Calvin Kenley's Reviews > Decoded

Decoded by Jay-Z
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Aug 06, 2011

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This book came out last year and was marketed as a high end coffee table book--a compilation of lyrics, explanations, pictures, and stories. As a piece of art I would say that the book works rather well. It's fun to look at and well designed. As a memoir, there are a few great moments. Jay is at his strongest when he is telling stories. It's why his music is compelling, he rarely makes you feel like you have to agree or disagree with the narrator. When he tells stories about the industry or his childhood the images are vivid and detailed. When he begins to talk about government, social issues, or possible solutions, the logic gets clouded and he starts to become too self aggrandizing for my taste. I actually believe the Jay has certain moments in his music where he makes powerful arguments in a clear and precise way, but he seems to contradict himself a lot in this book. Even points of contention are easy to agree with him on aren't framed well.
As a lyric book, I would say the project is the weakest. I don't feel like his explanations of his lyrics do anything to deepen them or make them any stronger. Sure, to the outsider it might be helpful to understand what certain slang is referring to, but by the tenth time he talks about how the song is reflecting "the hustler's mentality", I get a bit bored. I had to skip several lyric pages just to get through the book. A good storyteller does not need to make a "making of" book. I'd prefer they tell stories that inspired the lyrics instead of talk about exactly what the lyrics are supposed to inspire.
My biggest complaint is that the book is not more personal. The most exciting parts talk about controversy in his career. He talks about the Oasis Glastonbury feud and about about his disagreements with Oprah, and about a few of his run ins with the police, but very little else is all that thick. I wanted to hear about his falling out with Jaz, his issues with Diplomat and Jim Jones, his relationship with Beyonce of course....but he offers no real information. Also, even the portion of the book where he talks about his life as a hustler is never specific. He talks about certain practices, but no detailed story telling, and that was disappointing.
I also wanted him to talk more about his transition from a speed rapper to a storyteller, because the shift in creative direction is intriguing to me.
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