Today is the grand opening of The Book of HOV, a 40,000-square-foot exhibit at the Brooklyn Public Library crafted in collaboration with Roc Nation. The free exhibit makes full use of the library’s expansive Grand Army Plaza branch, with the front of the institution wrapped with his lyrics, a Jazz Grant-crafted mural in the building’s atrium, and six “zones” dedicated to the music icon’s career and legacy.
The big reveal occurred last night during a star-studded pre-opening party with Jay-Z, Beyonce, their loved ones, and famous friends in attendance. Outside the library, a band (orchestrated by Jay-Z’s engineer Guru) played a jazzy medley of Jay-Z hits such as “Roc Boys,” “Where I’m From,” and “Can’t Knock The Hustle” to a throng of spectators ogling the celebrity arrivals. Roc Nation officials planned for the exhibit to surprise Jay-Z, but speculative reports throughout the week may have sullied their secrecy. Nonetheless, the exhibit, which can be viewed without a library card, is a worthy celebration of the music icon.
Brooklyn Public Library CEO Linda Johnson Tells Rolling Stone that the exhibit is a celebration of a Brooklynite and a chance to encourage young people to patronize the library.
“JAY-Z’s story is a uniquely Brooklyn story, and it’s a privilege to host this exhibit created as a labor of love by Roc Nation and the people who’ve known and worked with him over the years,” she adds. “The Book of Hov and the limited-edition library card will attract new visitors to our branches, many of whom may not be familiar with the wide range of services we offer. Patrons can borrow vinyl records, musical instruments, sheet music, and even make their own music or podcast in our recording studio.” BPL also announced a limited edition release of library cards commemorating each of his 13 solo albums.
The exhibit boasts thousands of artifacts from all over the world, including Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez’s 80,000-square-foot storage unit. Perez had long been trying to figure out a way to curate a gallery with her souvenirs, but it wasn’t until Johnson called her that they ideated The Book of HOV, which features physical music reels, plaques, magazines and newspapers, concert setlists, rare photos, and one-of-one artifacts such as the guitar Jay-Z played at Glastonbury 2008 in a classic spite of Noel Gallagher’s anti-rap comments. Perez then collaborated with creative design firm General Idea Agency, production company ESM Productions, and Emmy-winning design firm Tribe Designs, run by Bruce and Shelly Rodgers.
Creative Designer Ian Schatzberg of General Idea Agency says the exhibit’s six zones are intentionally non-linear. “Taking a chronological approach for us felt like it foreclosed the idea of a future,” he says. “The way in which the story unfolds in the space is a more thematic, investigative approach.” He says the beginning of the design process consisted of the Roc Nation team talking to “30 to 35” of Jay-Z’s close friends and business peers to get insight on how to devise the exhibit. “We [sourced] this not just from our own perception but from popular culture and the people who have worked with Jay. They provided us with the compass to assessing and thinking about the different themes that we would explore.”
From there, Schatzberg says they asked themselves about the best way to utilize the library. “How do you orchestrate and coordinate the experience? What do people see when they come in? How is that designed? How do they interact with different artifacts in different elements of the story?” he says. “How does that work within the context of the library and the library’s existing audience? And then also how do you develop a total creative experience in terms of visual art direction, look and feel?”
The exhibit, which Perez says cost Roc Nation millions of dollars, comprises six zones named after Jay-Z lyrics. “Did It Without A Pen” fills the BPL’s record room with 400 books that Jay-Z referenced, as well as vinyl of songs his producers sampled from (all are borrowable). “Win-Win” highlights Jay-Z’s charitable endeavors, while “Business, Man” documents Jay-Z’s entrepreneurship. “So Fly” turns the library’s children’s space into a paper plane palace, with custom planes designed by over 600 Brooklyn youth. “HOV Did That” contains a sprawling mezzanine of rare photos and a paradisical blue-lit room filled with retro clips of Jay-Z discussing things that later manifested. “A Work Of Art Aleady” contains large screens playing clips from the Black Album era and a life-size replica of Roc-A-Fella’s Baseline studios.
Schatzberg says that the design process took about six months. Lead Producer Scott Mirkin of ESM Productions says the crew has been building out the exhibition overnight in the BPL since March, with installation getting more intensive over the past month. Mirkin says he’s spent most of the past four months “maniacally managing” the operation, recently pulling a 20-hour session that he says he was “happy” to do. “I know that sounds crazy, but it’s a privilege to be here those many hours steering this amazing ship,” he says.
The giant lyric wall was Brooklyn’s first inkling that something Jay-Z-related was coming. While it looks like a giant sticker placed on the building by the jaws of life, Mirkin describes a tedious, gradual installation. “You don’t just go and slap a big giant Post-it on a landmark,” he jokes. “The renders [were] our guide, and then we engineered solutions to achieve those renders.” Mirkin says that the lyric wall comprises “nearly a hundred” 4 x 20 pieces made of material that safely sticks to limestone. The material had to be heated and rolled “two or three times” for the adhesive to take full effect, with Mirkin noting that July 9’s rain delayed the operation.
Mirkin had the distinction of touching almost every artifact that came through the exhibit, standing at the loading dock on Roc Nation’s behalf to ensure a tight chain of custody when items arrived. ”There’s a team at Roc Nation that’s been curating that list and collecting those items, and there’s very precise documentation that says what it is,” he says. “Every time [a piece] moves, there are people with it. When it comes here, we check all these things to make sure that they’re here. We inspect them, and someone from the library’s right there.”
Both Mirkin and Schatzberg speak to a seamless collaborative process between the Roc Nation team and the library. “The library has been amazing partners,” Schatzberg says. “Linda and her team have been huge contributors, gracious, inviting, and integral to the process.”
Invitees weren’t in the library during Jay-Z’s initial walkthrough, so we don’t know how he reacted. But Mirkin has an idea of what happened: “Every time I see Jay, he’s smiling anyway, so I think we’ll see a big smile on his face,” he says. “And I would imagine it’s going to be an amazing feeling for him.”