For a major Jay-Z exhibition, the Brooklyn Public Library has—quite literally—taken pages out of the rapper’s songbook. The limestone facade of its central branch has been blanketed with some of the freshest lyrics penned by Jay-Z. There are couplets from “Justify My Thug” and “Things That U Do,” and verses from “Sweet” and “Hovi Baby,” printed in massive letters and set against the building’s Art Deco gilding.
It’s a crowd-stopping installation, masterminded by Desiree Perez, CEO of Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by Jay-Z, which organized the exhibition.
“I just had the vision of wrapping the library so it represented Jay because the building is so beautiful,” Perez told Midnight Publishing Group News. “I just wanted it to look and feel like it’s Jay-Z.”
It’s a tribute that continues within the building, in the exhibition titled “The Book of Hov”—after Jay-Z’s other moniker, Hov, a play on J-Hovah (Jehovah, get it?). The show has taken over the library’s atrium, mezzanine, and a section of its Youth Wing to trumpet the hip-hop mogul’s cultural impact through artworks, awards, press clippings, never-before-seen photographs, and other ephemera pulled from his archives.
According to Perez, the seed for the exhibition was sowed when Roc Nation received the master recordings of Jay-Z’s albums, including The Life and Times of S. Carter (1999) and The Dynasty (2000), which he successfully reclaimed in a 2014 court case. Hoping to exhibit the reels, the Roc Nation team cast around for a venue, until the Brooklyn Public Library, in a serendipitous gesture, reached out to propose a show to coincide with the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.
For Perez, the library made for an ideal venue, being vast, free to all, and not far from the Marcy Houses where Jay-Z was born and raised. “The idea of what the library stands for makes it such an incredible and sacred place, and so fitting for Jay’s career and the story of his life,” she said.
The exhibition has been curated and designed with help from Roc Nation’s longtime collaborators including Ken Tokunaga and Bruce Rogers, and offers a laudatory, non-linear journey through Jay-Z’s rise and ongoing reign.
There are listening booths where visitors can spin up Jay-Z records, walls of gold discs and photographs documenting his life on the road, and, in darkened rooms, looping videos of his 2021 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his triumphant headlining set at Glastonbury Festival in 2008.
Jay-Z’s ties to the art world also emerge in the artworks on view, not limited to the sweeping mural, collaged by artist Jazz Grant, which encircles the lobby. There’s I Am a Man (2017), a portrait by Henry Taylor, and The Blueprint III (2009), an installation of musical instruments created by Nicola Yeoman and Dan Tobin Smith for the musician’s album cover of the same name. At the entrance, visitors are greeted by Hov’s Hands (2023), a crystalline sculpture by Daniel Arsham in the mold of the rapper’s famed diamond hand sign.
Perez also points out a tower, erected in the center of the library’s lobby, which plays clips showing the many other ways Jay-Z has integrated art into his work—from the music video for “Apeshit” (released with his wife Beyoncé), which was filmed at the Louvre, to “Picasso Baby,” which name-drops Jeff Koons.
The way art has dotted Jay-Z’s career, Perez added, is no different to the form his music has taken.
“Jay has obviously been inspired by art in such a way that it was important to show that intersection,” she said. “It’s almost like an introduction to other artists, just like in music. You use other artists to sample music, especially in hip hop, and he’s done that so much.”
See more images from the exhibition below.
“The Book of Hov” is on view at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York, through October 2023.
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