The Book of HOV exhibition at Brooklyn Public Library celebrates JAY-Z and the power of words

In partnership with Roc Nation, the library is issuing limited-edition library cards honouring each of JAY-Z's iconic albums. A complete set, signed by the artist, is offered in an online auction at Christie’s

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Left: Detail of The Blueprint, JAY-Z. Released: September 11, 2001; Center: Detail of Magna Carta...Holy Grail, JAY-Z. Released: July 4, 2013; Right: Detail of The Black Album, JAY-Z. Released: November 14, 2003

With 24 Grammy Awards, over 140 million records sold worldwide and myriad business and philanthropic endeavours, Shawn ‘JAY-Z’ Carter needs no introduction.

The Book of HOV, a free exhibition celebrating the career and legacy of the prolific artist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, has welcomed nearly 600,000 visitors since it opened at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch in July. Closing 4 December — JAY-Z’s birthday — the immersive display features a replica of the historic Baseline Studios, thousands of rare artefacts and more. Spanning JAY-Z’s ground-breaking career of nearly 30 years, the exhibition showcases his journey from growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects to becoming an international icon.

With JAY-Z’s inspirational lyrics emblazoned across its Art Deco façade, the library’s Central Branch has seen a 550 per cent increase in library card signups since the start of the exhibition. More than 36,000 new users have signed up for The Book of HOV cards.

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JAY-Z lyrics on the front of Brooklyn Public Library's Central Branch

Call it the HOV effect. The bump can further be attributed to the limited-edition JAY-Z library cards the Brooklyn Public Library is offering across the borough in partnership with Roc Nation. The 13 cards feature cover art from JAY-Z's solo albums, spanning from his 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt to 2017’s 4:44.

In partnership with Roc Nation and the Brooklyn Public Library, Christie’s is pleased to offer 14 limited-edition metallic library cards, signed by JAY-Z, in an online auction from 29 November–5 December to commemorate The Book Of HOV exhibit. The cards come in a bespoke leather case that will also include a The Book of HOV bookmark.

All proceeds will benefit the library, which provides millions of New Yorkers access to free books, records and media, cultural programming, classes and more. The funds will support the library’s operations and provide crucial support to a wide range of BPL’s programming and collections, including justice initiatives, small business and entrepreneurial support, teen and children's programs, bridging the digital divide, and efforts to combat censorship.

A meteoric rise

Born and raised in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, JAY-Z has since become one of the most influential musicians of all time. As an artist, philanthropist and businessperson, he’s a dedicated scholar, continuously educating himself across disciplines. Through his endeavours, he’s become the first Black man to own his own technology company, built premium multi-billion dollar brands such as D’usse and Armand de Brignac champagne, founded renowned entertainment company Roc Nation and tirelessly advocated for social justice through initiatives like The Shawn Carter Foundation and Team ROC.

His work has garnered numerous accolades across categories, including inductions into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as an Emmy and a Peabody Award.

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Left: Grammy Award, 2023. Exclusively created for The Book of HOV exhibit; Center: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Award, 2021; Right: Emmy Award, 2022. Outstanding Variety Special, Outstanding Production Design for A Variety Special, Outstanding Music Direction.

Above all, JAY-Z is a poet, and his song writing revels in the complexity of language. Replete with metaphors, double and triple entendres, nuanced wordplay and vivid imagery, JAY-Z’s lyrics tell a story in a way no other can.

The stories behind the songs

This knack for storytelling is not just limited to lyrics. JAY-Z's album covers illustrate the progression of his career and the evolution of popular culture. These artworks are a portrait of an inimitable superstar.

With 1996’s Reasonable Doubt, he embodied the character of the old-school Brooklyn mafioso. The album cover shows JAY-Z in a fedora and pinstripe suit, the man behind the music obscured by the brim of the hat.

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Interior image of The Book of HOV exhibition at Brooklyn Public Library

As JAY-Z's music evolved, so too did his image. The Blueprint (2001) features JAY-Z the magnate. A Rocawear jacket and microphone allude to his sources of power — dominating in rap as well as fashion and business.

The Black Album, a 2003 release meant to be his retirement from music, shows JAY-Z appearing to fade into the shadows as if fading from the hip-hop scene. His next five albums show the artist is experimenting more than ever before. Like his own musical process, his album artwork is exploratory and diverse, from a tower of all-white instruments in 2009’s The Blueprint 3 to the studied minimalism with 2017’s 4:44.

Spanning nearly 30 years of creative output, these images are the stories behind the songs that continue to inspire. Taken together, the limited-edition library cards showcase JAY-Z's meteoric rise and continual advancement of his craft.

JAY-Z's enduring influence — in Brooklyn and far beyond — is a testament to the written word and the power of storytelling. ‘I'm hungry for knowledge,’ JAY-Z has said. ‘The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter.’ In The Book of HOV, he comes home, sharing that love of learning with fellow New Yorkers and inspiring a new generation of storytellers.

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