Brooklyn, 1978

In this first reading from our textbook Decoded, Jay-Z remembers Brooklyn in the 1970s.


After completing this assignment, students should be able to

  • Identify the artist and title of all assigned songs based on a 10-second clip.
  • Name the three 1983 releases that “were a cultural trifecta” (7)
  • Identify the narrative that hip hop was looking for (7).
  • Name and define the two types of rhythm that make up rap music.
  • Summarize the major points about the crack epidemic and its effects on Jay Z’s neighborhood.
  • Summarize the ways that movies changed his understanding (17).
  • Summarize the ways that the drug trade changed Jay Z’s ambitions as a rapper, and identify the particularly story that he wanted to tell (16-17).
  • Summarize the controversy over Jay Z’s choice to wear images of Che Guevara.
  • Explain why the section on the “Coming of Age” songs is titled “Honor Among Predators.”
  • Summarize the reasons that rap qualifies as “art,” according to Jay Z.
  • Explain why “99 Problems” is a good song to use “to talk about the difference between the art of rap and the artlessness of some of its critics” (56).


  • Jay-Z, Decoded (1-51)


(Links open in YouTube)

Study Guide

Note that this guide is not meant to replace careful study of the assigned texts. Instead, this guide highlights some of the important ideas and information found in the reading and songs. To do well on our tests, quizzes, and class discussions, you will need a thorough knowledge of everything assigned.

Jay-Z writes about the massive influence “Sucker M.C.’s” had on him as a 14-year-old growing up in the Brooklyn projects:

“With that song hip-hop felt like it was starting to find its style and swagger and point of view: it was going to be raw and aggressive, but also witty and slick. It was going to boast and compete and exaggerate. But it was also going to care enough get the details right about our aspirations and our crumb-snatching struggles, our specific, small realities….It was going to be real. Before Run-DMC, rappers dressed like they were headed to supper clubs for after-dinner drinks, or in full costume. Run-DMC looked like the streets, in denim, leather, and sneakers” (10).

The video of the Sugar Hill Gang  on Soul Train illustrates the “supper-club” style that rappers adopted before Run D.M.C.


  • One Eye Open