3.9 477
by Jay-Z

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Expanded edition of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller features 16 pages of new material, including 3 new songs decoded.
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…  See more details below


Expanded edition of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller features 16 pages of new material, including 3 new songs decoded.
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.

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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Random House Publishing Group
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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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Decoded 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 477 reviews.
Paramedic92 More than 1 year ago
I Pre-ordered it in September, Just got it last night. It is very interesting the way it's set up, a hybrid between memoirs and an autobiography it definatley was original in not only design but as an entirety. This book might mean more to somone like myself who has been a fan since a kid of Jay-Z. Since Elementary school, through junior high and senior high school ive always bought his albums, and downloaded his music. I never thought he would come out with a book but now that he has i think my respect grew a little more. I believe you dont have to be from Brooklyn to get inspired by Jay-z' story and success, for me a kid who grew up outside of Philly and Baltimore his advice can help out a lot of teens anywhere. Even if you have not even heard of Him, his story is worth getting to know.
goguins66 More than 1 year ago
I'm not huge fan of rap and I really didn't know much about Jay-Z. After listening to an interview on NPR, my interest was piqued and gave Decoded a try. I've never read an autobiography quite like this and was thrilled with the window Jay-Z gives to the reader into not just himself, but his music and his generation. Not to sound melodramatic, but Decoded changed any kind of education. I'm probably not going to go out and buy a bunch of rap/hip-hop albums, but I have a better understanding of the force behind this music.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First, I have to say, you don't have to be a serious fan of Jay-Z to enjoy this book. Really, you have to be a student of business and the interesting people who build empires. If you listen to Jay-Z's music, then you realize it exposes you to very little of Shawn Carter. This book opens that door and shows us how a child of Brooklyn's Marcy projects transforms himself from aspiring rapper to drug hustler to global superstar to corporate mogul. He is the self-made man of American myth, remixed with a bass-heavy beat. Under the guise of his invented name, Jay-Z has become less person than persona. As he once rapped with characteristic concision: "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man." Though he's released a staggering eleven albums in fourteen years, the man behind the business still remains a mystery -- often seen, but rarely heard. That is what makes Decoded such an unexpected and welcome gift. At over three hundred pages, it is a multimedia, multi-genre extravaganza: part memoir, part coffee table book, part annotated compendium of lyrics, part polemic in the defense of hip hop's poesy. Jay-Z (with the aid of the respected hip-hop journalist dream hampton) intersperses personal anecdotes, rhetorical broadsides, and deep reflections with rich images and typography. From Andy Warhol's striking "Rorschach" on the book's front cover to the interior art, which ranges from Michelangelo's "Pietà" to a vintage Little Orphan Annie button, the book is a visual feast. What the book isn't -- and what many hip-hop fans have long anticipated -- is a tell-all memoir. Though rich in anecdotes, the narrative is organized thematically rather than chronologically, underscoring the continuities across Jay-Z's career. The themes range from poverty to fame, from sports to politics. At times, these subject-driven sections leave one dissatisfied with the level of revelation and reflection, such as in his cursory treatment of race relations. Combined, though, they provide a penetrating glimpse into the mind of one of the greatest American artist-celebrities. This book is definitely one of the top business books of the year, and I rank it right up there with Emotional Intelligence 2.0
In_Limbo More than 1 year ago
Through the early chapters of 'Decoded,' I was dogged by a sense of dissonance. Apart from the lyrical transcripts, the voice of Jay-Z, the persona, scarcely appeared. It's an unmistakable voice, recognizable by its bravado, its misogyny, its unabashed prioritizing of the self. Here, instead, I heard a narrative voice humming with graciousness, sharpening on occasion but tending toward softer, more elegant rhythms and tones. Was this disembodiment the work of a ghost? I presume that, for a man whose trade demands mastery of language, pride would not allow it. I wondered, more plausibly, if Jay-Z had dissembled so as to please a literary crowd that's leery of the method and message of contemporary hip-hop. After all, in this very book, he contends that every emcee is part trickster and that art "elevates and refines and transforms," but "sometimes it just fu*** with you for the fun of it." As 'Decoded' wound on, the steady stream of humble prose, despite being uncharacteristic, eventually compelled me to dispatch my suspicions. It