Named a November must-read by Salon | A The Washington Post 50 notable works of nonfiction in 2019
"Under Dyson’s guidance, to read about Jay-Z is to learn not just about the journey and works but also about ourselves, our history, our world, and our way forward... we are sitting in a classroom under the spell of a captivating teacher." Library Journal, Starred Review
"[An] astute cultural biography... Dyson’s excellent study serves as a succinct blueprint of Jay-Z’s artistry and legacy." Publisher's Weekly
"[Dyson] makes his case that as a truth-telling racial unifier, political influence, and 'vocal evangelist for developing generational wealth in black communities,' Jay-Z represents a symbol of 'overcoming' for hip-hop culture and American society." Booklist
“Michael Eric Dyson, a preeminent public intellectual, has covered the waterfront of black cultural criticism from politics to pop culture, from race to religion. With JAY-Z: Made in America, he returns to his roots and offers us a poignant portrait of one of hip hop’s most intriguing figures, a brilliant self-made man who, if he didn’t exist, you’d have to invent. This tour de force takes full measure of an icon who is an American original like no other!” Henry-Louis Gates
“If you want the definitive treatment of a man who took it from Marcy Projects to the White House with wit, wisdom, and talent, and changed hip hop along the way, look no further than this insightful and moving book.” Common
"My Brooklyn Homeboy JAY-Z is one of the most prolific and gifted rappers of all time. My man Michael Eric Dyson is uniquely qualified to interpret JAY-Z’s art and cultural meaning, and this dope book is all the proof we need." Spike Lee
“As a proud standard bearer of hip hop’s golden age, I greatly admire Jay-Z’s lyrical talent, and just as important, his business acumen. This brilliant book not only explains Jay’s magnificent artistry and career, but it sheds light on the broader American culture as well.” Queen Latifah
“Jay-Z is one of the most remarkable figures of our time. I identify with him as a person who started poor but who rose high to conquer our realms on our own terms. This brilliant work probes every dimension of this iconic American original.” Tyler Perry
“Michael Eric Dyson is the perfect thinker and writer to grapple with Jay-Z’s artistic and political meaning. This is a fascinating and fulfilling book that eloquently engages one of the most profound and influential artists of our time.” Al Sharpton
“Jay-Z's music has helped to shape a generation, and his rise from hustler to billionaire is an inspiration to millions. Michael Eric Dyson, himself a gifted writer and inspiring thinker who has risen from the bottom too, offers us a bracing, brilliant look at an iconic American. This book is eloquent and profound, and will help all of us understand why Jay-Z is in a class by himself.” Tamron Hall
The celebrated public intellectual offers a slim volume on an American musical icon.
For readers who only know Jay-Z as Beyoncé's husband, the latest by Dyson (What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America, 2018, etc.) is a serviceable primer. However, for readers familiar with Jay-Z's music or role in popular culture, this brief book has little to offer. The publication coincides with the rapper's 50th birthday, and it reads as if it was rushed to make the date. The chapters are disorganized and consist largely of riffs that have often tangential connections to his life or work. Dyson's interests are wide-ranging, and some of his digressions are worthwhile in their own right. Ultimately, though, there's too much filler in a book that needed more material. It's no surprise that many of the tangents rehash older writings for which the author is already well known, and he also engages in excessive name-dropping, cringeworthy poetic affectations, and an attitude that sometimes feels condescending to readers and to hip-hop culture. In a long section on the late Nipsey Hussle, Dyson describes a time he sat by the rapper on a flight. As the two men "had an epic conversation," Nipsey "brought up the psychologist Abraham Maslow." This is a typical non sequitur meant to suggest to readers that Nipsey is worthy of our consideration because he is intelligent. The author frequently uses the same approach with Jay-Z, noting, for example, that the rapper uses many of the poetic devices employed by Robert Frost, Rita Dove, and other poets; of course, countless rappers use the same tactics. Dyson is usually far more insightful that this, and readers should turn to Julius Bailey's Jay-Z: Essays on Hip Hop's Philosopher King or Jay-Z's own book, Decoded, a masterpiece of music memoir. Pharrell contributes the foreword.
Jay-Z deserves an in-depth study. This is not it.
"[A]s transcendent a cultural icon as Frank Sinatra, as adventurous a self-made billionaire as Mark Zuckerberg, as gifted a poet as Walt Whitman." Dyson's (What Truth Sounds Like) laudatory biography places Jay-Z at the center of our cultural, social, and political times. The author's effusiveness comes through on every page, which—in lesser hands—would make this title one long fan letter, but it's a tribute to Dyson's prowess that he so effectively gives dimension and relevant context to each thoughtful interpretation of the artist's work, while his always fascinating tangents add depth. Under Dyson's guidance, to read about Jay-Z is to learn not just about the journey and works but also about ourselves, our history, our world, and our way forward. VERDICT This is more than a hip-hop bio; Dyson is giving us something larger, and we are sitting in a classroom under the spell of a captivating teacher.—Bill Baars, formerly with Lake Oswego P.L., OR