Decoded is Jay- Z's memoir about his beginnings from living in Brooklyn to his emergence as one of the most significant artists in the rap and music communities. The book details how Jay- Z started as Shawn Carter who lived in the Marcy housing projects in Brooklyn. The memoir speaks from a point of view of a child with limited options, but one who possessed a unique ability to rap and generate public attention through it. The book spends a great deal of time talking about the pure passion that Jay- Z held towards rap and the ability to freestyle with ease:
Everywhere I went I’d write...If I was crossing a street with my friends and a rhyme came to me, I’d break out my binder, spread it on a mailbox or lamppost and write the rhyme before I crossed the street.
As the memoir progresses, Jay- Z speaks of the competitive nature of rap, something even evident in the earliest of phases in his own experience when fledgling rappers would steal his lyrics and rhymes:
One time a friend peeked inside my notebook and the next day I saw him in school, reciting my rhymes like they were his. I started writing real tine so no one could steal my lyrics, and then I started straight hiding my book, stuffing it in my mattress like it was cash.
The early phases of the memoir details how Jay- Z emerges from this to become a significant force in the hip- hop community. Jay- Z argues that part of the reason why he emerged as a strong force in "the game" was timing. His ascension was tied how "hip- hope was looking for a narrative, too." The growth of hip- hop as a force in American music culture coincided with Jay- Z's own immersion in the music, reflected in his admiration for artists like Run- DMC and the Sugar Hill Gang. At the same time, there is attention paid to how Jay- Z was a drug dealer in the projects and around Brooklyn.
Along with his rise in the music industry, the book "decodes" the meaning behind Jay- Z's lyrics and composition. He includes lyrics and explanations behind over thirty songs, some literal, other explanations more in depth than what critics and music journalists might surmise. There is detailed reflection about his own thoughts regarding the election of President Obama, the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, and how Jay- Z sees himself as a "business, man" as opposed to merely just an artist. In this regard, the memoir seeks to "decode" that which is Jay- Z, the economic and culturally transformative force and Shawn Carter, the kid who loved to rap that he would purchase something from a convenient store simply to have the bag to pen lyrics.