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3.83  ·  Rating details ·  7,844 ratings  ·  848 reviews
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.

“Hip-hop’s renaissance man drops a classic. . . . Heartfelt, passionate and slick.”— Kirkus, starred review
Hardcover, 317 pages
Published November 16th 2010 by Spiegel & Grau (first published November 16th 2009)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,844 ratings  ·  848 reviews

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Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: september-2017
Jayz used to be my favorite rapper(until he sold out his entire community for a check from the NFL) Kendrick is the new King of the throne. He wasn't always my favorite rapper, that title use to be shared by Mase and Silk the Shocker( don't judge me! I was 10 years old!). It wasn't until around 1998 when Jayz released "Hard Knock Life" that I became a fan and a serious hip hop head. I then when back and bought all of Jay's old albums, I started listening to BIG and Pac. I completely immersed mys ...more
Apr 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: about-music
Jay-Z and Dream Hampton put together something which is not quite memoir, not quite manifesto and not quite full-blown lyrical analysis. Instead they just sort of dip in and out of each of these things, usually for just a few pages at a time before shifting moods. As someone who has been more or less conditioned to think of Black Pop Stars as eccentrics who live in their own insular, occasionally tragic little worlds. (Prince, George Clinton, Michael Jackson, Sun Ra, Sly Stone et al), I found hi ...more
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: from-the-library, rpl
Jay-Z is my favorite rapper for a reason. That reason is not just the words "We used to use umbrellas to change the weather / Now we travel first class to change the forecast." It's not just that in Allure he alludes to "All the Laurels in the world / I feel your pain." As Hov himself'd say, he can spit over any beat.

But he knows the power of the music, of the words, of the memories and the self-reliance and the heartache and the buying your nephew a car just to have him die in it.

When Jay men
Feb 06, 2013 rated it liked it
I was riding with Jay, through the whole book, and I think the videos in this enhanced edition are invaluable and definitely add to the work. To hear him explain his thought process on certain songs is a bonus to the literature.

Being a fan of Jay Z, I wasn't just interested in the decoding of his songs, I was decoding his words about the songs. So when it gets near the end and Jay offers up his defense of the word n****, everything in the preceding 300 odd pages becomes cloudy, or a hustle.

Dec 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book really surprised me. I'm always curious about the lives of musicians and have always had an appreciation for a select roster of hip hop artists, but I genuinely found this book compelling and hard to put down.

Jay-Z doesn't come off as arrogant as I'd have thought. Instead, he seems very self-aware and conscience of how unique his life is. He also lets readers into a world that most probably know little about. His explanations of drug dealing, rapping, and the music industry are given m
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Life and Times of Shawn Carter

Through the early chapters of ‘Decoded,’ I was dogged by a sense of dissonance. Apart from the lyrical transcripts, the voice of Jay-Z, the persona, scarcely appeared. It’s an unmistakable voice, recognizable by its bravado, its misogyny, its unabashed prioritizing of the self. Here, instead, I heard a narrative voice humming with graciousness, sharpening on occasion but tending toward softer, more elegant rhythms and tones.

Was this disembodiment the work of a g
This was a mostly enjoyable account of Jay-Z’s life and work, narrated by him (and? through?) dream hampton, which is why I’m counting it for this month’s female authors challenge. The format of this book is really interactive, and it often reads more like a picture book or liner notes than a formal memoir.

