A revised and expanded paperback edition of Jay-Z’s lyrical deconstruction Decoded hits bookstores next Tuesday, November 1. Though not quite a full memoir, it is one of the most original hip-hop books ever published—a glimpse into the mind of a master craftsman at work.
“I was probably most moved by the tweets I read from kids who wrote things like, This is the first book I’ve ever read all the way through," Jay writes in a new afterword to his New York Times bestseller. "For all the other accolades the book received, the thing that makes me happiest is knowing that it’s working as a gateway drug for kids to get into reading and into thinking about new ways to use their own experiences.”
The cover of the new version sports the same Andy Warhol Rorschach cover art as the original, this time against an all-black background. There are 16 pages of new material, including 3 new decoded songs: “I Know” from Jay’s 2007 opus American Gangster, “Lost One” from his 2006 comeback Kingdom Come, and his verse from “Young G's,” a cut from Puff Daddy & The Family’s 1997 album No Way Out (that also boasts verses by Biggie & Puffy). Complex is proud to present the hottest of those three songs today.
So here’s an exclusive preview of “Young Gs,” as broken down by Shawn Carter himself. Just to make things interesting, we’ve left six of the footnotes blank. Give us your own lyrical analysis in the comments section of this post. The best answers will receive a copy of Decoded.
Puff Daddy f/ The Notorious B.I.G. & Jay-Z “Young G’s” (1997)
[Second verse] Jay-Z
These here’s the dog years1 ’cept motherfuckers don’t shed
I try to bring you life but motherfuckers want dead
So I travel with the barrel, with the chrome, with the lead2
’Cause when it’s on, then it’s on, till shots flown through your head
I been rich I been poor, I saved and blown bread
Some say I been here before because of the way I zone
Some said, Jigga zone is like the falling of Rome
Reoccuring, that he thinks like that cause he’s observant
Won’t be known until I’m gone and niggas study my bones3
Mentally been many places, but I’m Brooklyn’s own
In the physical, unseen, like a lost body
In fact my thoughts don’t differ much from that of God body4
But it’s the R shottie5, that got cats likening me
To the mob John Gotti6, rap dudes biting me ’cause
I got it locked like the late Bob Marley
Pardon me y’all, the great Bob Marley
Solemnly we mourn, all the rappers that’s gone
Niggas that got killed in the field and all the babies born
Know they ain’t fully prepared for this New World Order7
So I keep it ghetto like sunflower seeds and quarter waters8
You walk ’em through it, you know, talk ’em through it
Know these beats is more than music whenever I talk to it
Destined for greatness and y’all knew this, when I doubled the pie
Had a shorty and a girdle coming out of BWI9 (in school)
I hated algebra but I loved to multiply
And I told my nigga Big I’d be multi before I die10
It’s gonna happen whether rapping or clapping have it your way
’Cause if that’s my dough you’re trappin, I’m clappin’ your way
2. This might seem redundant—each of these, the barrel, the chrome, and the lead, is talking about the same thing—but breaking them down into their components allows the image to build in the listener’s mind, like the aw shit scene in every action movie where the hero assembles his gun, locks, and loads.
5. Refers to a .30-06 shotgun, known as a thirty-aught. We pronounced “aught” like it was “r.” We didn’t even know the proper names of the guns we carried; like with most things, we were improvising our way through, doing the best we could with the information we had.
7. “New World Order” was a phrase used by George H. W. Bush to describe the postcommunist world, but many of us understood it as a code phrase for the secret societies that controlled governments and economies. The suspicious deaths of our great heroes— from Bob Marley to the “rappers that’s gone,” all “killed in the field” of battle, the battle between good and evil, to put it simply—was part of that New World Order’s agenda. This kind of conspiracy theory was commonplace where I’m from; it may have been borne of paranoia, but, as they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone’s not out to get you. Biggie and Pac could testify to that.
8. The ghetto breakfast of champions, fresh from the dusty bottom shelf of the bodega: sunflower seeds in a plastic pack and quarter waters, sugar and colored water sold in tiny bottles for twenty-five cents.