Jay Z Decoded
synthetic polymer on canvas, 1984
“For any image or symbol or creative act to mean something, it has to touch something deeper, connect to something true.”
I just finished reading JAY Z’s Decoded (I know, I know I’m like three years late) and became fascinated by Jay’s choice of Andy Warhol’s Rorschach as the cover image. By using Warhol’s interpretation of psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach’s ink blots Jay allowed that Decoded would not only decipher the meaning behind his lyrics, but also expose some of his inner most thoughts about life and the world we live in.
Decoded explains the concepts behind Jay’s most prolific lyrics and also does a credible job of explaining the backstory of an often misunderstood genre of music that originated on the streets then crossed the rubicon into the mainstream.
“When you step outside of school and have to teach yourself about life you develop a different relationship to information.”
To appreciate rap music we have to first understand that its origins are rooted in the rapper’s life experiences and that very few rappers grow up in suburbia. Most rappers come from hard knock lives, so rap is their lyrical history — the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful. And just like Warhol’s Rorschach may challenge our cognitive perspective, at first listen Jay’s lyrics may strike an uncomfortable nerve, but if we release pre-conceived notions about what we are listening too, we begin to respect rap as an art form with meaning that warrants more contemplative thought than we are accustomed to giving it.
So, what I’ve learned from Decoded is to not pass judgment on any artist’s work without first exploring their cultural influences because the backstory is usually more fascinating than anything we hear on the radio.
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