Jay-Z‘s third album truly launched the Brooklyn MC into hip-hop’s upper echelon. Jay had been doing his thing on a mass level since 1996s Reasonable Doubt, but that album wasn’t exactly a strong seller, and while his sophomore album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was a platinum-seller, the shiny singles “Sunshine” and “The City Is Mine” earned more scoffs from serious hip-hop fans than praise.
But in 1998, Jay turned a corner. Vol 2…Hard Knock Life proved that Jay could get the streets while dominating the charts. “Hard Knock Life” became a major hit that fall, following “Can I Get A…” (originally on the Rush Hour soundtrack) as did “Money Ain’t A Thang” his team-up with Jermaine Dupri that was initially on Dupri’s Life In 1492 and included as a bonus track on …Hard Knock Life.
Released on Sept. 29, 1998, Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life was packed with standout tracks and monster hits. We picked our five favorite tracks.
“Can I Get A…”
Prod. Irv Gotti and Lil Rob
One of Jigga’s jiggy-est anthems turned into one of his most successful singles. Originally on the Rush Hour soundtrack, it provided a showcase for Roc rapper Amil and a soon-to-be-star in Ja Rule. And it showed that Jay could deliver a crossover hit without going super corny.
“Nigga What, Nigga Who” Feat. Amil
In 1998, every major hip-hop star seemed to be reaching to work with the hottest producers and rappers from different regions and Jay linked up with Virginia-bred hitmaker Timbaland (who also happened to be the hottest producer in the game at the time) for this classic.
“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”
Prod. Mark 45 King
It became a monster hit for Jay and as such, one of the most overplayed tracks of the 1990s. A lot of people scoff at Mark the 45 King’s famous Annie sample, but at the time it was slightly groundbreaking to hear a showtune on a gritty street anthem. It set the stage for Jay’s late 90s/early 00s chart dominance.
“Reservoir Dogs” feat. The LOX, Beanie Sigel, Sauce Money
Despite the obvious gloss all over …Hard Knock Life, Jay managed to get his gritty moments on here without ever sounding like it was self-conscious. And it was an excellent showcase for a vicious up-and-comer in Beans.
“Money, Cash, Hoes” feat. DMX
Prod. Swizz Beatz
DMX and Jay-Z were the two biggest rappers in the game by late 1998, and this was an epic collaboration and another highlight for the Ruff Ryders sound and superproducer Swizz Beatz.
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