Friday, March 16, 2012


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

It’s no secret to anyone who knows music that Jay-Z (aka, Shawn Carter) remains one of the most powerful icons of pop culture today. His influences are everywhere from the ways he turned his rhymes into a business empire to the numerous protégés now on just about everybody’s iPod or radio (Rhianna, anyone?)

JAY-Z: HIP HOP ICON is a graphic novel look at Jay-Z’s life as a musician and a businessman. Told through the traditional lens of a reporter interviewing an artist who is talking about his life and his world, JAY-Z brings the reader into the rapper’s world as kid on the streets of Brooklyn, to his negotiations with record companies, to his launch of clothing lines, and into his world as a music producer with Def Jam Records. (There’s not much mention to his marriage to Beyonce, nor the media coverage of their newborn child, but you can get that by reading the news on any given day).

The writing of this graphic biography is sparse, but covers familiar ground. One nice element is the use of lines from Jay-Z’s song lyrics throughout the book. It’s like a musical notation to remind us of why he got so famous in the first place.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the art in this book, but I did like the cover art. It shows a scowling, serious Jay-Z with headphones around his neck, standing before the backdrop of New York City skyline. Inside, though, the characters don’t seem all that defined, and the panels are sort of washed out.

You know you have some Jay-Z fans in your classroom, right? They will love this look at this musical icon, and the book’s focus on how Jay-Z not only survived but thrived in a business that devours its artists is a message worth pointing out. Jay-Z followed his vision, and when he came to power, he brought others along with him.

One could also note that when he had money and influence, he used both of those to make changes in the world. In the music business, he reminded the old guard that rap and hip-hop were authentic forms of music, and should be recognized as such. In the world, Jay-Z has consistently reached out to help charitable organizations, using his name recognition for good.

Reading Level: 3-4
Interest Level: 3-9
Guided Reading Level: O
Lexile Level: GN 570L
ATOS Level: 4.0
AR Points: 0.5
AR Quiz Number: 149191
Early Intervention Level: 2.5

Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Publisher: Capstone Press
ISBN-13: 978-1429679930

The Capstone website offers the corresponding standards categorized by state, making this title easy to incorporate into the classroom curriculum. Here are the Missouri standards:

Communication Arts 2007 Grade and Course Level Expectations Grade 5Reading
3. Develop and apply skills and strategies to comprehend, analyze and evaluate nonfiction (such as biographies, newspapers, technical manuals) from a variety of cultures and times
  • A Text Features
    • Apply information in text features, graphics, such as maps, diagrams, charts and index, to clarify and connect concepts to the main ideas

Communication Arts 1996 Show-Me Standards Grades: K-12
3. reading and evaluating nonfiction works and material (such as biographies, newspapers, technical manuals)

I recommend this book, and think it is appropriate for middle and high school classrooms. There is no profanity or inappropriate material in here, although if a reader becomes a listener to Jay-Z, they should be prepared for language of the street.

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