Decoded is the autobiography and memoir of rapper Jay-Z, published by Random House and released November 16, 2010. The book combines lyrics, their explanations, anecdotes, reflections, and autobiographical information. Jay-Z explains in the book that the three reasons he wanted to write the book were to make a case for hip-hop lyrics as poetry, to tell a story of his generation, and to show how hip-hop is a story that everyone can relate to.
The book follows very rough chronological order, while switching from current stories to his story of growing up in the Marcy Houses. The autobiographical portion focuses on not only his story of drug dealing, fights, and the beginnings in rap, but also his reflections on those times in his life and how they shaped who he is an artist and how artists were shaped by such experiences.
Jay-Z explains the stresses of the rap industry and the celebrity life, while also trying to put it in perspective. He illustrates this point by explaining that when he and Puff Daddy were being charged with assault there were hundreds of cameras outside the courthouse of Puff Daddy’s trial and the courthouse where the perpetrator of the World Trade Center bombing was being tried was empty.
Opinions and Reflections
Along with the narrative, there is also a substantial portion of the book dedicated to Jay-Z’s opinions and reflections, which are often illustrated with stories. Jay-Z expounds on his relationship with Barack Obama and his involvement in politics, as well as his thoughts on the Hurricane Katrina. Jay-Z reflects on his life and especially his beginnings. He explains that he still considers himself a hustler, despite being a corporate billionaire now as founder of Roc-A-Fella Records. He continues and describes the comparisons between drug dealing, rapping, and boxing and how his life in the streets has molded who he is and no matter how he lives now, he still acknowledges his roots.
The book contains lyrics to thirty-six songs with some songs having only part of the song. Along with the lyrics, there are annotations and footnotes that Jay-Z writes to explain the lyrics to the reader. The explanations range from just explaining what a “brick” is to in depth analysis and explanation of lines that underscore the points that Jay-Z makes in his writing.
Decoded premiered at number three on the New York Times Best Seller list and it also was featured on Amazon.com as the number six book of the month for November 2010, the month it was released. Adam Bradley of Barnes & Noble expresses his pleasure in being able to see Jay-Z’s lyrics written down for the first time because Jay-Z famously does not write his lyrics down while writing songs. Bradley goes on to say that Decoded is “upending assumptions about hip-hop and leaving readers suspended in midair, staring down at a new and complex ground beneath their feet.”  Most of the criticism is that the book is not personal enough and does not provide enough detail of Jay-Z’s life. Simon Vozick-Levinson writes in Entertainment Weekly “"Despite the career he has made out of rapping in the first person, Jay-Z is known for prizing privacy. His new book 'Decoded' may not erase that reputation.” Although Vozick Levinson expands and reveals “it is nonetheless Shawn Carter's most honest airing of the experiences he drew on to create the mythic figure of Jay-Z," while giving the book a grade of A-. Adam Bradley of Barnes & Noble criticizes the structure of the book because it is not organized by chronological order, but by subject as well as criticizes its lack of depth in some areas by explaining "At times, these subject-driven sections leave one dissatisfied with the level of revelation and reflection, such as in his cursory treatment of race relations.”
On June 13, 2012 a lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California accusing Jay-Z and coauthor Dream Hampton of copyright infringement and invasion of privacy for Decoded. The lawsuit, filed by Patrick White also names Random House, the company that published Decoded. White alleges “In 2009, my personal computer was compromised, resulting in my personal work to be used in Jay-Z’s book 'Decoded' which was released in 2010.” White is claiming that he was working on a book on his personal computer when it was compromised and when reading Decoded, he noticed a resemblance in “expressions/color/phrases, which correlates to my work.” In the handwritten lawsuit, White alleges that he sought out Jay-Z and Dream Hampton, but they were unresponsive to his contact.
- "Decoded". Amazon.
- Jay-Z (2010). Decoded. New York, New York: Random House. p. 235. ISBN 9781400068920.
- "Jay-Z to 'Decode' Lyrics in New Book". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
- "Best Books of the Month: November 2010". Amazon. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
- Bradley, Adam. "Life of an Artist: Decoded, Jay-Z". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
- Vozick-Levinson, Simon. "Book Review: Decoded, Jay-Z". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
- Narunsky, Kim. "Jay-Z Sued For Copyright Infringement Over Decoded Book". XXL Magazine. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
- Watkins, Greg. "EXCLUSIVE: Jay-Z Sued Over Book "Decoded"". All Hip-Hop.com. Retrieved September 24, 2012.