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Description

Product Description

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)

Review

“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)

About the Author

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

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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.
 
FIRST THE FAT BOYS GONNA BREAK UP
 
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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4.7 out of 54.7 out of 5
1,291 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

D. Young
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very Likable
Reviewed in the United States on November 1, 2017
I really like what I am reading so far, I’m not finished but so far Jay really breaks a lot of things down about the art of rapping and the music industry. I think the illustrations are decent but I don’t really like the verses pages with the explanation of the word play in... See more
I really like what I am reading so far, I’m not finished but so far Jay really breaks a lot of things down about the art of rapping and the music industry. I think the illustrations are decent but I don’t really like the verses pages with the explanation of the word play in small print, I think it’s the small print that turns me off. Otherwise so far the book is great, I recommend it to anyone who likes Jay or just in love with Hip Hop. I also think Jay lets his guard down a lot in this book, talking about growing up in the Marcy Houses in Brooklyn during the birth of Hip Hop, coming of age during the Crack Epidemic and loving Big Daddy Kane in his Heyday. What I’ve learned is that Jay is a good listener and he pays attention to what’s going on around him, he’s not ashamed of his hustling past (which helped him evolve in the rap game and as a business man). Oh man I’m just loving this book so far. As I progress through the book I will add more to this review, stay tuned...
12 people found this helpful
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Author Saleem Little
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
In case you missed it
Reviewed in the United States on July 30, 2019
I remember buying this book in search of the motivation that usually accompanies a Jay-Z produced product. Whether it be Music, Film, Fashion or Fragrance, the man known as Jay-Z has always been able to - without much effort - encourage men and women from all walks of life... See more
I remember buying this book in search of the motivation that usually accompanies a Jay-Z produced product. Whether it be Music, Film, Fashion or Fragrance, the man known as Jay-Z has always been able to - without much effort - encourage men and women from all walks of life but especially those who come from modest means. Decoded however, at least for me, satisfied its intended purpose, to elucidate the brilliance of lyrics that are often overlooked by the passive mind, or overshadowed by enthralling production. With so much glitz and glamour surrounding his moniker - Jay -Z - it''s often hard for the average fan to decode the man - Shawn Carter. With a pretty impressive internal layout and it''s mysterious symbolic cover, Decoded was able to deliver just that - Shawn Carter.
7 people found this helpful
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itstarka
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Calling All Poets
Reviewed in the United States on August 11, 2014
This book is nostalgic because I was in the clubs along the east coast hearing Jig before he was big... Though he was always big to me... But that was some time ago and the years have landed me at home with four kids homeschooling and a bit removed from the rap world. I''m... See more
This book is nostalgic because I was in the clubs along the east coast hearing Jig before he was big... Though he was always big to me... But that was some time ago and the years have landed me at home with four kids homeschooling and a bit removed from the rap world. I''m thrilled to have picked this book up after reading an interview where Foxy Brown suggests that I do. Its argument towards the correlation between rap and poetry is so undeniably refreshing and enlightening. This has become sort of a text book (I can''t wait to read again) that let''s me into my own mind and gives me permission to explore the rhymes in my own head and allows me the freedom from boxes created by others. I''m not a rapper but a poet and the mere fact that I see myself so vividly in the pages of this book (though our stories are dramatically different)... Let''s me into a world that frees me to create without fear of ridicule and rebuke. This has opened my notebook again.
10 people found this helpful
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TDT
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great book!
Reviewed in the United States on March 22, 2011
I''m not someone who has the patience to sit down and read often.A book has to be really compelling.I may be biased because Jay-Z is my favorite rapper and I do consider him the greatest ever.Furthermore,I find him to be a very interesting person in general.I got half way... See more
I''m not someone who has the patience to sit down and read often.A book has to be really compelling.I may be biased because Jay-Z is my favorite rapper and I do consider him the greatest ever.Furthermore,I find him to be a very interesting person in general.I got half way through the book and stopped because it''s hard to focus on a book and plan a wedding simultaneously.So far I''m enjoying it,although some of the dialogue became redundant as for me being that I''ve seen so many interviews with Hova.That being said,there are some parts that are really fascinating and make me appreciate J as an artist even more.The book really can seperate the true intellectual hip hop head from the person who is a front runner or fan of ringtone rap.Fans of "today''s hip-hop" probably won''t appreciate it.PPL who connected with Jay''s transition from street hustler to corporate hustler will embrace it...especially if you appreciate both aspects of his life.In other words,if you were as impressed with the lyrics in his Grammy Family Freestyle as you were with some of his earlier work (as I am),then you''ll love this book.If you''re narrow minded and you only care about his hustling days or the materialism associated with hip hop,it''ll probably bore you and go over your head.I especially dig the dialouge describing him and a less than impressed reporter regarding his use of Che Guevarra rhetoric and memoribilia.To wrap things up,I don''t have the attention span to read as often as I should but this book captivated me as long as any other has.It''s a good read and I can''t wait to pick it back up once my life returns to normalcy lol.
5 people found this helpful
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Michael J Wood
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A terrific real-world story for anyone who wants to be inspired, and full of great tips for artists and entrepreneurs
Reviewed in the United States on June 18, 2014
Jay-Z''s contemporary rags-to-riches story is a more detailed, thorough, insightful, and powerful story than any kind of fiction you might read in an inspirational genre. This book is terrific reading for artists and entrepreneurs, especially, although anyone who wants to be... See more
Jay-Z''s contemporary rags-to-riches story is a more detailed, thorough, insightful, and powerful story than any kind of fiction you might read in an inspirational genre. This book is terrific reading for artists and entrepreneurs, especially, although anyone who wants to be inspired, as well as anyone with interest in his music, would enjoy it.

