The cold autumn morning of Friday, November 6, 2009, was definitely one I will not soon forget. The New York Yankees had just completed a thrilling and long-overdue World Series title against the gritty Philadelphia Phillies, and this was the day that the team, and a million Yankee fans, would suffocate the beautiful and chilly streets of downtown Manhattan for the Championship Parade. It had been nine long and painful years since the die-hard New York baseball fans witnessed a World Series Championship, and this was definitely worth every second of the wait.
As a baseball fan, a World Series Championship is the epitome of greatness and teamwork. But as a New Yorker, the Yankees winning the World Series meant way more to me than just baseball. In addition, the more I think about how magical the 2009 World Series was, there is one thing that constantly plays back in my mind repeatedly: Jay-Z. His smash hit “Empire State of Mind” featuring Alicia Keys, was the explosive anthem of the Yankees during their dominating playoff run. That song blasted through the speakers at Yankee Stadium every night and it blasted through my sound system during every commercial break. For me, Jay-Z was just a part of the World Series experience as Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. Seeing him perform the song live on television at Yankee Stadium before game two of the World Series made me realize how powerful this song was to New York and to the Yankees, and I thought thatit could not have gotten any better than this. That is, until November 6th came along. After being out in the cold for six hours with a million other Yankee fans, walking down the “Canyon of Heroes,” it was time for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to step onto the podium at City Hall, where the parade ended. He uttered the following words that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, “You may have seen this man perform before game two of the World Series. His song has become one of the newest anthems of the Yankees. Here, please welcome a great Yankee fan and a great New Yorker, Jay-Z.” Just watching the news clip on my computer again makes my heart race with memories of that amazing day. And it was because of Jay-Z. The pride I felt as a New York citizen was far greater than my passion for sports or music, or anything else for that matter. I love being a New Yorker, and I always will. Throughout the history of hip-hop culture, it has been commonplace in music to compare artists to athletes, and it was Jay-Z that famously coined himself as “the Mike Jordan of recording.” However, it was not until the Yankees parade that I felt comfortable making that parallel between music and sports. Michael Jordan is clearly the greatest basketball player that has ever set foot on this earth, and at that moment on that day, I was ready to proclaim Jay-Z as the all-time great of hip-hop. No artist was able to bridge the gap between New York culture, sports, and music the way the Jay-Z did in 2009. That is something I will never forget. I will admit that I did not become a fan of Jay-Z until he was a well-established mainstream artist. Borrowing from a technology phrase, I was not an “early adopter” of the Jay-Z music library. Therefore, when I found out he had written a memoir about his life, I knew that I had to read it as soon as possible. Ironically enough, Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded debuted in November of 2010, almost a year to the day of his championship parade performance. The genius of Decoded is that Jay-Z combines the lyrics of his music and the events of his life, and binds them together to create a riveting story of the history of hip-hop and the struggle of his youth. He paints a bleak picture of Brooklyn in the 1980’s, and draws many parallels between the dangers of drug dealing and the corrupt business-practices of record label executives, the two aspects of his life that have had the most effect on his career. Decoded leaves no question unanswered with respect to the life of Jay-Z and it is an extremely fulfilling read from start to end. As a Jay-Z fan, I came into this endeavor with a certain level of expectation, but the way Jay-Z’s words captured me into the story of a man who wants nothing more than greatness, completely blew my mind away. Just as Jay-Z has compared himself to Michael Jordan, future athletes will soon begin to describe themselves as “the Jay-Z of basketball,” and I am sure that Jay-Z will have absolutely no problem with that.