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Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review: Decoded

I didn't think I would pick up a book by Jay-Z and I certainly didn't think I would relate to a book by Jay-Z. I was wrong on both counts.

When my office reviewed a case study of a Bing/Jay-Z cross promotion, I was impressed by the innovative marketing.  For the month prior to the book's release, actual pages were released (5-10/day) in places relating to the content (i.e.: the housing project where he grew up).  Using "", people could locate the pages online or in person.  Once they found it, they received credit to be entered into a drawing for a signed copy or the grand prize of concert tickets.  The game itself relied on Bing's technology like Bing Maps and Bing Entertainment features like song clips.  I discovered the campaign after it was over, but I figured if Jay-Z was willing to participate in an out-of-the-box campaign, perhaps his book was out-of-the-box as well.

I don't really follow hip hop and only know the big rap songs that crack the Top 40.  I like them fine enough and can tell when some artists are more talented but don't know the genre well enough to understand what sets some apart from others.  If Jay-Z is right (and based on his hoards of followers, he is), the hip hop masters are the ones who are dedicated.  As a boy, Jay-Z poured over the dictionary to increase his vocabulary in an effort to make his rhymes the sickest.  As he dissects his own songs, you see how each word is meticulously chosen to convey complex themes and metaphors throughout each verse.  I'm going to make a bold statement: Jay-Z is a genius.  Like most successful artists, his brain just works differently and I am in awe of the poetry he creates.  Even the narrative pieces of the book have a rhythm that flows like one of his raps.

I also respect how self aware he is.  I am not sure if this is a trait he possessed as a young man, but after years in the game, he has a clear view of his own position within the bigger picture and doesn't apologize for much.  This "realness" is what got me hooked.  Politically correct or not, he is comfortable throwing around the word "nigga" and talking about his experiences on the streets (even if they sound stereotypical).  Whether you agree with the lifestyle or not, it is/was his life and I appreciate him sharing it with the general reader in his own words.  If I felt he was holding back, I would not have been able to take him or hip hop as seriously.

As the title implies, this book decodes Jay-Z's songs as well as his life.  Breaking down his childhood and background as a hustler, you understand the story he was compelled to tell through his music.  It would be easy for Jay-Z to write a tell-all, but this gossip-free book offers more than petty gossip ever could.  It has the power to change one sheltered white girl's perception of hip hop.  I can respect authors and enjoy their work without feeling like we can be buds.  I don't know if we would be besties, but by the time I finished reading, I felt like Jay-Z and I could sit down to a conversation and have no problem finding common ground.  So, HOV, thanks for changing my outlook on you and the hip hop genre.  If you want, I'm up for grabbing a burger at Spotted Pig or even babysitting Blue Ivy so you and Beyonce can have a night out on the town.  Just let me know.  Holla.

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