A Secret Jay-Z Retrospective Takes Over the Brooklyn Public Library

Thousands of artifacts documenting the music mogul’s career were secretly assembled at the borough’s majestic Central Public Library, where fellow Brooklynites can chart the Marcy House native’s meteoric rise—no library card required.

Credit: Kevin Manzur/Getty Images for Roc Nation

The Book of HOV,” a retrospective of Jay-Z’s innumerable accomplishments and impact on hip hop and beyond, recently opened at the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. The preview afforded close associates—and the man himself—a first look at the showcase of thousands of artifacts that tell the story of his meteoric ascent. “The Book of HOV” spans all 352,000 square feet of the sprawling Art Deco landmark, and was secretly assembled by the library, the musician’s Roc Nation enterprise, General Idea agency, and Bruce and Shelley Rodgers, the producers behind Jay-Z’s Emmy-nominated Super Bowl Halftime show.

“I know he wouldn’t let us do this,” Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez told the New York Times of the need for secrecy. “This could never happen if he was involved.” The need for stealth made the endeavor “probably the most intense installation I’ve ever been involved in,” Bruce Rodgers echoed, even as he’s in the process of overseeing his 18th halftime show. The producer went on to describe flying in West Coast “ninjas” to clad the building’s facade in the artist’s most memorable bars, and teaming with Roc Nation to create a replica of the Baseline Studios suite where he recorded The Black AlbumThe Blueprint, and The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse.

Credit: Kevin Manzur/Getty Images for Roc Nation

A number of significant if not museum-worthy artifacts are also on display. Take Daniel Arsham’s Hov’s Hands (2023), a sculpture cast from Jay-Z’s own hands making his now-signature diamond-shaped Roc symbol, or the slew of framed multi-platinum CDs, signed footballs, and master recordings. But, by design, the overall vibe isn’t one of hands-off propriety. Visitors can head to a library of turntables to play vinyl studio samples used in Jay-Z’s music, a paper airplane-making station in the children’s wing, and a lending library of more than 300 books from the mogul’s personal collection, which can be checked out at both the Central and Marcy branches.

The show’s residency at the Brooklyn Public Library—not the nearby Brooklyn Museum—caused slight confusion as word began to spread, but “Jay belongs to the people,” according to Perez. “It’s a place that feels comfortable. It’s not intimidating. A lot of people go to the museum, but a lot of people don’t.”

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