Sunday Book Review: Waxing Poetic with Jay-Z

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Sunday Book Review: Waxing Poetic with Jay-Z

Sunday Book Review is a recurring feature devoted to bridging the gap between music fans and music books. We aim to give you a taste of new and classic books that dive deep into the psyches of musicians. Tweet requests @nmcalone.

Since partnering with Samsung to release Magna Carta... Holy Grail in brazenly corporate fashion, Jay-Z has been attacked by various critics as turning into a hustler Darth Vader, a rapper who has become more “business” than “man.” But for Jay-Z, someone who has always felt that what some people call commercialization really means that “lots of people buy and listen to your records,” these anti-capitalist critiques probably mean little. That said, there is a benefit to seeing the side of Jay that isn’t the stone-cold CEO, that isn’t the boss of all bosses.

Jay-Z’s book Decoded, published by Spiegel & Grau in 2011, is probably the furthest he gets from that persona. He delves into the poetic aspect of his legacy in a deeper way than ever before or since. When he set out to write this book, he wanted to lay out something that wasn’t the traditional artist memoir. He says his life has been more poetry than prose, and that was how he wanted to structure this endeavor. He created a multi-faceted work that is part a dissection of his lyrical catalogue, part treatise on the poetry of rap, and part fractured memoir.

Though the lyrical analysis might seem a bit less revolutionary in the post-Rap Genius world, we must remember that the move to treat rap lyrics as an element worthy of actual (obsessive) study was far from decided even as recently as 2011. But the real gems of this book are contained in Jay-Z’s more general theories about rap as an art form, which exist wholly outside both his life as a businessman and his life as a musician, and if not for this book would probably not be available to the general public. We’ve presented and critiqued the 10 most insightful portions to give you a preview of the work. You can purchase Decoded here.

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