The Rob’s Book Review – Jay-Z “Decoded”
That’s right, The Rob read a book!
A few days ago I finished reading Decoded, a somewhat autobiographical tome from one of my all-time favorite musicians, Jay-Z. Much more than stories from the rap/business mogul’s ‘life and times,’ Decoded also dissects dozens of some of Jay-Z’s most intimate and brilliant songs and lyrics.
The lyrical dissection of Jay’s work jumps out to me as being the premiere reason to buy this book. Its presentation is very unique. On one side of a page will be the original lyrics printed out, for songs like “99 Problems,” “Public Service Announcement,” “Renegade,” and many more. Some lines will be bold followed by an annotated number. On the next page, you can go to the proper annotation and get a breakdown and explanation to fully understand what the words mean. Not just the words, but the subtexts, entendres, and word play all get fully explained in great detail. Some of the explanations will leave you thinking Hova’s an unquestionable genius, and others will greatly change your perception of some of your favorite Jay-Z tracks.
I have never seen such an intricate breakdown and diabolical unhinging of lyrics in my life. It never comes off like an “interview with Jay,” the lyrics and stories are told very much in Jay’s “voice” and I never found myself accusing a ghostwriter of taking the wheel. While I enjoyed reading the stories interspersed into this book, I found the lyrics and explanations to be the book’s main draw. The stories are compelling and well-told, but I found them to be a bit repetitive. The stories, like his song lyrics, are very much about his experienced as a drug dealer before he made it big as a rap star. The stories were raw, eye-opening, and real, but just felt tired to me by the book’s conclusion.
The hardbound edition that I was reading had an incredible presentation. On the outside it looks very much like a normal hardbound book. On the inside though the book very much resembles a coffee table book. It has very nice paper and a very artistic presentation. Pages without pictures are rare, some photos even laying out over two pages. It’s much more “readable” than normal celebrity bios or coffee table reads.
I would recommend this book greatly to Jay-Z die-hards. Casual fans may want to pass on it, and the uninformed will not find the stories meaty enough to justify the hefty pricetag. But people already acquainted with Jay’s 17+ years worth of songs will find this book to be one of the best reads in hip hop history.