My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I keep reading reviews describing Jay Z’s Decoded as a scrapbook. To me, though, it reads more like a blog. Bloggers tell stories of their lives; they give interpretations of things around them; they post pictures to illustrate elements of their storytelling; some even post poetry.
Jay Z’s book is all of that. It’s his insight into the culture of hip-hop from the point of view of a boy who grew up to be a crack dealer who became a world reknowned artist. He sells hip-hop music to the reader as an important part of American culture, and as a self-proclaimed hustler he does a damn good job at it.
You don’t have to agree with everything Jay says in the book – that’s part of it’s charm. He explains that hip-hop/rap culture was born out of a very specific mix of African-American lifestyles in a depressed economic area. In short: rap exists (according to the book) to give a voice to a part of America that we tend to try a turn a blind eye to. The audacity in rap lyrics convey something so profound and extreme that you might miss it if you’re not looking for it… and much of America wasn’t digging to find anything beyond the “bling” and “n-words” in the lyrics when rap was developing as an art form.
Good art is made better through understanding. There’s a reason people take art appreciation classes – to better enjoy exposure to creative culture. Jay Z’s Decoded is a text book for rap appreciation.
I won’t be “gangsta” anytime soon; I have blonde hair, blue eyes and you don’t get much more generic caucasion male than my life growing up in the suburbs. We (and by we, I mean “me” and I assume “others”) read books to learn about the life of others to understand our world a little more clearly. Understanding breeds tolerance – which leads to some wonderful things. I was always a casual fan of rap music, but now I look for more meaning in what I’m listening to and (thanks to this book) I understand a little more.