Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Empire State of Mind: Book Review

Image: www.tower.com

“So what’s your excuse?” – nagged my inner-voice as I read Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office.

It’s so easy to make excuses and procrastinate about dreams that are slowly gathering dust while you live every day from hour to hour without really increasing your worth or doing what you really know you should be doing. 

That’s all I could think about while reading anecdote after anecdote detailing how Jay-Z went from being a teenager selling hard drugs to a wealthy business man – love him or hate him this man is successful.

Greenburg is a staff writer at Forbes Magazine. His beats include business, music and sports.

Jay-Z denied Greenburg a sit down for the book and therefore the author relied on in-depth research and interviews with people close to the hip hop mogul. He also used a lot of quotes from Jay-Z’s music. 

I was a bit worried that without the subject’s voice in the book it would be a bit weak but it actually is a really good read. The author takes you with him on his journey uncovering the public yet private music tycoons life. 

Greenburg’s taste for a good story and willingness to chase it – even as far as Europe; makes this a worth while read. 

That being said; there are lessons to be learnt from Empire State of Mind.

“One of the wonders and strengths of free enterprise is its openness to newcomers. Entrepreneurs from the most unlikely backgrounds can achieve astonishing success”, writes Editor-in-chief of Forbes, Steve Forbes, in the opening paragraphs of his foreword to the biography.

And that is what Jay-Z was; a newcomer. The hip hop mogul is not from a wealthy family (like Forbes) with a long blood-line of family who created a path to success for him. If life read like a text-book Jay-Z should be in jail, in a crappy job or dead!

This easy read by the Forbes journalist takes us to the birth place of Shawn Corey Carter (his birth name), Brooklyn’s Marcy housing projects; which sounds like South Africa’s RDP housing situation if not worse (my imagination went wild). But on the real, Wikipedia describes Marcy Housing Projects as “a public housing project”. There are 27 six-storey buildings which contain 1 705 apartments. 

Jay-Z speaks of Marcy housing project that is dangerous, plagued with crime and a drug heaven. It is here that that one gets an idea why survival mode is entrenched in this man's mind. 

This book chronicles Jay-Z’s move from being just another kid from the projects to now having an estimated personal worth of nearly half a billion dollars. Sounds like a fairy-tale….things movies are made-of right?

But as I paged through the book I realised that either then luck or being at the right place at the right time there are other traits about him that helped him get to this success.

Jay-Z was willing to learn, always prepared and he knew when to let go. These three traits about Jay-Z stick out for me through out his steady rise to the top. 

Many successful people teach that one must be willing to learn all the time, if one is to succeed. Everybody knows something you don’t and by silencing your ego and humbling yourself – you’ll walk away from people wiser. Jay-Z didn't finish school or get any formal business training - he's had to learn as he lived therefore getting his education from mentors and those around him.

Preparation another trait that motivational speakers are always repeating. Practice your craft, get better, even when it is not required of you. You never know who is watching. An example is when Jay-Z  was discovered.  

Letting go is key. But I’m a bit undecided about how I feel about Jay-Z’s style of letting go. The author in many ways paints him as one not to have much loyalty to anybody unless they serve a purpose. 

I don’t know if it is a fair observation or Jay-Z needs some training in Ubuntu.

I am going to read Jay-Z’s authorised autobiography, Decoded, and compare the two. I’m hoping that the differences in facts are not major. 

And I’m hoping Jay-Z addresses the subject of ending relationships with mentors and business partners further. I’m also hoping he lets us into his relationship with his wife, Beyoncé. 

He is known for being a very private person and I have a feeling most of the personal issues as revealed in Empire State of Mind will not be addressed in his own book.

Jay-Z refused to give an interview for this book because he would not gain financially from its release. That already says a lot about how he thinks business all the time. 

I respect the man’s hustle. And believe there is plenty to learn from it. You might not be an entertainer like he is or have his fame. But you can, with your passion aim for a whole lot of success. 

Work hard, build networks and keep learning. Jay-Z is the American dream… An African dream is as powerful.


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