Jay-Z's observation game and "how to be an artist." PLUS: a call for feedback about the new TAoN so far
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How Jay-Z’s Observation Games Made Him an Artist
One of my favorite things about writing this newsletter has been the quality of the reader feedback. Starting now, I’ll be trying to do a better job of sharing and/or highlighting that feedback — so that other readers can benefit from it, too. This seems like a sensible weekend activity, so here goes. . .
In TAoN No. 70, I wrote about Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner’s description of how his father used to get him to play an invented game he called Powers of Observation that ultimately taught Dubner to pay attention and develop a better sense of situational awareness. In response to that post, I got a great note from Herbert Lui, who wrote: “Check out this excerpt of Decoded by Jay-Z, where he writes about how his dad would play a similar game.”
Indeed, much like Dubner’s anecdote, Jay-Z describes sitting in a diner with his father, where they would “play games that exercised our observational skills.” And:
“When I was walking with him, he always walked real fast (he said that way if someone's following you, they'll lose you) and he expected me to not only keep up with him but to remember the details of the things I was passing.
I had to know which bodega sold laundry detergent and who only stocked candy and chips, which bodega was owned by Puerto Ricans and which one was run by Arabs, who taped pictures of themselves holding AKs to the Plexiglas where they kept the loose candy.”
His father meant for this close observation and fanatical attention to detail to be about surviving and thriving in a tough urban environment, he continues, but the practice also turned out to be at the heart of his work as a rapper. “Without necessarily meaning to,” Jay-Z writes, “he taught me how to be an artist.”
Great stuff — I love being able to make this kind of connection. Thanks Herbert! (More about Herbert and his writing here.)
Obviously the last week has seen some changes here at TAoN, and I’ve been hearing from a number of you about that, some with positive thoughts, and others with constructive criticism.
I encourage this, and if you want to weigh in on the new expanded TAoN so far, and how it should (or shouldn’t) continue to evolve — or even what the weekend bonus post should be — then by all means I’d love to hear it!
Okay that’s it!
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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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