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Decoding Jay-Z

An interview with writer Dream Hampton, who collaborated with the rap artist on "Decoded"

In his own time, the work of Shakespeare was performed for and appreciated by the masses. It wasn’t until later that it was studied by academics and entered into the literary canon.

Now rap music, once vilified for its glorification of urbanity’s ills, is being examined by the academic world and itself entered into the annals of lyric poetry. Adam Bradley, an English professor and one of the editors of “The Anthology of Rap,” wrote, “Thanks to the engines of global commerce, rap is now the most widely disseminated poetry in the history of the world,” he wrote. “The best MCs — like Rakim, Jay-Z, Tupac, and many others — deserve consideration alongside the giants of American poetry.”

In his new book, “Decoded,” Jay-Z, one of the greatest American artists, dissects his own lyrical prose. And for those questioning the “greatest American artist” accolade, Jay-Z has more album sales then Elvis Presley, giving him the number two spot, right behind the Beatles.

Jay-Z’s collaborator was journalist and friend Dream Hampton. 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. “Decoded” is a more creative take – part memoir, part commentary, overflowing with photographs of Jay-Z’s New York. Some have referred to Hampton as the ghost writer or co-writer of the book; she uses the term “filter.”

Need to Know’s Jackeline Pou interviewed Hampton about her friendship with Jay-Z and the experience of working on “Decoded.”