Week 9: decoded i (march 1-6)


Overview and Reading Guide

This week we are reading and discussing the first half (part 1 & 2) of Jay-Z’s book Decoded (2010).  The book is unique for several reasons, but one of its’ primary innovations is the way Jay-Z performs  “close-readings” (analysis and explanations) of his work. Usually artists leave this up to listeners and/or music critics, but in the process of narrating his life story, Jay-Z also decodes the lyrics to many of his most popular songs. 

As you read, please keep the following questions in mind: 

  • How would you describe the form of the book? Please make note of specific visual details, including photos, page layout and the overall framing of the text.
  • What are some of the key elements in Jay-Z’s story? What does he emphasize about his life experiences?
  • How does Jay-Z use his experience to point to larger social issues? 


Reading & Film

▢ Complete readings and interview and answer discussion questions by Wed @ noon. 







Discussion questions

1) What is the “hustler’s story” and why does Jay-Z think it’s such an important hip hop narrative? How does this narrative compare with and draw upon other American mythologies, literary or otherwise?

2) What are your first impressions of the FORM of this book? Think about the photos, layout and overall composition. How does it reflect and/or support the story that Jay-Z is trying to tell? Go beyond saying you like or don’t like the form of the book. Explain it as if you are talking to someone who has not seen the book. Bring the reader into your vision of the text. We all see things differently, and I’d like you to articulate your viewpoint. If you are reading an electronic version of the book (or an electronic enhanced version), please give us your impressions of that form. Your experience with the text will be different from those who have a hard copy.

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