This is another book for my “Unpacking the Elevator” course, and so a lot of the themes I found relate to our class conversations, which currently focus on the interiority Solange and Jay-Z’s
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Jay-Z's Decoded is part biography, part commentary on American events and issues from the 1980's to the present, part poetry anthology, part history of rap and hip-hop music, and part sociology textbook. Don't be fooled into thinking it is going to be a quick, light read. It was interesting to read this book after Keith Richards's Life. Illegal drugs had a huge effect on the lives of both of these men; Richards as a consumer, and Carter as a dealer. Both men found inspiration and solace in Ameri ...more
Kara Babcock
A friend lent Decoded me after I expressed a desire to “get into hip hop”. This is not a whim on my part but a recognition of a gap in my otherwise wide musical listening. Although I would say that my “favourite” music tends towards a fairly narrow swath of sound, and my tastes are decidedly more pop than hard rock in later years, I appreciate a lot of different sounds, albeit perhaps not equally. I rock out to classical music cranked loud with my windows down; I dance around my kitchen to Flore ...more
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
i think this book is great, so let me say that up front. i recommend it. BUT- IT IS THE MOST SEXIST BOOK ON EARTH, quietly so. one paragraph on Foxy Brown? really? BARELY a mention of the impact of Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Salt & Peppa, or Roxanne Shanté (no mention of her at all). this man talks about hip-hop as if it is, by definition male. and in the same breath calls it black america's most defining art. Wooow ...more
Jan 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Oh yes I did read this. Well, to be perfectly accurate, I read MOST of it. I have only heard one Jay-Z song all the way through, and most of this book consists of him interpreting his lyrics, defining and defending the language and the life behind the songs. I must say, in full disclosure, that I rarely listen to rap and hardly consider it to be music; and I am someone who listens to almost every genre out there. I have dismissed rap as misogynistic, violent and derogatory. They freely "borrow" ...more
C.E. G
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: street-lit, autobios
4.5 stars. This took me almost 2 months to complete, and that's actually the pace that I'd recommend reading it at.

If I were to make a list of books that I wish all Americans would read, this one would make the cut. I doubt that Jay Z and I see eye to eye on all the issues, but that didn't really matter to me while I read this.

Before reading this book, I hadn't really listened to Jay Z's work (besides hearing it on the radio, but considering the complexity of his lyrics and how attentive I am w
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
If anyone has ever been curious about the pure gamesmanship of wordplay involved with rap... this is a really cool breakdown
May 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When I finished this book, I knew that I wanted to review it, but I wasn’t sure what I had just read. I flipped through other goodreads reviews and some people called it a memoir; it is. Some called it a scrapbook; it is. Some called it a tabletop book; it is. I guess that’s why I found it so hard to categorize, because it was all of these types of books contained in around 300 pages, but what is most important about this book that the covers these different mediums is that it works in each one, ...more
What a powerful read. I didn’t have any expectations when I began reading this book. I asked on Facebook for book recommendation and someone suggested I read “Decoded”. I am so happy I went with this suggestion because I don’t think I would have gone and read this on my own. I am actually surprised at how relatable, informative, historical, real and well put together this book was. My surprise also points out one of the major points Jay-Z made in the book, why am I so surprised that a hip-hop ar ...more
May 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wow, one of my favorite all-time books!

Things I learnt from this book:

1 Jay-Z actually is from a broken home in a housing project and actually was a (highly successful) crack dealer/runner for years before becoming a rapper.

2 Jay-Z has a photographic memory and aced his way through school. He is also ADD and can't sit still.

3 Jay-Z never signed with a label (they wouldn't take him). So with a few friends they started Roc-A-Fella Records with drug money Jay-Z had saved. As a result he has always
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-read
People who think they know me will find it hard to believe I read this book, much less rated it amazing. Perhaps that is how Jay-Z feels when people write him off as a drug-dealing, gun-loving, woman-hating gangster thug.

Decoded is several books in one: a memoir, a history lesson, a social commentary, a book of poetry, and a set of Cliff Notes. First the memoir: Jay-Z gives a honest account of the life that he lead on the way to selling millions of records. His story is raw, warts and all; growi
Zack Greenburg
Nov 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: I'm about to release my own book on Jay-Z (

That said, I thought that Decoded was a beautifully conceived and designed book. Ultimately, though, I felt that it didn't decode much at all. The book’s 300-plus pages are divided between traditional narrative, lyrical analysis and sprawling photos; the lavish spreads and chunky fonts that dominate Decoded make it more of a coffee table book than an autobiography.

Decoded has its moments, to be sure. We learn that Jay-Z
Alana Benjamin
Overall, it was a great commentary on the growth of culture of hip-hop and New York. You are left with an undoubtedly greater appreciation of hip-hop as a art form and music genre.

I felt that it lacked consistency and more in-depth detailing. Jay-Z skipped in and out of major moments of his life which could have been explained in more detail.
Mar 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arts
Ummm... don't read this if quoted expletives offend your sensibilities. Gotta be true to the source material.

