Simon Vozick-Levinson
November 10, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST

Decoded

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Jay Z
genre
Nonfiction, Memoir
We gave it an A-

Despite the career he has made out of rapping in the first person, Jay-Z is known for prizing privacy. His new book Decoded may not erase that reputation — look elsewhere for gossip — but it is nonetheless Shawn Carter?s most honest airing of the experiences he drew on to create the mythic figure of Jay-Z. The portrait that emerges is threefold.

Jay-Z The Hustler
He dealt crack cocaine in his teens. Some critics have mistaken his references to this as somehow glorifying it. Here he expands on the nuances that have always existed in his lyrics — the desperation that drove him to crime and the paranoia and shame that followed.

Jay-Z The Star
Decoded doesn?t linger on his rise to the top, but the scenes he recounts along the way are fascinating, whether he?s recalling a bull session with Bono or acknowledging former business partner Damon Dash in surprisingly magnanimous terms.

Jay-Z The Artist
The memoir?s chief theme is Jay-Z?s obsession with words. Annotated lyric sheets unpack allusions that even the most attentive listeners might have missed. He situates his work in the English canon, comparing his chosen form to the sonnet and crediting favorite authors (”Shout-out to Alfred, Lord Tennyson”). After reading Decoded, you won?t doubt for a second that he deserves the same level of respect as any of those great scribes. A?

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