On Tuesday (November 16), Jay-Z released his book “Decoded,” explaining the history behind some of his most infamous lines. MTV News took a peek at the collection and selected a few topics and metaphors that surprised even us, the most avid of Hov followers:
Jay-Z on Bono
Jay-Z’s larger-than-life influence has reached far beyond the realm of hip-hop. The MC has been closely affiliated with some of pop music’s biggest entertainers, including Linkin Park, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and U2 frontman Bono. Early in “Decoded,” Jay elaborated on his relationship with Bono and his first impressions of the singer.
“The writer had asked me about the U2 record that was about to be released and I said something about the kind of pressure a group like that must be under just to meet their own standard. Bono told me that my quote had really gotten to him. In fact, he said it got him a little anxious. He decided to go back to the studio even though the album was already done and keep reworking it till he thought it was as good as it could possibly be.”
Jay-Z on MC Hammer
Several weeks ago, Jay unintentionally offended MC Hammer on Kanye West’s “So Appalled.” “I lost 30 mill so I spent another 30/ ’Cause unlike Hammer, 30 mill can’t hurt me,” Jay spits on the track.
Hammer’s response included a music video that depicted Hov as a devil worshiper being chased through a forest by Satan himself. Jay responded to the barrage of disses saying that Hammer might regret his actions after he paid homage to him in his book. Well, here’s what he had to say in “Decoded.”
“I remember when Hammer was the biggest star in the world, in the eighties. There were a lot of people who clowned him because of the big pants and the dancing, like he was the rapper from Disney World. But Hammer was from East Oakland. Even when he was spinning around with his pants billowing all around him, you could see in his eyes that this was still a n—a from the hood. So when he was in Forbes magazine with eight figures after his name, big pants and all, I was impressed. It was a huge moment for hip-hop. A few years later, Hammer was filing for bankruptcy.”
Jay-Z on his assault charge
In another section of “Decoded,” Jay highlights various rappers who have endured run-ins with the law following their success. But before their fame, these MCs barely earned a traffic ticket. And for a guy who transported enough drugs to make B.M.F.’s Big Meech blush without any police drama, Jay nearly saw his career derailed after a violent assault. The incident swirled around the release of his prized Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter album, which leaked a month early.
“People kept giving me the same name as the source of the bootlegging. It was someone I knew, someone I never would have suspected. One night I went to Q-Tip’s solo album release party and at some point in the night, I ran into the guy everyone’s been telling me is behind the bootleg. So I approached him. When I told him what I suspected, to my surprise, he got real loud with me right there in the middle of the club. It was strange. We separated and I went over to the bar. I was sitting there like, ’No the f— this n—a did not … ” I was talking to people, but I was really talking to myself out loud, just in a state of shock. Before I even realized what I was doing, I headed back over to him, but this time I was blacking out with anger. The next thing I knew, all hell had broken loose in the club. That night the guy went straight to the police and I was charged with assault.”
Jay-Z on a girlfriend’s miscarriage
In part four of “Decoded,” Jay explains a line from “This Can’t Be Life” featuring Beanie Sigel and Geto Boys icon Scarface. In the lyric, Hov says, “Baby came out stillborn, still I gotta move on” which is a direct contradiction to the way the MC handles his personal life now. Helicopters could hardly get a shot of his and Beyoncé’s wedding, however, in that track, Jay-Z discusses one of the hardest things a couple can experience.
“This refers to something that happened to me around that time, 1994, when my girl of five years got pregnant and lost the baby in a miscarriage. Now, obviously, miscarriages happen everywhere, to anyone, but the point is that on top of the especially acute paranoia and disappointment and exhaustion I’m feeling from the street life, friends getting shot, your family being broke, I have to deal with the everyday tragedies that stalk everyone. And when that hits you, sometimes it becomes clear that you have to get out, that this really can’t be life, it has to be more.”
Jay-Z on Slick Rick
The British MC was one of the cornerstones of Def Jam Records’ early years and left quite an impression on hip-hop’s following generations. In the “Come and Get Me” section of “Decoded,” Jay delves into why Slick was so talented, juxtaposed with Texas MC Scarface. Both icons use emotion in their lyrics: Rick through the punch line of a lingering joke, and ’Face through a brash and open delivery.
“Slick Rick also wrote some of the first rap songs that were genuinely sad — which sounds like a strange thing to say. … Slick Rick was too much of an artist to come out with straight-up tearjerkers, but like all great comics he knew how to hide deeper emotions between the punch lines, emotions like regret and loss, the kind of feelings that could make you pause even while you were speeding down the New Jersey turnpike on the way to your hustling spot. … Slick Rick taught me that not only can rap be emotionally expressive, it can even express those feelings that you can’t really name — which was important for me, and for lots of kids like me, who couldn’t always find the language to make sense of our feelings.”
Have you picked up Jay-Z’s “Decoded”? Share your favorite revelations in the comments!