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Decoded Paperback – November 1, 2011
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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.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“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
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Top Customer Reviews
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
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.
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)