He’s had 99 problems, an astoundingly successful recording career, helped catapult many an artist to megasuccess, including wife Beyoncé, and showed that hip-hop can remain relevant as you’re pushing 40. Jay-Z is easily one of the most important musical icons of all time. And now, like most music icons, he has his own book, Decoded. Here are just a few lines from the story of a kid who grew up in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, to become one of the world’s greatest rappers, or as he says, “the Mike Jordan of Recording.”


“The chain was a Jesus piece—the piece that Biggie used to wear, in fact. It’s part of my ritual when I record an album: I wear the Jesus piece and let my hair grow till I’m done.”

“When people say hustling is easy money they couldn’t be more wrong. Paranoia and fear worm their way into every interaction you have.”

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“My father would take us to Lindy’s and we’d get these big-ass steak fries. We would sit in the restaurant looking out the window onto the streets, and play games that exercised our observational skills. Like my pops would make us guess a woman’s dress size.”

“Since rap is poetry, and a good MC is a good poet, you can’t just half-listen to a song once and think you’ve got it.”

“But I can’t say I’ve ever given much of a fuck about people who hear a curse word and start foaming at the mouth. The Fox News dummies. They wouldn’t know art if it fell on them.”

On “99 Problems”: “It’s about being stopped by cops with a trunk full of coke, but also about the larger presumption of guilt from the cradle that leads you to having the crack in your trunk in the first place.”

 “Rap is built to handle contradictions…How can he be rapping about selling drugs on one album and then get on Oprah talking about making lemon pie the next day?”

“Big loved to smoke, but I could count the number of times I’d smoked trees. Champagne and the occasional Malibu rum were my thing back then, but mostly I liked to stay sober, the better to stay focused on making money.”

“I think for some people life is always like those street corners in Brooklyn, with everyone arguing for the superiority of their own beliefs. I believe that religion is the thing that separates and controls people. I don’t believe in the fire-and-brimstone shit.”


And now, the top five hip-hop artists we’d like to see a tell-all memoir from:

1. Lil Wayne… ‘Cause he just got out of NYC’s Rikers Island for a stint on a weapons charge (who doesn’t keep a loaded gun on their tour bus?) and from the looks of one of his first post-prison pics (courtesy of DJ Scoob Doo’s Twitter account)—and from his prison blog, weezythanxyou.com—he’s back and ready to party. Can’t wait for the next album. And that tell-all book.

2. He goes by many names (Shock G, Rackadelic, Peanut Hakeem, MC Blowfish, um, Gregory E. Jacobs), but he’ll always be Humpty Hump to us.  And since it turns out that the story behind Humpty’s Groucho glasses-and-nose get-up (his original nose having been savaged by a deep fryer) was completely made up, we think it’s time we got the straight story of Digital Underground’s most colorful character.

3. A critical darling who never made it as big as he deserved, Talib Kweli is one of the most talented rappers of his generation. Even the great Jigga himself trumpeted his talents on The Black Album: “If skills sold, truth be told I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli.” Saleswise, he’s certainly no Jay-Z, but he has enough fans to justify a memoir, from his days with Mos Def and Black Star, to his collaborations with Dave Chappelle, Kanye West and others.

4. Lil’ Kim. She grew up in Bed-Stuy and rolled with the big boys, including Biggie himself. Lil’ Kim has always been feisty and fierce—whether she’s sporting pasties on the red carpet or doing time for keeping her trap shut—this little lady of rap is one diva we’d never wanna cross. Her book would be filled to the brim with East Coast/West Coast juicy gossip.

5. Flavor Flav: The Brigitte Nielsen years. Pretty self-explanatory.


Pub info:



Spiegel & Grau / Nov. 16, 2010 / 9781400068920 / $35.00