When you're famous and say you're writing a book, people assume that it's an autobiography--I was born here, raised there, suffered this, loved that, lost it all, got it back, the end. But that's not what this is. I've never been a linear thinker, which is something you can see in my rhymes. They follow the jumpy logic of poetry and emotion, not the straight line of careful prose. My book is like that, too.
Decoded is first and foremost, a book of rhymes, which is ironic because I don't actually write my rhymes--they come to me in my head and I record them. The book is packed with the stories from my life that are the foundation of my lyrics--stories about coming up in the streets of Brooklyn in the 80's and 90's, stories about becoming an artist and entrepreneur and discovering worlds that I never dreamed existed when I was a kid. But it always comes back to the rhymes. There's poetry in hip-hop lyrics--not just mine, but in the work of all the great hip-hop artists, from KRS-One and Rakim to Biggie and Pac to a hundred emcees on a hundred corners all over the world that you've never heard of. The magic of rap is in the way it can take the most specific experience, from individual lives in unlikely places, and turn them into art that can be embraced by the whole world. Decoded is a book about one of those specific lives--mine--and will show you how the things I've experienced and observed have made their way into the art I've created. It's also about how my work is sometimes not about my life at all, but about pushing the boundaries of what I can express through the poetry of rap--trying to use words to find fresh angles into emotions that we all share, which is the hidden mission in even the hardest hip-hop. Decoded is a book about some of my favorite songs--songs that I unpack and explain and surround with narratives about what inspired them--but behind the rhymes is the truest story of my life.
Video after the jump:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Jay-Z Extended Interview|
Truth be told, I actually did not start off as a Jay-Z fan. When he was first coming out I lumped him in the same category as a lot of the other so-so artists who were out around that time talking about bling-this and bling-that. Back then I thought his more mainstream stuff ("H to the Izzo"; "Can I get a What-What" [radio version]; "It's the Hard Knock Life" etc.) was, well...mainstream. Stuff for the masses on MTV (back when it actually played music) to recite at their keg parties, office gatherings and other suburban social events. It's safe to say I was in the camp of folks who, like Nas, thought that Eminem murdered Jay-Z on his own track (Renegade).
But then something changed when I found out that Jay-Z had actually started his own record label, unlike 99% of the other so-so mainstream artists out there. Then I gave J another listen and he confirmed that the mainstream nonesense was but a mere means to an end:
I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell "Holla"
So he confirmed that he not only was he aware of the "dumbed down" mainstream songs, but that it was all part of the plan all along. Shortly thereafter I, like many of you, sat back and watched as Jay-Z leveraged the capital he had made from the music industry to catapult himself into minority ownership in the New Jersey Nets, owernship of the Rock-a-Ware clothing line and become one of the Top 20 wealthiest African Americans in the country. Say what you want about Jay-Z or his music, but this guy makes shit happen.
But he's also not one of these cats who made their millions and shot up the deuces. He actually contributes to the community. In addition, many folks attribute some the modern trends and elevations within the hip-hop generation to Jay-Z. For example, Jay-Z (and to some degree Usher) made wearing blazers/sports jackets at social events fashionable for a world full of young black men who were stuck on stupid for wearing throwback jerseys and white-T's to the club. In one of his more recent tracks, Jay-Z calls out all those rappers who spend their time "buying out the bar" (ie. spending money) instead of "buying the night spot" (ie. investing their money). So I'm not ashamed to admit that I incorrectly prejudged Jay-Z back in the day.
That being said, what are your thoughts on Jay-Z and/or his new book?
Should more hip-hop artists break down their songs like this? (perhaps a better question is CAN they?)
For the Jay-Z fans out there, give us your favorite Jay-Z lyrics and tell us why you like 'em.