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.
Part memoir, part coffee table book, and part dissertation on the merits of hip hop, Jay-Z's Decoded was a fascinating, worthwhile read. I will admit that I skimmed a few sections of the book because some of it just didn't interest me as much as other parts, but on the whole I'd have to say this book gave me a better understanding of rap culture and I have an even greater respect for the talent of this great artist.
I have never been a huge fan of rap and hip-hop, but I certainly can appreciate when it bridges genres, and that is one thing I highly respect about Jay-Z: his willingness to work with other bands and artists outside of rap and hip-hop. In fact, his collaboration with Linkin Park a few years ago showed not only how diverse these two artists can be, but also how beautifully their musical styles compliment each other.
Whenever you read a book that is written by a celebrity, you always wonder in the back of your mind if the person whose name is on the cover is really the one who wrote it. This happens so much in celebri-land that I rarely take those types of books seriously anymore. So when I first started reading Decoded, I had my suspicions that Jay-Z himself didn't write it. But as I continued to delve further into the book, I could feel the passion behind the words and it didn't feel forced or faked. I would venture to guess that Jay-Z really did write Decoded and if he didn't, then he had really big hand in the revision process.
As a lover of music, I am always fascinated to read what inspires musicians, even if it's not a type of music I normally listen to. I am much more likely to respect an artist who has a hand in his own music rather than being a pop star who is just given songs to sing and has no say over the creative process. When the music is real and personal and not dumbed down for the masses, that's when I show mad respect for an artist. Jay-Z is that kind of artist for me.
Decoded by Jay-Z (Shawn Carter)
Published: November 2010 by Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Nonfiction (memoir)
Audience: Adults (music and/or rap/hip-hop lovers)