felt too honest to be artifice. Confronted with the contradictory personalities of Jay-Z and Shawn Carter, I realized I needn't embrace one and decry the other. Both could be genuine. The rapper persona is a paradoxical being - a character that lets the artist dissociate into a fictional form, yet, in so doing, provides heightened means for genuine expression. This is not a book, however, that's primarily concerned with its creator or his alter ego; the prevailing authorial desire in "Decoded" is outward-oriented: to advocate for hip-hop as a legitimate art form. He does this by analyzing bars and verses - a sometimes tedious, sometimes illuminating undertaking. He does it through an audacious-but-successful likening of braggadocio rap tracks to Shakespeare sonnets. And he does it through deft navigation of the social and political aspects of the African-American ghetto experience, thus providing a vivid context for the rise of hip-hop. In a particularly incisive passage, he writes, "We came out of the generation of black people who finally got the point: No one's going to help us. So we went for self, for family, for block, for crew - which sounds selfish; it's one of the criticisms hustlers and rappers both get, that we're hypercapitalists concerned only with the bottom line and enriching ourselves. But it's just a rational response to the reality we faced." These cultural observations, while mostly fascinating and artful, substitute for deeper probing into the author's life. For instance, Carter discusses ghetto violence, but sanitizes his own experiences. He examines Darwinian competition in rap culture, but avoids comments on his own battles with fellow rappers. In this sense, the book does not satisfy the taste for autobiography that it activates. Still, focusing on what is included, "Decoded" is a refreshing book. Thoughtfully constructed, it has emotional and intellectual heft. Varied in form, with text/lyrics/footnotes/graphics, it's an expedited read. Because of its author's renown and the inclusivity of the subject matter, it also has broad appeal. Carter proposes that great characters compel the audience to feel connected to their motivations and actions, as if they own them. The dissonance between Carter and Jay-Z, the person and the persona, is striking but, for this reason, not absolute. Both perceive and evoke their reality with acuity, allowing us to hear our voices in theirs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being a Jay Z fan this is a good book to read. Breaks down the lyics in depth. Art work is also provided.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book i would recomend by any body who likes jay z its a good buy
Brando97 More than 1 year ago
This book is great! It goes into such great detail about living in the ghettos of New York. It has so many emotions and feelings that are being expressed! Good book! Great job Jay-Z!
BMD2 More than 1 year ago
Jay-z DECODED is a wonderful story enrapturing the life of Jay-Z. In this story Jay-Z explains how he got to where he is now through the ruff times and the fun times.Jay-Z ,as you learn in the text, isn't all about raping and money he is just like you and me learning the hard struggles of life.He explains how he has almost been arrested and things like that but he also doesn't sugar code everything he tells it as it is.I would recommend this book to some one who is interested in other peoples lives and needs to see the world from another persons point of view. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Actually really got into this book even though it was initially assigned for a class. I'd recommend reading it either way, great detail into Jay-Z's upstart and philosophies as well as the highlites and possitives of hip-hop and rap as a whole.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He walks out, crying.
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Landeeezzy More than 1 year ago
Decoded is a great first person view of hip hop music itself. Jay-Z portrays the struggle as something everyone can relate to. Even though rap music as a whole is very provocative, the message is not, and  is simple enough to be applicable to everyday life. Easily a top recommendation because of a more in depth look of HIp-Hop and the artist himself. I especially became accustomed to Jay-Z's simple writing style and the contrast from his music and his book. The only drawback from this is sometime in some stories Jay makes some leaps that are hard for the reader to make connections, but the gaps aren't too prevalent, so it doesn't affect the overall piece. Overall a very good novel, and an easy read over vacation. It should not be made into a movie though, it would be too long or too hard to follow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
laxley More than 1 year ago
Decoded is an autobiography of the rapper Jay-Z and the challenges he faced growing up in Brooklynn. As a young boy Jay-Z became apart of Brooklynns gang life; dealing drugs and facing other gangs while writing down his own ryhmes and lyrics that were extremely valuable to him. I really enjoyed this book because Jay-Z is one of my favorite artists and understanding what the lyrics mean gives it greater story to tell in his music. The books writing style changes a lot in the book but that is mostly to keep it sounding like Jay-Z and his voice. This book is perfect for music lovers and people looking for a great story about making it big by doing what he loved so much.
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