Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

exclusive

Read an Exclusive Annotated Lyric From the New Expanded Edition of Jay-Z’s Decoded

Decoded, Jay-Z's 2010 memoir-slash-lyric-guide, earned rave reviews from even the toughest critics for its densely packed musical annotations layered with personal reflections. Last year, Jay told Vulture that a more straightforward autobiography ("the mysterious Black Book") still might be germinating, but in the meantime, we can offer you a first look at the new paperback edition of Decoded (coming out November 1), which includes Hova's insights on several songs not previously included in the hardcover edition. Below, a sampling of his breakdown of "Lost One," off 2006's Kingdom Come; click on the footnotes to read his commentary.


It’s not a diss song, it’s just a real song / Feel me? // I heard motherfuckers saying they made Hov / Made Hov say, “Okay so, make another Hov”[1] / Niggaz wasn’t playing
they day role / So we parted ways like Ben and J-Lo / I shoulda been did it but I been
in a daze though / I put friends over business end of the day though / But when
friends, business interests is they glow / Ain’t nothing left to say though / I guess weforgot what we came for / Shoulda stayed in food and beverage / Too much flossing
/ Too much Sam Rothstein [2] / I ain’t a bitch but I gotta divorce them / Hov have to get the shallow shit up off him / And I ain’t even want to be famous / Niggaz is brainless to unnecessarily go through these changes / And I ain’t even know how it came to this / Except that fame is / The worst drug known to man / It’s stronger than, heroin/ When you could look in the mirror like, “There I am” / And still not see, what you’ve become / I know I’m guilty of it too but, not like them / You lost one // Lose one, let go to get one / Left one, lose some to win some [You lost one] / Sorry I’m a champion, sorry I’m a champion / You lost one // I don’t think it’s meant to be, be / But she loves her work more than she does me / And honestly, at twenty-three / I would probably love my work more than I did she / So we, ain’t we / It’s me, and her / ’Cause what she prefers over me, is work / And that’s, where we, differ / So I have to give her / Free, time, even if it hurts [3] / So breathe, mami, it’s deserved / You’ve been put on this earth to be / All you can be, like the reserves/ And me? My timing in this army, it’s served / So I have to allow she, her, time to serve / The time’s now for her / In time she’ll mature / And maybe we, can be, we, again like we were / Finally, my time’s too short to share / And to ask her now, it ain’t fair / So yeah, she lost one // Lose one, let go to get one / Left one, lose some to win some [Oh yeah, she lost one] / Sorry I’m a champion, sorry I’m a champion / You lost one // My nephew died in the car I bought [4] / So I’m under the belief it’s partly my fault / Close my eyes and squeeze, try to block that thought / Place any burden on me, but please, not that lord / Time don’t go back, it go forward [5] / Can’t run from the pain, go towards it [6] / Some things can’t be explained, what caused it? / Such a beautiful soul, so pure, shit / Gonna see you again, I’m sure of it / Until that time, little man I’m nauseous / Your girlfriend’s pregnant, the lord’s gift / Almost lost my faith, that restored it [7] / It’s like having your life restarted / Can’t wait for your child’s life, to be a part of it / So now I’m childlike, waiting for a gift / To return, when I lost you, I lost it // Lose one, let go to get one / Left one, lose some to win some [Colleek, I lost one] / Sorry I’m a champion, Colleek, you’re a champion / I lost one /


1 I recorded this song after a professional breakup, when a lot of things were being said about who was responsible for my success and how things would go in the future now that our initial team had broken up. I owe a lot of my success to a lot of people, but ultimately, no one made me. This is the kind of lie that people get told all the time, sometimes in romantic relationships, sometimes in their professional lives: that somehow who they are is a result of other people’s investment in them. It’s vital to resist that or you risk losing yourself; as I say in another song, Remind yourself / nobody built like you / you design yourself.

2 Sam Rothstein is a character in the movie Casino. In the film he pretended to be the “food and beverage” manager of a casino, while running the operation for the mob behind the scenes. The movie turns when Rothstein makes an appearance on television and starts drawing publicity for himself, a shift into the limelight that destroys everything he’d worked for.

3 These lines are about trying to have a real, serious relationship with another ambitious professional. In a lot of ways, this is the flip side of the songs in my catalog like “Big Pimpin’,” where women exist almost completely as predators or objects. This is about how difficult it is to respect a lover as an autonomous human being, with separate needs and goals and timelines than yours. It’s one of the hardest things about a real relationship of equals. But it’s worth it.

4 My nephew Colleek died in a car accident while driving the car I bought him for his high school graduation.

5 This echoes the sentiment in another song mourning a loved one lost in a car crash. In “Lucifer” my fantasy is to reverse the crash / reverse the blast / reverse the day / and there you are. Here I force myself to avoid that fantasy and come to grips with the truth, that time only moves forward, no matter how painful it is.

6 The only way through such searing pain is to “go towards it,” to allow ourselves to feel it, to reckon with it, and, eventually, to let it go.

7 Just when you’re on the verge of giving up hope and losing faith, the universe reveals unexpected consolations. My nephew’s girlfriend was just a couple months pregnant when he died, which none of us knew, maybe not even him. But the son she gave birth to looked just like his father, like Colleek reborn. The last verse is the most powerful example of the paradox of the song’s chorus, that even the greatest loss holds the possibility of redemption.

Excerpted from Decoded by Jay-Z. Copyright (c) 2011 by Jay-Z. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.