Decoded by Jay-Z

We footnote the rapper's new memoir.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

It's telling that the name on the jacket of Decoded reads Jay-Z rather than Shawn Carter. In some ways, the coffee-table tome—a mash-up of memoir and songbook1—is as shrewd a piece of myth building as anything the rapper has done, and it's no secret that "book author" is just one of Jigga's many side hustles2. But in skipping the celeb tell-all3, the musician offers something far less disposable: a genuine homage to hip-hop past and present from one of its most respected practitioners.

To be sure, the name-dropping anecdotes are there for the casual page turner: the story of a powwow with Bill Clinton in a backroom of the Spotted Pig4, plus the requisite haul of tales about Biggie. But it's Jay's clear passion for rapping that makes the book tick as a whole. And though his self-footnoting occasionally feels as laborious as a high-school English paper5, it's also packed with manna for fans, such as the genesis of the oft-quoted line "I'm like Che Guevara with bling on, I'm complex."

For all it lacks in personal revelations, Decoded still manages to leave you craving more. Here's hoping for volume two6.


1 There are 36 deconstructed songs—from monster hits ("99 Problems," "Big Pimpin'") to deep album cuts ("D'Evils," "Lyrical Exercise").
2 See also: NBA owner, restaurant investor, Obama booster, businessman. Business, man.
3 Jigga is famously guarded about his personal life, and he has refused to sign off on a more personal biography—Black Book—that he completed with Decoded collaborator Dream Hampton in 2006.
4 "He has a quick laugh and a genuine curiosity."
5 e.g., Did you catch that simile?
6 Jay-Z's third album is titled Vol 2: Hard Knock Life. See what we did there?


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By Jay-Z. Spiegel & Grau, $35.