Decoded by Jay-Z

By Jay-Z

Decoded is a ebook like no different: a suite of lyrics and their meanings that jointly inform the tale of a tradition, an paintings shape, a second in background, and probably the most provocative and profitable artists of our time.

“Hip-hop’s renaissance guy drops a vintage. . . . Heartfelt, passionate and slick.”— Kirkus, starred review

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Taking on such a familiar subject and writing about it in a set structure forced sonnet writers to find every nook and cranny in the subject and challenged them to invent new language for saying old things. It’s the same with braggadacio in rap. When we take the most familiar subject in the history of rap—why I’m dope—and frame it within the sixteen-bar structure of a rap verse, synced to the specific rhythm and feel of the track, more than anything it’s a test of creativity and wit. It’s like a metaphor for itself; if you can say how dope you are in a completely original, clever, powerful way, the rhyme itself becomes proof of the boast’s truth.

With his genius for creating drama and story in music, it made sense that Just was also deep into video games. He’d written soundtracks for them. He played them. He collected them. He was even a character in one game. If he could’ve gotten bodily sucked into a video game, like that guy in Tron did, he would’ve been happy forever. I was recording The Black Album and wanted Just to give me one last song for the album, which was supposed to be my last, but he was distracted by his video-game work.

Still, I was looking at them like I’d murder them for staring at me. When the guy next to me got off they grilled at me for a minute. It was on. It wasn’t a rare thing to have to fight your way home. Something as meaningless as a glance often ended up in a scuffle—and worse. You could get killed just for riding in the wrong train at the wrong time. I started to think that since I was risking my life anyway, I might as well get paid for it. It was that simple. One day Hill told me he was selling crack he was getting from a guy named Dee Dee.

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