The book consists of lyrics "decoded," where Jay-Z explains both where the song ideas came from and the way all the lyrics are connected to each other, as well as portions of his real-world story, rising from the Marcy Projects to a best-selling artist competitive with the Beatles in terms of how many #1 albums they''ve had.

In particular interest to me were the chapters regarding his break-out crossover hit, "Hard Knock Life," and how Jay-Z had the realization that "Annie''s story was my story." Jay-Z applies this knowledge to building a brand and identity for himself, which led to his pop crossover success on the charts.

Those kinds of insights, from a man who self-transformed into a superstar, are crucial for artists, entrepreneurs, and anyone out struggling with personal identity and their own success struggles.

I highly recommend this book. If I were a business professor or music teacher, I would make this required reading for students.
7 people found this helpful
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Real217
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Jay-Z''s music and life...
Reviewed in the United States on July 17, 2011
This is one tale that only one person can tell about Jay-Z - Jay-Z himself. It shows enlightenement and leaves us; the audience to juxtapose it to just education. Priceless life experiences can set you on the right part. This is Hovi''s politics, his street life, his... See more
This is one tale that only one person can tell about Jay-Z - Jay-Z himself. It shows enlightenement and leaves us; the audience to juxtapose it to just education. Priceless life experiences can set you on the right part. This is Hovi''s politics, his street life, his mentality, his musical genius and other things you wanted to know about Jay. This is not a literary classic, its Jay-Z story, an impressive rendition of himself by himself. First hand look at some of Jay-Z''s lyrics, why he sold drugs at a very young age, how he refused to accept that it cannot be done and proceeded to do it. Maybe Jay-Z''s naysayers will see why he is respected by both underground and mainstream rap listeners, this is why, at least if you refused to listen to Jay, at least read this book. Form your own opinion, forget about hearsay. The way he makes use of homonyms kind of explains why it seems Jay can flow on any beat, he cares about the rhyming a lot, but most importantly the delivery of the message in the song. One artist that we wont forget in a hurry is Jay-Z, not just about his music, but about the choices he had to make in life and how he overcame from almost nothing.