Exegesis - critical annotations of, and usually accompanied by, a sacred or poetic text

Housing projects are a great metaphor for the government's relationship to poor folks: these huge islands built mostly in the middle of nowhere, designed to warehouse lives. People are still people, though, so we turned the projects into real communities, poor or not. We played in fire hydrants and had
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was undoubtedly my favorite book club book ever. To put it mildly, I am not into hip hop (I could only ever hear the glorification of violence, the incessant n-words, and the rampant disrespect for women). I am, however, totally into this book because it was enlightening, articulate, while also being rather intimate. Jay-Z really helped me see the artistry behind hip hop; I loved the poetry analogy. LOL, I'm pretty sure hip hop's resemblance to poetry also contributes to my lack of enjoymen ...more
Aug 01, 2020 rated it liked it
I mean, silly, but I love it.
Chris Witt
Wanted to post some thoughts on this before I forget.

I came into this as somebody who wasn't a Jay-Z fan. Wasn't a rap fan.

To be clear, that's not the same as somebody who dislikes Jay-Z or rap. Just more that, most days, neither is on my musical radar.

I have checked out The Black Album a few years ago and really enjoyed it. And I buy maybe one or two rap albums a year, listen to a half-dozen or so... but I wouldn't consider that to qualify me as an aficionado, either.

So that's my prologue. Stil
Dec 28, 2012 rated it liked it
3 1/2 stars. When Hova writes a's weird. Not because he's black or a rapper...mostly because he's not old enough really to write a memoir. Especially since he just became a dad. This is ultimately my problem with memoirs: Author, you're too young to write a memoir; live some more life please.

Luckily, this is not a memoir, not really. It's really a defense of rap/hip hop, comparable to Shelley's "A Defence of Poetry," which is one of my favorite prose pieces of all time. Now I say compa
Joshunda Sanders
Dec 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book wanting to give it five stars. I have had a love/like relationship with Jay-Z since the 1990s and when my other friends were deriding him for his misogyny, I was defending his genius as a businessman, reciting his lyrics back to them as an answer (and to their credit, they were unmoved).

The great news about this book is that it is physically one of the most stunning books I've read, the pictures and presentation are stellar and it is immensely readable. The thoughtfulness
Dec 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic and not just because I have been a Jay-Z fan since Reasonable Doubt. I feel it has brought an entire new perspective to his entire catalog of music and I can't wait to re-listen to everything. I don't care if you hate hip-hop, this book is a fantastic read. Learning about his background, his situation, and how his perseverance and focus allowed him and continues to allow him to achieve everything he sets out to do. Although I don't agree with much of his politics and soci ...more
Apr 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to my son for suggesting I read this important book. I am a person who doesn't listen to song lyrics. I respond more to how the words sound, what the beat and syncopation are like, and how the overall sound feels to me. Some rap and hip-songs appeal to me and some don't. I know that poetry is part of this kind of genre, as is swearing, boasting and so on. But until I starting reading Decoded, I had no idea how rich and complex this music is. I can only guess that hip-hop devotees understa ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: for-fun
I know that I am an unlikely reader of this book. I don't really listen to rap. I grew up in the same country as these stories, but worlds away. I have SPF 50 skin. I sound stupid when I swear at all.

I know that I am a likely reader of this book. It's a book about words and art. It's political. It's about my country. There's a lot to learn from this sharp source. And besides, I just can't pass up a biography.

Jay-Z chooses to focus mainly on his work. Much of this book is simply footnoted pages
I'm continuing my celebrity memoir kick!

*Update* It was time to return the book to the library and I hadn't finished yet. It was better than I thought it would be but still not great enough to recheck out.
Eva Marie
Nov 27, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: b-non-fiction, celebs
I shouldn't have waited so long to review this but I honestly had so much going through my mind about the content of this book that I needed time to process it all. Like a lot of my reviews that I have more than a few comments about this isn't going to be in any sort of order. I made notes in the book about certain parts I wanted to comment on so I'm going to go in order of those while adding in anything new I think of at the same time.
First I want to say that Jay-Z is one of my all-time favorit
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Shawn Corey Carter, better known by his stage name Jay-Z, is an American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur, and occasional actor. He is one of the most financially successful hip hop artists and entrepreneurs in America, having a net worth of over $450 million as of 2010. He has sold approximately 50 million albums worldwide, while receiving thirteen Grammy Awards for his musical work, and num ...more

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