Jay-Z: rapper, author, poet, entrepeneur, renaissance man

By Tatiana Craine

Check out the latest from Jay-Z, his autobiographical book, “Decoded.”Yeah, you heard that correctly. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter has penned a book.

And get this-it’s one of Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things list for the 2010 holiday season. According to Ms. O, this hip-hop literary phenomenon provides “a whole new perspective and context-and many ‘Aha!’ moments-about the culture of this music. If Oprah endorses it, it’s got to be good, right? Heck yes.

With an image of pop artist Andy Warhol’s Rorschach splashed in gold across the champagne-hued cover, Jay-Z’s book appears to be more of a chic art-history book than anything else. And in a way, it is a bit of art history, since “Decoded” chronicles Jay-Z’s life from growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects to his successful endeavors today.

Jay-Z delves deep into his psyche and the meaning behind his iconic song lyrics. For him, lyrics are more than just a number-one hit or a sick jam-they’re about dreams, life, hard-hitting messages and feeling something so deep it transcends the expression of thought used in conventional conversation and speech.

True to the book’s title, Jay-Z decodes some of the songs from his considerably large collection of hits. Ever wondered what exactly the song “99 Problems” was talking about? Jay-Z breaks it down line by line, and walks you through his reasoning behind word choice and phrasing. Particularly interesting was what he articulated about the line: “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.” For him, the word “bitch” holds a lot of power in its versatility and dynamism. He wrote, “In every verse of the song I use the word “bitch” in a different way. In this verse, the bitch is a female dog, the K-9 cop coming to sniff the ride.”

Jay-Z might be a controversial figure, but there’s no doubt that he’s charismatic and fascinating. “Decoded” offers a unique and unprecedented window into this rapper’s phoenix-from-the-ashes success story and the stories behind his music. With myriad photos and collages throughout the tome, “Decoded” manages to spark interest in both the mind and the eye-and if you listen to one of Jay-Z’s albums while you peruse his book (my suggestions are “The Black Album” and “The Blueprint 3”), then you’ve got an ultra-sensory experience in the palm of your hands.