On this day, September 29, in hip-hop history…
1998: Before the Tom Ford suits… Before he rubbed elbows with the President… Before he even met his world-famous wife, Shawn Carter was the hottest act in rap and the coolest man on the planet. In September 1998 with a show-stopping sample from a Broadway show to lead the way, Jay Z dropped Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life and nothing quite has ever been the same in American pop culture.
It is true that many consider Jay Z’s 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt, to be the finest effort of his career and over the years, it’s become fashionable for fans and critics to state you were down with Jigga from day one. Numbers don’t lie. Although it won respect in the streets and sold solidly at the time, Reasonable Doubt was relatively small potatoes compared to many of Jay’s contemporaries when it came to sales. Vol. 2 was his undeniable breakthrough on a mainstream level, selling over five million copies and becoming Jay’s highest-selling album to date.
While the album was criticized at the time for it’s overtly mainstream bent and less intricate flows, Vol. 2 contains some of Jay Z’s most indelible songs to-date. The Annie-sampling title track, “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” is often considered one of the greatest rap singles of all-time while hits like “Can I Get A…,” “Nigga What, Nigga What (Originator 99),” and “Money, Cash, Hoes” kept the album on the charts for months.
15 years later, Jay Z is arguably rap’s most legendary figure, continuing to sell millions of records with the release of his 12th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, and hobnobbing with President Barack Obama. Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life‘s legacy is the moment that finally powered Jay Z to the mainstream.