When did Jay Z become Jay Z? For some, the answer is as simple as when he took his name. For others, he emerged fully-formed on his tough-talking debut, Reasonable Doubt, or on his glossier Bad Boy-assisted follow-up, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. But for many, the Jay Z we think of today—the smooth hit-maker, the cocky empire-builder, the clever businessman—didn't really exist until Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, his chart-busting 1998 record that celebrated its 15th anniversary this past Sunday. It was a formative album.

Building on the commercial success of Vol. 1, the more stream-lined Vol. 2 saw Jay Z going for the jugular. Aided by the mainstream gate-crashing hit "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," the album sold millions of copies while still managing to retain the cold-eyed detachment and precision of his early work. Far from being a full-fledged pop makeover, the album combined some of the hottest and most daring producers of the era (Swizz Beatz, Timbaland) with some of Jay's most intricate rhymes. As Wale points out in his review, it might be considered a backpack record if it was released today, packed with verses from hard-headed rappers like DMX, The LOX, Beanie Sigel and more. It's hardly kid stuff.

Despite the runaway success of the "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" single, Vol. 2 has a strange reputation critically. While not as acclaimed as the more varied Vol. 3 or as beloved as the more reflective Blueprint, it's reputation is primarily defined by its sales. That's perhaps fitting for an album that often feels cold and calculating, but it's not necessarily fair: There's a lot going on underneath the shiny car surface of Vol. 2. To celebrate the record's 15 year anniversary and its enduring legacy, XXL has delved back into the album and its history, finding 15 things you might not know about Jay Z's Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life.


Jay Z Doesn't Even Rap On The Album's First Track
"Nah this ain't Jigga, it's ya little nigga Bleek/ reporting to these motherfuckers live from the street," raps Memphis Bleek on the album's intro track, "Hand It Down." Showing an impressive level of confidence, Jay didn't even feel the need to kick off his own album, letting one of his protégés start things off with a stellar verse.

It's Still Jay Z's Highest Selling Album
Not even a runaway pop success like "Empire State Of Mind" or a special promotional deal with a giant phone company could help Jay push more units than he did here. Vol. 2 sold 350,000 copies in its first week and went on to go 5x Platinum.

Swizz Beatz Was Super Young When He Worked On Vol. 2
While Jay was almost 30 around the time that Vol. 2 was released, many of his collaborators were significantly younger. As he reveals in this interview with MTV, Swizz Beatz was young and eager when he landed multiple beats on the hotly anticipated record.

Vol. 2 Was The First Time Jay Z Worked With Timbaland
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Vol. 2 Only Has Two Tracks Without Featured Artists
Where later albums like The Blueprint would find Jay pealing away some of the guest artists on his albums to shine a light on his own lyricism, this record was packed with guest appearances that crossed genres and blurred the lines between the worlds of Ruff Ryders and Roc-A-Fella.


Swizz Beatz's Uncle Joaquin Dean Introduced Jay Z To Swizz
Swizz's uncle, Joaquin Dean, was one of the founders of Ruff Ryders records and he helped put the young producer and Jay together.


Mark ‘45’ King Originally Wanted "Hard Knock Life" For His Compilation Album
In a December 1998 interview with Blues And Soul, Jay reveals that at first producer Mark '45' King didn't even want to give up the beat that would become one of his most iconic songs.


Mike Myers Spoofed "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" In Austin Powers In Goldmember
This is the spoof that introduced Jay Z to 10-year-old comedy fans everywhere. The film also featured Jay's future wife Beyonce.


"Hard Knock" Composer Martin Charnin Made About $25,000 To $50,000 For The Initial Sample
In the November 1999 issue of Vibe, "Hard Knock Life" composer Martin Charin revealed how much he made off the initial sample, but also implied he made a lot more off the per-unit royalty.


The "Can I Get A..." Video Features Sean Penn's Brother Chris Penn
Yep, the same guy from Reservoir Dogs.


The Guy Who Directed The "Hard Knock Life" Video Later Made Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Director Steve Carr went on to have a fruitful career as a director of big screen comedies, including the silly Kevin James mall cop vehicle.


Pain In Da Ass Imitates Goodfellas On That "Money Cash Hoes" Skit
Yep, the guy from all the intros has a name.


"Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)" Was Jay Z's Last Collaboration With His Mentor Jaz-O
Jay Z would soon split with his former mentor and the two would spend the next few years feuding and sending subliminals at each other.


The "Money Cash Hoes" Remix Featured Memphis Bleak And Beanie Sigel
And the video features weird footage from a Chow Yun Fat/Mark Wahlberg movie called The Corrupter you probably don't remember!



"It's Alright" Samples Kraftwerk And Talking Heads
Jay Z's always had an eclectic ear for beats, and this bonus track, "It's Alright," is the perfect example.