Jay-Z: Lessons learned from a self-made man.

Next time you get your net worth to nearly half a billion (with a B) dollars, having started from nothing, let me know. Until then, I’m gonna read up on the life of Shawn Carter.

Shawn Carter, who you might know as rapper, entrepreneur, and business (man) Jay-Z, has an estimated net worth of $450 million. So when I stumbled across his book “Decoded” in the digital library, I was intrigued.

First, let me clearly state that the language in this book will offend sensitive eyeballs. He doesn’t shy away from profanity or the “n-word.” So if those words offend you, perhaps skip this one.

If not, I’d suggest picking up a copy.

I was fascinated to get a look into the mind of easily one of the best creative minds in hip hop. Here are three lessons I learned:

  1. Write it down. When he and a friend sat down to start a record label, they wrote down specific goals. If you want something to happen, and you didn’t write it down, you can pretty well count on it not coming to pass. A written plan gives you a finish line. It’s far easier to race when there’s a finish line!
  2. Know your blind spots. Jay-Z is at his best in this book when he is talking about the creative process or the mind of a rapper. Here’s my only criticism: When he starts talking politics, things become very polarized. He fails to assume the best (or even assume anything but the worst) about people with whom he disagrees. It is supremely disappointing when a superstar with the influence of Jay-Z says publicly that George W Bush intentionally meant harm specifically to African Americans in the aftermath of Katrina, as though there was an internal memo that said “only save the white folks” that came down from POTUS in the hours following the tragic collapse of the levees.

    I certainly don’t claim to understand the mentality of an ethnic minority, and that’s not the point. Jay-Z seems to equate everything with race–i.e. all black people vote this way, all white people vote this way, all black people feel the same way about this issue, etc. That’s a ginormous blind spot in his worldview. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream was that we would be judged not by the color of our skin, but the “content of our character.” That means that for Dr. King is was as much about getting beyond race as it was about equality.

  3. Hustle. To succeed in business, you have to be intentional, passionate, and work extremely hard. The myth out there is that wealthy people are all trust-fund babies who don’t know how to work, especially among Christians who confuse waiting on God with waiting on the couch. Faith does not equal Cheetos. Aside from being patently false according to the numbers (and numbers lie about as frequently as Shakira’s hips), it is laughable in light of how hard Jay-Z worked (and still works) to be where he is. Jay-Z doesn’t just rap these lines:

    Put me anywhere on God’s green earth… I’ll triple my worth.

Jay-Z is polarizing, especially among conservatives (both politically and theologically). But anyone who can’t see the sheer genius that goes into his lyrics would be well served to pick up this book and look behind all the typical rapper bravado into the mind of a brilliant man who might well live to be a billionaire from writing rhyming couplets.

What books are you reading? Link me to reviews in the comments!

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