Decoded

Decoded

3.9 464
by Jay-Z
     
 

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Decoded is a book like no other: a collection of lyrics and their meanings that together tell the story of a culture, an art form, a moment in history, and one of the most provocative and successful artists of our time.

“Hip-hop’s renaissance man drops a classic. . . . Heartfelt, passionate and slick.”— Kirkus, starred review

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Overview

Decoded is a book like no other: a collection of lyrics and their meanings that together tell the story of a culture, an art form, a moment in history, and one of the most provocative and successful artists of our time.

“Hip-hop’s renaissance man drops a classic. . . . Heartfelt, passionate and slick.”— Kirkus, starred review

Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
…gives the reader a harrowing portrait of the rough worlds Jay-Z navigated in his youth, while at the same time deconstructing his lyrics, in much the way that Stephen Sondheim does in his new book, Finishing the HatDecoded leaves the reader with a keen appreciation of how rap artists have worked myriad variations on a series of familiar themes (hustling, partying and "the most familiar subject in the history of rap—why I'm dope") by putting a street twist on an arsenal of traditional literary devices (hyperbole, double entendres, puns, alliteration and allusions), and how the author himself magically stacks rhymes upon rhymes, mixing and matching metaphors even as he makes unexpected stream-of-consciousness leaps that rework old clichés and play clever aural jokes on the listener…
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
“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

Library Journal
Rapper/mogul Jay-Z presents the lyrics to 36 of his songs, and provides their fuller autobiographical and cultural context.
Kirkus Reviews

Accommodate. Dwindle. Suspicious. Obscene. We owe these and a few dozen other words to William Shakespeare, who coined some, twisted others into new shapes, heard still others in the mouths of bricklayers, milkmaids, merchants and shepherds in the English countryside. Moreover, Shakespeare mastered whole technical vocabularies, drawing on the language of sailing, of falconry, of hunting, of painting.

The corpus of Shakespeare's work, quantified, contains 31,534 individual words—or, as the helpful authors of the textbook Statistical Reasoning for Everyday Life put it, "a grand total of 884,647 words counting repetitions." But that doesn't seem a great deal, given that the English of our time contains, arguably (and scholars do argue about the matter, endlessly), a million words, great numbers of which are coinages in neoscientific Latin (by way of example, look up ibuprofen sometime).

Yet, considering the efforts of scholars such as C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards in the 1930s to reduce English to a mere 850 words, the better to transport the language to every corner of a waiting world, Shakespeare's trove seems more than sufficient. He got literature out of his stock of words, after all.

And so did Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who, 50 years ago, crafted an unforgettable children's book, Green Eggs and Ham, from a stock of a mere 50 words.

The story has it that Seuss, visiting publisher Bennett Cerf in New York, happily remarked that he had used only 225 individual words in a previous book, The Cat in the Hat. Not impressed, Cerf—himself a writer of children's books, most consisting of bad jokes that continue to poison my mind half a century later ("What's big and red and eats rocks?" "A big red rock eater.")—bet Seuss that he could not write a complete story using only 50.

Seuss returned with Green Eggs and Ham, which contains precisely 50 words, all but one of them ("anywhere") consisting of a single syllable. The tale is a simple one: A strangely shaped mammal named Sam (or Sam-I-Am) exhorts an unnamed friend to try a delicious plate of green eggs and ham. Rightly suspecting any egg that, even after cooking, remains green, said friend adamantly refuses, saying, "I would not eat them with a fox. / I would not eat them in a box. / I would not eat them here or there. / I would not eat them anywhere. / I would not eat green eggs and ham. / I do not like them, Sam-I-Am."

Pure poetry, that. Green Eggs and Ham was published in August 1960, just in time for me to count it among the earliest books I read, and it has gone on in the half-century since to become, by most measures, the fourth-bestselling children's book in the English language, making for good commerce as well as good literature.

If only Shakespeare had been so economical. We might today be reading Green Eggs and Hamlet.

—Gregory McNamee

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812981155
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/01/2011
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
72,121
Product dimensions:
7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

A note from Jay-Z:

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 ’80s and ’90s, 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-1 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.

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