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Decoded
Cover of Decoded
Decoded
by Jay-Z
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.

Praise for Decoded
"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

"Hip-hop's renaissance man drops a classic. . . . Heartfelt, passionate and slick."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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.

Praise for Decoded
"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

"Hip-hop's renaissance man drops a classic. . . . Heartfelt, passionate and slick."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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Excerpts-
  • From the book I saw the circle before I saw the kid in the middle. I was nine years old, the summer of 1978, and Marcy was my world. The shadowy bench-lined inner pathways that connected the twenty-seven six-story buildings of Marcy Houses were like tunnels we kids burrowed through. Housing projects can seem like labyrinths to outsiders, as complicated and intimidating as a Moroccan bazaar. But we knew our way around.

    Marcy sat on top of the G train, which connects Brooklyn to Queens, but not to the city. For Marcy kids, Manhattan is where your parents went to work, if they were lucky, and where we'd yellow-bus it with our elementary class on special trips. I'm from New York, but I didn't know that at nine. The street signs for Flushing, Marcy, Nostrand, and Myrtle avenues seemed like metal flags to me: Bed-Stuy was my country, Brooklyn my planet.

    When I got a little older Marcy would show me its menace, but for a kid in the seventies, it was mostly an adventure, full of concrete corners to turn, dark hallways to explore, and everywhere other kids. When you jumped the fences to play football on the grassy patches that passed for a park, you might find the field studded with glass shards that caught the light like diamonds and would pierce your sneakers just as fast. Turning one of those concrete corners you might bump into your older brother clutching dollar bills over a dice game, Cee-Lo being called out like hardcore bingo. It was the seventies and heroin was still heavy in the hood, so we would dare one another to push a leaning nodder off a bench the way kids on farms tip sleeping cows. The unpredictability was one of the things we counted on. Like the day when I wandered up to something I'd never seen before: a cipher—but I wouldn't have called it that; no one would've back then. It was just a circle of scrappy, ashy, skinny Brooklyn kids laughing and clapping their hands, their eyes trained on the center. I might have been with my cousin B-High, but I might have been alone, on my way home from playing baseball with my Little League squad. I shouldered through the crowd toward the middle—or maybe B-High cleared the way—but it felt like gravity pulling me into that swirl of kids, no bullshit, like a planet pulled into orbit by a star.

    His name was Slate and he was a kid I used to see around the neighborhood, an older kid who barely made an impression. In the circle, though, he was transformed, like the church ladies touched by the spirit, and everyone was mesmerized. He was rhyming, throwing out couplet after couplet like he was in a trance, for a crazy long time—thirty minutes straight off the top of his head, never losing the beat, riding the handclaps. He rhymed about nothing—the sidewalk, the benches—or he'd go in on the kids who were standing around listening to him, call out someone's leaning sneakers or dirty Lee jeans. And then he'd go in on how clean he was, how nice he was with the ball, how all our girls loved him. Then he'd just start rhyming about the rhymes themselves, how good they were, how much better they were than yours, how he was the best that ever did it, in all five boroughs and beyond. He never stopped moving, not dancing, just rotating in the center of the circle, looking for his next target. The sun started to set, the crowd moved in closer, the next clap kept coming, and he kept meeting it with another rhyme. It was like watching some kind of combat, but he was alone in the center. All he had were his eyes, taking in everything, and the words inside him. I was dazzled. That's some cool shit was the first thing I thought. Then: I could do that.

    That night, I started writing rhymes in my...
About the Author-
  • Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is one of the most successful hip-hop artists and entrepreneurs of all time.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    Starred review from December 1, 2010

    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.

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2010

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

    Copyright 2010 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

    "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."

  • The New Yorker "One of a handful of books that just about any hip hop fan should own."
  • Los Angeles Times "Elegantly designed, incisively written . . . an impressive leap by a man who has never been known for small steps."
  • The Boston Globe "A riveting exploration of Jay-Z's journey . . . So thoroughly engrossing, it reads like a good piece of cultural journalism."
  • Entertainment Weekly "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."
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    Random House Publishing Group
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