The paperback edition of Jay-Z’s Decoded hits shelves on November 1, but today, MusicOverTime got an exclusive excerpt of him explaining which songs he chose to decipher.
Let me go back to the beginning: I sat in my studio one night at the start of the process of writing this book, trying to decide which songs to include. Throughout the night, different people came through the studio, including some of the people I’ve worked with closest throughout my career—my engineer, Young Guru; Memphis Bleek; Pharrell; Steve Stoute; dream hampton; and others. I was taking a break from finishing up the Blueprint 3 album, and hung out there for hours while people came and went, playing songs and telling stories, some of which made it into this book. Memphis Bleek told his side of the story of how we worked together on “Coming of Age,” Young Guru remembered that moving moment when Scarface rewrote his verses for “This Can’t Be Life,” Steve told us about how young corporate guys he knew were psyching themselves up for business meetings by listening to “Public Service Announcement” (and dream remembered the Dave Chappelle “When ‘Keeping It Real’ Goes Wrong” bit where a character did the same thing and got fired).
I loved talking about the stories behind the songs, but as we were listening to the songs that night I found myself drawn over and over again to the words—the metaphors and rhythms and structural choices, not the gossip behind the songs. It was the little things that got me nodding my head, lost in the songs like I was hearing them for the first time. For instance, at one point Guru cued up “What We Do,” a song by Freeway with me and Beanie Sigel on it, and set it rumbling through the studio. In an instant, I was lost in Freeway’s remarkable flow. Do yourself a favor and listen to the first verse of that song, where Free ends every bar with some variation of the word “up” or “down.” It’s a simple thing, but the flow it creates is mesmerizing. I was still in the studio, but I was gone. That, I thought, is what an MC in the zone can do—turn language as simple as “up” and “down” into a magic spell.