Dyson writes with the affection of a fan but the rigor of an academic ... is never better than when dismantling what Dyson refers to as 'the politics of black masculinity' ... offers the most professorial explanation of the early-2000s war between Jay-Z and Nas that has ever been committed to print.
Dyson’s...laudatory biography places Jay-Z at the center of our cultural, social, and political times. The author’s effusiveness comes through on every page, which—in lesser hands—would make this title one long fan letter, but it’s a tribute to Dyson’s prowess that he so effectively gives dimension and relevant context to each thoughtful interpretation of the artist’s work, while his always fascinating tangents add depth. Under Dyson’s guidance, to read about Jay-Z is to learn not just about the journey and works but also about ourselves, our history, our world, and our way forward ... This is more than a hip-hop bio; Dyson is giving us something larger, and we are sitting in a classroom under the spell of a captivating teacher.
With a fun, opinionated discography and impressive richness, eloquence, and intertextuality, Dyson’s portrait places the soon-to-be-50 husband of Beyoncé in cultural context for fans and the curious alike, linking Jay-Z’s life and art to painter Basquiat, crooner Marvin Gaye, and poet Walt Whitman. The author rhymes, uses alliteration, and delivers Dyson-isms to describe Jay’s endeavors ... Though he doesn’t interview the artist, he makes his case that as a truth-telling racial unifier, political influencer, and 'vocal evangelist for developing generational wealth in black communities,' Jay-Z represents a symbol of 'overcoming' for hip-hop culture and American society. At times Dyson sounds like a fanboy as he deliberately and refreshingly avoids rap-bashing, while quoted lyrics from profound, profane, tame, even lame songs by Jay-Z illuminate his artistic spectrum.
...[an] astute cultural biography ... Dyson explores how Jay-Z created profound, meaningful art out of bleak urban decay ... Dyson’s excellent study serves as a succinct blueprint of Jay-Z’s artistry and legacy.
For readers who only know Jay-Z as Beyoncé’s husband, the latest by Dyson...is a serviceable primer. However, for readers familiar with Jay-Z’s music or role in popular culture, this brief book has little to offer. The publication coincides with the rapper’s 50th birthday, and it reads as if it was rushed to make the date. The chapters are disorganized and consist largely of riffs that have often tangential connections to his life or work. Dyson’s interests are wide-ranging, and some of his digressions are worthwhile in their own right. Ultimately, though, there’s too much filler in a book that needed more material. It’s no surprise that many of the tangents rehash older writings for which the author is already well known, and he also engages in excessive name-dropping, cringeworthy poetic affectations, and an attitude that sometimes feels condescending to readers and to hip-hop culture ... Jay-Z deserves an in-depth study. This is not it.