Jay-Z’s Decoded currently holds down the number 16 spot on the New York Times’ list of best sellers. Critics have praised the memoir/lyric book, and after Forbes estimated Jay-Z’s 2009 income at $63 million it’s clear that the book wasn’t penned because Jay-Z was hurting for some extra cash. The success of the book may end up adding to Jay-Z’s influence on mainstream popular culture, but Decoded collaborator, Dream Hampton pointed to different impact.
“His ruminations and his ideas about where he comes from—that kind of poverty, what our generation of boys did to get out of that poverty, what the consequences were—to me is far more of a zeitgeist than Hip Hop,” Hampton told Jackie Pou of PBS. “It’s very solid, economic and measurable, whether there’s jail sentences or the actual billion-dollar industry of crack.”
Hampton said she became friends with Jay-Z after meeting him in 1996 following a review of Reasonable Doubt. She described herself as a “filter,” during the process of putting Decoded together. And while the book touches on over a decade worth of Jay-Z lyrics, influential emcees and social commentary, it could have just as easily never happened.
“The two worked together on an autobiography of the artist, but the project was shelved because he couldn’t imagine the details of his life in the hands of someone else,” Pou wrote.
In the end, the hybrid approach was a commercial success, and those in and outside of the culture have critically embraced the book.
“He certainly sat us down and said he wanted to write a teachable book,” Hampton added. “And we had all these conversations about whether or not that makes Hip Hop more valid. This is a very important oral tradition and it doesn’t need to be canonized necessarily.”