During my unexpected winter break last week, I decided to finally crack open Jay-Z’s Decoded, our January book club selection. Before I could even read a word, I was awe struck by the beauty of the book. As someone who has laid out a couple of books, I was fascinated with the layout, graphics, and fonts and how they worked together to create graphic art. Now I understand why people have categorized this work as a coffee table book. It’s so pretty, I can’t even highlight, or write in the margins, or dog-ear the pages. 🙁

Once I began reading Jiggaman’s story, I quickly realized that Decoded is more than a memoir. It is U.S. history told from a first-person point of view. Decoded is a historical account of how hip hop and social issues (such as crack, guns, and gangs) changed urban America and the world we all live in. It illustrates the evolution of rap music. It explains how seminal elements of hip hop culture, like Salt & Pepa’s “Push It,” NWA’s Straight Out of Compton, Dr. Dre’s Chronic, and movies like Boys In the Hood and Menace to Society, were birthed and how each influenced people throughout the world. You can’t call yourself a hip hop fan without reading Jay-Z’s Decoded.

Below is a reading guide for the remainder of the book. Please feel free to join us as we read by clicking here. If you haven’t begun reading, no worries. There is still plenty of time for you to pick up the book and start reading. Also please, Please, PLEASE send in your additional quotes, questions, and thoughts. This information will frame our final discussion that will take place on Saturday, February 5th @ 2pm. I can’t wait to see you there! Happy reading!

Reading Guide

Part 1 (pages 1-63): Monday, January 17th

Part 2 (pages 64-149): Monday, January 24th

Part 3 (pages 150-231): Monday January 31st

Part 4 (Page 232-315): Friday, February 4th

Part 1 Quotables

  • “To tell the story of the kid with the gun without telling the story of why he has it is to tell a kind of lie” (17).
  • “I was a part of a generation of kids who saw something special about what it means to be human—something bloody and dramatic and scandalous that happened right here in America—and hip hop was our way of reporting that story, telling it to ourselves and to the world” (18).
  • “The Fox News dummies. They wouldn’t know art if it fell on them” (55).
  • “…the failure, or unwillingness, to treat rap like art, instead of acting like it’s just a bunch of niggas reading out of their diaries. Art elevates and refines and transforms experience” (56).
  • “It’s hard to beat the entertainment value of people who deliberately misunderstand the world, people dying to be insulted, running around looking for a bullet to get in front of” (57).

Part 1 Discussion Questions

  1. Jay-Z was amazed by seeing the Sugar Hill Gang on Soul Train. In his mind, rappers weren’t supposed to be there. Hip hop has grown even more now. What was a hip hop moment that made you say, “What are they doing there?” (Page 7)
  2. Jay-Z compares rappers to hustlers. How accurate do you find this comparison? (Page 10)
  3. Jay-Z describes Rakim as being able to accomplish what many conscience rappers appear unable to do today: intellectually stimulate and bang our parties. Why does it appear Lupe, Common, Dead Prez, and others are unable to do the same today? Are the artists failing to do something or is the audience failing to embrace the music/message? (Page 16)
  4. Jay-Z says that gangsta rap lyrics like NWA’s Straight Outta Compton “seemed over the top.” How realistic of a portrayal do you think gangsta rap lyrics of that time were? (Page 17)
  5. “To tell the story of the kid with the gun without telling the story of why he has it is to tell a kind of lie.” Do you think Jay-Z has used his lyrics to tell why? Has he illustrated the psyche of urban America? (Page 17)
  6. Do you think Jay-Z still has the right to tell the story of the streets since he is now so far removed? (page 18)
  7. What are your thoughts on the Village Voice reporter’s reaction to Jay-Z wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt? What do you think of his response? (page 22-27)
  8. Did your perception of Memphis Bleek change based on how Jay-Z described their relationship? If so, how? If not, why? (page 38-55)
  9. What is your reaction to Jay-Z’s knowledge of music, rap as art, and poetry? Explain? (page 55)
  10. Do you recognize rap music as art? Why? At what point did this occur? (page 55-56)
  11. Jay-Z compares great rappers to tricksters (more here). Do you think that this is an accurate portrayal? Why or why not? (page 55)