cover image Jay-Z: Made in America

Jay-Z: Made in America

Michael Eric Dyson. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-23096-6

In this astute cultural biography, Dyson (Tears We Cannot Stop) analyzes the impact of Jay-Z through his music—from his hard-knock life as a drug dealer from Brooklyn, to his becoming a billionaire rapper and husband of megastar Beyoncé. “The more I pore over his lyrics,” writes Dyson, who teaches a course on Jay-Z at Georgetown University, “the more I realize that I am dealing with an extremely intelligent poet whose work matches the poets I’ve admired since childhood... Tennyson, Hughes, Brooks and Yeats.” With lyrics including “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man! Let me handle my business, damn,” Dyson cites Jay-Z’s “use of braggadocio and allusion, signifying and double entendre, metaphor and homophones.” Dyson explores how Jay-Z created profound, meaningful art out of bleak urban decay. “When we hear JAY-Z,” Dyson writes, “we listen to the incomparable tongue of American democracy expressed by a people too long held underfoot.” Dyson compares Jay-Z to Barack Obama (“both tremendously charismatic men... married to strong and brilliant women”), and recalls Jay-Z’s campaign ads for Obama and a tongue-in-cheek song he performed on the eve of Obama’s inauguration, featuring the line “My president is black/ In fact he’s half white/ So even in a racist mind/ He’s half right”. Dyson’s excellent study serves as a succinct blueprint of Jay-Z’s artistry and legacy. (Nov.)