The only thing i have a problem with; why did you give it all away Jay? lol.
One person found this helpful
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Eugene K
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A great read, very inspiring
Reviewed in the United States on July 2, 2021
A very captivating and refreshing read. The author is very descriptive and paints a perfect picture of life in the projects from the perspective of a young kid trying to make it out. He also sheds a lot of light on the hip-hop... See more
A very captivating and refreshing read. The author is very descriptive and paints a perfect picture of life in the projects from the perspective of a young kid trying to make it out. He also sheds a lot of light on the hip-hop culture and its evolution over the years. It''s one of those books that you wouldn''t want to put down once you start reading it. Fantastic work. The book itself arrived in good form despite the fact that it is a used copy, the pages are still crisp and clean
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happy98
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting book and writing style
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2010
I got this as a christmas present for my nephew who is into the hip hop scene. I skimmed through it and read a chapter or two and was impressed. Jay Z is about 10 years younger than me, but dicuss a lot things I remember from high school (Run DMC, Sugar Hill, Grandmaster... See more
I got this as a christmas present for my nephew who is into the hip hop scene. I skimmed through it and read a chapter or two and was impressed. Jay Z is about 10 years younger than me, but dicuss a lot things I remember from high school (Run DMC, Sugar Hill, Grandmaster Flash, etc). Its interesting to see it discussed from a generation behind me perspective. The prose is put together in an interesting almost melodic way... I guess its what we should expect from a poet / rapper. Anyway, the whole rap scene sort of ended for me when Ice Cube / Dr. Dre / Tu Pac left the building. But I think it will put things into good perspective and sort of give a history lesson to the current set of listeners. If I see it, I will buy an audible version for myself.
5 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

Victoria
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A must have...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 15, 2020
I originally bought this for my partner, then had to get myself one after I read one or two pages while wrapping it up. You have to look at this book with an elite mindset and when you do, you will be able to read between the lines and learn everything there is to know...See more
I originally bought this for my partner, then had to get myself one after I read one or two pages while wrapping it up. You have to look at this book with an elite mindset and when you do, you will be able to read between the lines and learn everything there is to know about having a mindset like the GOAT. No it is not told in bullet points, it is told through stories and Lyrics - you may not see straight away what it is that you want to see - but if you know what you''re looking for, its a gem!
3 people found this helpful
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gamblor
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Jay-Z by Jay-Z
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 13, 2011
In this book we follow the author as he talks about his life growing up, the musical influences he had and the effect of having a troubled past. We learn about how Jay-Z experienced his first steps as a musician and the power of rhymes and rhyming. There is also a focus on...See more
In this book we follow the author as he talks about his life growing up, the musical influences he had and the effect of having a troubled past. We learn about how Jay-Z experienced his first steps as a musician and the power of rhymes and rhyming. There is also a focus on the business side of the music business. From starting his own label, to releasing his own music and finding new talent. Here we learn that he had to cover many fronts at a time to keep everything in check. As the man himself put it: "I''m not a businessman, I''m a business, man" All this is accompanied by Jay-Z''s lyrics and his explantation for them. If you ever wondered what a certain rhyme of wordplay meant, this book is for you. The book contains many beautiful photo''s and anecdotes about his past and the people he collaborated with.
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MartyN
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
you perhaps *might* enjoy this book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 24, 2015
If you''re a Shawn Carter fan, you perhaps *might* enjoy this book. Personally as I fan; I found no interesting untold anecdotes or insight which made this an essential purchase. Actually, overall, the premise of the book promised a lot but I didn''t feel there was a lot of...See more
If you''re a Shawn Carter fan, you perhaps *might* enjoy this book. Personally as I fan; I found no interesting untold anecdotes or insight which made this an essential purchase. Actually, overall, the premise of the book promised a lot but I didn''t feel there was a lot of around the decoding of Jay-Z''s lyrics to warrant a whole book - nothing that you couldn''t find online if you really wanted to. A decent read but not particularly essential.
One person found this helpful
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Asimo
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great Read!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 21, 2012
The book was truly excellent; while it seemed like an autobiography, it wasn''t. The book offers small stories that occured during Jay-Z''s lifetime and how this is reflected onto lyrical content of his songs. It has been thoroughly interesting because he truly ''decodes'' his...See more
The book was truly excellent; while it seemed like an autobiography, it wasn''t. The book offers small stories that occured during Jay-Z''s lifetime and how this is reflected onto lyrical content of his songs. It has been thoroughly interesting because he truly ''decodes'' his lyrics and revealing the into depth meaning. I am a Jay-Z fan, but after reading this, it has left me wanting to know more about him. I love how open and honest this book is and would recommend it to anyone, especially to those who have the perception of dismissing rap altogether. I definitely will be reading it over again, just to ensure I have most of his songs on my iPod in which I can follow the lyrics through!
2 people found this helpful
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IMaksy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
No1 Fan item
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 28, 2020
I got this as a Christmas present for a Jay-Z fan and the hardcover back makes it an ideal keepsake gift.
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