20 Years Ago: Jay-Z's 'Hard Knock Life' Turns Him Into a Star

On Sept. 29, 1998, Jay-Z dropped the album that made him a mainstream star, Vol 2. Hard Knock Life. 

Jay was already drive in hip-hop, having made a giant splash along with his polished, street-slick 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt. But in 1998, with the discharge of his third album, Vol. 2… Hard Knock LifeJay moved past being seen as the most effective lyricists in rap— he turned one in all hip-hop's greatest stars, within the course of garnering a large crossover viewers off the energy of the album's lead single, "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)." Although the music solely peaked at no. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, you couldn't escape it on radio.

The observe, produced by Mark 45 King, was extremely catchy, anchored by a hook that sampled "It's the Hard Knock Life" from the 1977 musical Annie. The crossover success of the music—it was Jay's first to make a major influence internationally— proved that Jay wasn't simply an above-average avenue storyteller, however had the star energy and charisma to assist push rap to the following degree.

While Vol 2…. Hard Knock Life isn't Jay's finest by any stretch of the creativeness, it's undoubtedly one in all his most vital, if solely as a result of it's arguably the document that remodeled him from an important rapper right into a rap celebrity. "Hard Knock Life" was Jay's first bonafide pop hit.

"I really feel like, that music, that document, that album took Jay to a different degree," DJ Clue instructed MTV News in a 2012 story concerning the making of the album. “It was simply so pure,”  Jay added.

The music arrived on the proper time. In 1998, the temper in hip-hop was ripe for a brand new star. Biggie and Pac had been gone, and a brand new period, one dominated by bling and opulence was on the rise. Jay, along with his textured voice, straightforward movement that oozed enterprise intelligence past the block and an appreciation for the finer issues, crammed the invoice. He pulled from the very best points of his good friend Biggie's movement, and merged them along with his personal experiences to carve a brand new lane for himself.

But Jay was nonetheless coming into his personal sound production-wise, one thing that he's grappled with all through his profession. He's at all times identified methods to choose good beats, but it surely's uncommon to hearken to an instrumental and instantly affiliate Jay with the observe. To that finish, in 1998, Jay sought the sound of one in all rap's greatest names, within the hopes of getting his beats carry an analogous power.

“I needed Dame Grease, ’trigger he was workin’ on the DMX album [It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot]. I used to be like, ‘Where’s the man that’s making all of these songs?'” Jay remembered within the MTV interview.

But it wasn't Dame Grease that Jay acquired. Instead, Jay ended up working with a teenage Swizz Beatz on the suggestion of Darrin “Dee” Dean, Co-CEO of DMX’s label. Jay admits he wasn't feeling it at first.

“I’m like, ‘Nah don’t attempt to play me with the nephew,'" he recalled.

However, giving a younger Swizz paid off, and collectively, they crafted three strong tracks on the album, together with "Money, Cash, Hoes" that includes DMX, and secured a relationship that might stretch for years, by way of a few of Jay's greatest hits so far.

“He got here in, he performed these songs. We went from my workplace to the studio, we made 4 information … From there, the physique of the album was in place," Jay remembered.

The album arrived in shops on the identical day as three different vastly vital rap information—OutKast's landscape-changing Aquemini, A Tribe Called Quest's last document for 20 years, The Love Movement, and Mos Def and Talib Kweli's thrilling introduction as Black Star. But Vol. 2 outsold all of these, not simply on the energy of "Hard Knock Life," but additionally due to its different radio-friendly singles, the Timbaland-produced "Nigga What, Nigga Who" (modified to "Jigga What" for radio) and the Irv Gotti observe, "Can I Get A…" that includes Ja Rule and Amil.

Vol 2, which clocks in at a concise 12 tracks, stays Jay's most commercially profitable launch so far. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, promoting 350,000 copies in its first week and 5 million copies whole. It additionally gained Best Album on the Grammys, though Jay boycotted the ceremony as a result of the rap classes weren't televised on the time.