The year was 1998 and a rapper by the name of Jay-Z (with the hyphen) was about to go from budding rapper to mainstream entertainer thanks to some help from little orphan Annie.
On October 27, 1998, Jay Z released “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” the second single from Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. The song quickly become the rapper’s most commercially successful single at the time, dominating radio with its kid-friendly chorus. While it wasn’t the first song to sample a musical, it was definitely the best. It turned Annie’s “It’s The Hard Knock Life” into an urban anthem that spoke to life in the projects and beyond. What no one could have predicted was the cultural phenomenon it would become, finding itself parodied in Austin Powers In Goldmember and becoming one of several videos of Jay’s to land on TRL.
No one could deny the appeal of singing “instead of treated / we get tricked! / instead of kisses / we get kicked,” especially when the little girl from the video gave it a new level of sass.
While the song was hardly Jay Z’s debut, its crossover appeal introduced the rapper to heaps of new fans turning Hova into the massive entertainer he is today.
(And this was all pre-Beyonce!)
The only real negative about this song? The wave of kiddie choruses (“Get Out,” Busta Rhymes) and sped up samples (“Through The Wire,” Kanye West) that flooded the airwaves the years following its release.
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[GIF: Stacy Lambe/VH1]