it down. Greenburg paints such a thorough picture of Jay-Z without once interviewing him, and I would guess that these multiple perspectives provide a better picture of the man than the man himself could (or would want to, it seems). I came away suddenly inspired to start listening - really actually LISTENING, not just passively hearing - Jay-Z's music, because now I realize it has a legitimate and meaningful context. I would imagine that for someone who is already a big fan, this book would be even more engrossing. Jay-Z has had a powerful impact on the hip-hop industry, and he is poised to become a music and business legend.

That said, I should point out that what ultimately made this book enjoyable was how well-written it was, with a touch of humor here and there (in well-placed quotes from Greenburg's sources) and a persistently neutral tone. Should we like Jay-Z? Maybe not. Should we respect him? Well, how can you avoid it? When you finally put the book down, how can you not want to be just a little bit more like him?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2011
This book is about the life story of a very unusual person, about how a talented an ambitious rapper who came from nothing turned himself into a business leader. Not knowing anything about Jay-Z before hand, I felt like I really got some insight into his character, and what lead him to succeed.

The book is really riveting - very hard to put down, especially in the chapters that cover things that seem not to have been reported on before, like the champagne and Jay-Z jeep stories. The characters who interact with him, and the perspective you get from hearing from both friends and enemies, business partners and his business victims, propel the narrative forward.

I'm not exactly sure if you come away "liking" Jay-Z because he's so ruthless, but you certainly come away admiring him. It's an excellent read!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2011
Loved the book! It was a great read. As a businesswoman I really enjoy the different perspective on an artist. Take someone you think of for music only and their songs and see all the behind the scenes and work that goes into becoming one of the most powerful stars out there.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2011
Riveting writing. The subject is fascinating, and his story is an ongoing legend. But the presentation is what really makes this book compelling. Read it, enjoy the viewpoint and learn how to be a business. What an author!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2011
An unendorsed behind-the-scenes look at the marketing of brand Jay-Z.

'I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell "Holla"'
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Jay-Z, what a character! Not the best looking guy, grew up in a slum, and his father abandoned him when he was a kid. But he was smart and wanted to prove to the world that he was somebody, so he developed ambition - a LOT of it. Figured the best way to prove himself was money, so he got into drug dealing for quite a while, rapping on the side. Then rapping eventually seemed more lucrative (and safe) than drug dealing, so that became his focus, though his 'rap' was largely bragging about his success, to continue inflating his image. With serious money (capital) starting to accumulate, his focus turned to making it grow, so he progressively branched out into all sorts of business ventures, mostly associated with the pop/hiphop culture he knows best, and using/discarding business associates as necessary - not always a nice and honest guy. And some of these ventures even flopped (he doesn't want you to know that), but most didn't, and some generated crazy high returns. He even picked up a trophy wife along the way - the genuinely amazing Beyonce - both of them clearly leveraging the relationship for business purposes, though maybe he loves her too (who am I to say otherwise?). Today, he sits on an 'empire' worth maybe half a billion dollars, so what does he want next? Probably to at least get to a billion, because this is a guy for whom it seems no amount is too much or even enough, especially when there are people running around worth tens of billions.

This book expands on the story I've just summarized very well, so I recommend it. The author strikes me as being fair and balanced, and did a nice job of piecing things together without being able to interview Jay-Z directly. He gives credit to Jay-Z where it's due, but doesn't idolize him (as Jay-Z would prefer), so he has the ability and courage to criticize Jay-Z appropriately as well.

Ultimately, the value of this biography for me was in seeing yet another example of how ambition and ability can overcome all sorts of obstacles and adversities. But that usually comes at the expense of a narrow focus which necessarily crowds out other aspects of life, so this is a tale which is both inspiring and cautionary.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2012
As a fan of Jay-Z's work, I found this book to be a very good recap of his career so far, and I learned cool trivia. But when buying this particular book, the goal is almost to find "the Secret" to become another Jay-Z, or to absorb his business acumen directly, or whatever. And that is sorely lacking, although the hindsight-aspect of the book does indeed show you the multitude of ways Jay-Z has found to market and profit off himself, etc. Much of this information though, in my opinion, can be found on any music business internet forum. Its like people talking about their favorite football team, armchair coaches chattering on, while the real coach and team have to do all the heavy lifting. Like Jay says in one song, everybody can *tell* you how to do it, but none of them have done it...

I also got the sense that the author sort of had a grudge after Jay refused to help on the book. The whole thing about the Ace of Spades champagne, and whether or not Jay-Z gets money from it, was completely over done, and felt sort of like Geraldo digging up Al Capone's "Secret Vault", making something of nothing. He flies to France 2 times to uncover the insidious truth? When the whole point of the *ENTIRE* book is that Jay-Z Profits Off Of Everything...?

It was a fun read, though. My own personal take on Jay-Z's success is this - early on, he was unsure of himself and hopped from winning team to winning team. From Jaz-O to Puffy, then to Irv Gotti/Murder Inc. and trying to form groups with DMX, etc. But in a sense, he was also hitching to their wagons. I read somewhere that he was gonna start a group with Big L, who got shot and died like 3 days before they were gonna sign the contract, leaving him stranded again...

And THEN... Jay-Z stood up on his own. And that was the big difference. And I guess that's where this book didn't quite live up for me, it feels like a guy using the name of Jay-Z and talking about his accomplishments, but not a guy who can truly comprehend the genius or the scope of the thing he's discussing.

Like, I'm reading a book about Napoleon Bonaparte right now. The man had almost all of Europe in his bloody grip, from Russia to Spain and most everything in between. A book about him invariably has to talk about the horrors and despotic evils of the man, the insane numbers of people who died from his machinations. Which somehow makes the fact that he almost conquered the entire world somehow off limits, not to mention the idea of emulating him. But if you stop at being willing to wage brutal war in your mind, you won't ever really understand Napoleon, because HE WAS willing, you see?

Which on a way-lesser scale is like Jay-Z's famous story of selling crack to get his empire under way. People willing to do Great Things are not like the people who sit and watch the Great Thing happen, and later on write (or read) books about them. And the traits required to accomplish those Great Things don't really come from any books, or very few of them (get Machiavelli's "The Prince", Iceberg Slim's "Pimp", and something by Cesar Milan ((the Dog Whisperer)) and you have all the raw rules to life right there, like them or not...)

So the lesson is, as always, get up off your butt and make it happen for yourself. There, I saved you $10.00...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2012
Jay-Z is everywhere these days with the opening of the new Barclay's Center and the debut of the Brooklyn Nets. The highlights of his life are pretty well known: his drug dealing days, entry into the world of hip-hop, some of his romantic history. Empire State of Mind chronicles his moves as a businessman and the stories behind the mega-deals and branding he has been associated with.

While we are familiar with his clothing brands, his nightclubs, and stint as the head of Def Jam, Greenburg shows us the plans that either never came through because of Jay's need for perfection or were kept under raps because of his need for secrecy. Some of the people interviewed were obviously reluctant to speak about someone who admittedly still holds a lot of power in the world of hip-hop. But Greenburg doesn't give up; especially when tracking down the ultra secret story behind a deal with Jeep that never happened.

Perfect for Jay-Z fans as well as for those who enjoy a good business biography.
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