by Jay-Z


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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)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812981155
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2011
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 35,378
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

JAY-Z (Shawn Carter) is one of the most successful hip-hop artists and entrepreneurs of all time.

Read an Excerpt

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 spiral notebook. From the beginning it was easy, a constant flow. For days I filled page after page. Then I’d bang a beat out on the table, my bedroom window, whatever had a flat surface, and practice from the time I woke in the morning until I went to sleep. My mom would think I was up watching TV, but I’d be in the kitchen pounding on the table, rhyming. One day she brought a three-ring binder home from work for me to write in. The paper in the binder was unlined, and I filled every blank space on every page. My rhymes looked real chaotic, crowded against one another, some vertical, some slanting into the corners, but when I looked at them the order was clear.
I connected with an older kid who had a reputation as the best rapper in Marcy—Jaz was his name—and we started practicing our rhymes into a heavy-ass tape recorder with a makeshift mic attached. The first time I heard our voices playing back on tape, I realized that a recording captures you, but plays back a distortion—a different voice from the one you hear in your own head, even though I could recognize myself instantly. I saw it as an opening, a way to re-create myself and reimagine my world. After I recorded a rhyme, it gave me an unbelievable rush to play it back, to hear that voice.
One time a friend peeked inside my notebook and the next day I saw him in school, reciting my rhymes like they were his. I started writing real tiny so no one could steal my lyrics, and then I started straight hiding my book, stuffing it in my mattress like it was cash. Everywhere I went I’d write. If I was crossing a street with my friends and a rhyme came to me, I’d break out my binder, spread it on a mailbox or lamppost and write the rhyme before I crossed the street. I didn’t care if my friends left me at the light, I had to get it out. Even back then, I thought I was the best.
There were some real talents in Marcy. DJs started setting up sound systems in the project courtyards and me and Jaz and other MCs from around the way would battle one another for hours. It wasn’t like that first cipher I saw: the crowds were more serious now and the beat was kept by eight-foot-tall speakers with subwoofers that would rattle the windows of the apartments around us. I was good at battling and I practiced it like a sport. I’d spend free time reading the dictionary, building my vocabulary for battles. I could be ruthless, calm as fuck on the outside, but flooded with adrenaline, because the other rapper was coming for me, too. It wasn’t a Marquess of Queensberry situation. I saw niggas get swung on when the rhymes cut too deep. But mostly, as dangerous as it felt, it stayed lyrical. I look back now and it still amazes me how intense those moments were, back when there was nothing at stake but your rep, your desire to be the best poet on the block.
I wasn’t even in high school yet and I’d discovered my voice. But I still needed a story to tell.
Hip-hop was looking for a narrative, too.
By the time the eighties came along, rap was exploding, and I remember the mainstream breakthroughs like they were my own rites of passage. In 1981, the summer before seventh grade, the Funky Four Plus One More performed “That’s the Joint” on Saturday Night Live and the Rock Steady Crew got on ABC Nightly News for battling the Dynamic Rockers at Lincoln Center in a legendary showdown of b-boy dance crews. My parents watched Soul Train every Saturday when we cleaned up, but when my big sister Annie and I saw Don Cornelius introduce the Sugar Hill Gang, we just stopped in the middle of the living room with our jaws open. What are they doing on TV?
I remember the 12-inch of Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That” backed with “Sucker M.C.’s” being definitive. That same year, 1983, the year I started high school, Bambaataa released “Looking for the Perfect Beat” and shot a wild-ass video wearing feathered headdresses that they’d play on the local access channel. Annie and I would make up dance routines to those songs, but we didn’t take it as far as the costumes. Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” came out that year, too, and those three records were a cultural trifecta. Disco, and even my parents’ classic R&B records, all faded into the background. Everywhere we went there were twelve-pound boom boxes being pulled on skateboards or cars parked on the curb blasting those records. DJ Red Alert debuted his show on Kiss FM and Afrika Islam had a show, “Zulu Beats,” on WHBI. The World’s Famous Supreme Team did a show you had to catch early in the morning. Kids would make cassettes and bring them to school to play one another the freshest new song from the night before. I’m not gonna say that I thought I could get rich from rap, but I could clearly see that it was gonna get bigger before it went away. Way bigger.

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Decoded 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 478 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!
JeBr0497 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading Decoded by Jay-Z, I knew this book would be good because you have to be a good writer to be a good lyricist but even I was surprised of how great it really was. I really enjoyed getting deeper into some of Jay's lyrics and loved some of the stories he told.
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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