|July 16, 2011||Posted by brucepoinsette under Bruce Bruce's Books|
The saying goes, “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.” In that sense, Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, is akin to P.J. Kennedy. Kennedy ran a bootlegging operation during Prohibition, which won him popularity and guaranteed him success when he ran for political office. Since, his descendants have accumulated massive wealth and political power (and way too many shady, untimely deaths to be a coincidence but that’s for another post).
In his autobiography, Jay-Z tells the story of how his life as a drug dealer prepared him to be a successful business mogul and breaks down selected songs line by line, as if it were a university level poetry workshop. Far from a book glorifying “the life,” Jay-Z highlights a number of his losses and downfalls, partially to illustrate why he is so visible with his success. He also tells stories of the lessons taught by his father before he walked out on the family and how he’s used them to this day. The story transitions from his young days, to the drug game to his rise in the music world.
Jay-Z takes you into the mind of a hustler and shows you both the revolutionary aspect of providing for yourself when no one will do it for you, as well as the toll it takes on one’s soul, knowing he’s doing wrong. He shows the reader that if you can make it (and very few do) in the cutthroat, completely deregulated drug industry, than you have all the skills necessary to be successful in legitimate enterprises. By showing the highs and even more of the lows of the drug game, Jay-Z helps the reader to understand the full picture, rather than the movies and videos glorifying “the life” or the nightly news story demonizing many of these people, who are really just like us.
The other aspect of this book is the lyrics. By breaking down selected songs, line by line, Jay-Z shows a different side of the music than is usually displayed in the mass media. He analyzes everything from introspective songs like “Meet the Parents” to club hits like “Big Pimpin.” Jay-Z highlights references that listeners wouldn’t make while they’re dancing at the club and also tells more of his personal story through selected lines. The power in this analysis is not just that it helps you to understand his music, but that it shows how the sharing of knowledge works. When an academic or an activist writes a book, he/she doesn’t have immediate access to the mass audience and often relies on news stories to filter the information out to the public. Out of those that pay attention to the news stories, there are a few comedians and songwriters that might reference it in their work. Since more people pay attention to entertainment than information, many may only hear about the original book from the mention in a song and then track down the article and eventually the book. While it’s a long tedious process, getting to this knowledge eventually is better than never and hip-hop has proven to be a vehicle for sharing knowledge in this way.
Decoded has something for everyone, whether it’s the story, the lyrical analysis, or the artwork (which has been criminally left out of this piece). Whether you’re a fan of Jay-Z or someone who thinks he just raps about “bling bling,” there is something you can learn from his story. Pick it up.