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DECODED by Jay-Z Kirkus Star


by Jay-Z

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6892-0
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Hip-hop’s renaissance man drops a classic.

Lyricist, producer, business mogul and self-proclaimed hustler Jay-Z has all but dominated the rap scene since his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt. During the last decade-plus, his singles have not only owned the urban airwaves, but have crossed over into the mainstream. This book provides a two-pronged attack, in which narrative chapters alternate with in-depth explanations of the lyrics to his favorite compositions. Not formatted in chronological fashion, Jay-Z’s stories ramble pleasantly from one topic to the next, including his difficult childhood in the projects, his road to creative fulfillment, his encounters with A-list celebrities and public figures and how he deals with the ins and outs of the record industry. Hardcore hip-hop heads will be drawn in by Jay-Z’s obvious love, respect and knowledge of his chosen genre. In fact, his incisive reminiscences of the lives and/or music of Run-DMC, Big Daddy Kane, the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur are alone worth the price of admission. Though engaging, his meticulous dissections of his lyrics could be off-putting to the casual fan, but that’s mitigated by the fact that his complex personality shines through every page. One minute, he’s boasting as if he’s in the midst of a rap battle with his pal Eminem, and the next he’s chiding himself for a minor musical, personal or business transgression. The book is creatively designed, filled with pull quotes, sidebars and photographs. Ardent Jay-Z followers may be disappointed by the lack of gossip—there’s no mention of his infamous battle with fellow New York rapper Nas; the specifics of his thug life are thin; and there’s nary a word about his wife, Beyonce—but the sharpness of his social observations and his palpable adoration for all that is hip-hop make this a must-have title for all pop-culture aficionados.

Heartfelt, passionate and slick—an essential hip-hop book.