Friday, February 22, 2019

Jay-Z and Black Book History

The hardcover and paperback editions of Decoded

It's not often that we can discuss rappers in the context of Black Book History. Then again, when we consider the extensive body of publications focused on hip hop, it makes sense. In addition to people writing about Jay-Z, he's also the author (with dream hampton) of a book, Decoded (2010, 2011).

During his book tour for the book, Jay-Z made a point of constantly advancing the idea that rap is poetry. His comments and visibility were vital to elevating the conversation about the links between the art forms.

Decoded is a book about Jay-Z's upbringing and experiences as a rapper. He discusses discovering rap and becoming enamored by the art. He reflects on his time on the streets of New York City, and he offers observations on rap music.

The book is visually stimulating. It includes a range of colorful photographs. Some words are presented in enlarged fonts. The diversity of images makes the book a joy to read.

Decoded is additionally distinct because it showcases Jay-Z's annotations of his own lyrics. The release of the work showcasing rap lyric annotations coincides with the rise of the popular annotation site Rap Genius, which launched in 2009.

On the one hand, Jay-Z's book corresponds to a variety of contemporary African American literary works by writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Colson Whitehead. At the same time, Jay-Z's memoir connects to a long line of African American autobiographies, including Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), Richard Wright's Black Boy (1945), and The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), to name just a few.

It's not a stretch to imagine assigning Jay-Z's work in a class on African American literature. There are perhaps some linkages between his thoughts on black culture and those raised by figures like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, among others.

Whatever the case, when and if we're writing a contemporary history of Black Book History, then we should consider a significant work like Jay-Z's Decoded.

Black Book History, February 2019
A Notebook on Jay-Z
A notebook on rap music, hip hop

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