Monday, October 21, 2013

The Jay Z Project Part 3: Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life

To say that this was a highly anticipated album would be a true understatement. After the "shiny suit era" had all but died down, Jay-Z and the Roc-A-Fella Records dynasty were preparing to take the hip hop world by storm, and it all began with this album (I purchased it twice over the years). For this third part of the project, I'm going to utilize the album insert by including Jay's comments about each song (some verbatim, others summarized), followed by my usual thoughts and ratings.

Release date- September 29, 1998 (Also released on this day were Outkast's 3rd album "Aquemini" and A Tribe Called Quest's last album "The Love Movement".)

Featured Guests
Memphis Bleek
Da Ranjahz
Big Jaz
Too Short
Ja Rule
Foxy Brown
The Lox
Beanie Sigel
Sauce Money
Kid Capri
Jermaine Dupri

Behind The Boards
DJ Premier
Mark The 45 King
Swizz Beatz
Stevie J
Irv Gotti & Lil Rob
Erick Sermon
Darold Trotter
Kid Capri
Damon Dash
Mahogany Music
Jermaine Dupri


Jay's comments will be in red.

1. Intro- Hand It Down
  "The intro of the whole record is like the torch..... it's like the heir to the throne"

The consensus at the time, after hearing this intro, at least in my area, was that Memphis Bleek was going to be the aforementioned heir to the Roc-A-Fella throne, and Jay was stepping down. Neither of those things happened, but either way this was a dope intro.

2. Hard Knock Life (The Ghetto Anthem)

"Hard Knock Life, this one is for everybody. You can call it the Ghetto Anthem because this one is for the people. Everybody who ever has been through any type of shit in their life, any hard shit, that's what hard knock life is all about."

I wonder what Mark The 45 King is doing these days, because I guarantee you this one beat he gave to Damon Dash not only furthered his career, but I bet it has him set for life. As for this song, it exploded onto radio and TV at the time, definitely a classic and it's responsible for launching Jay into complete superstardom. And yes, Annie's "It's The Hard Knock Life" sample is worked beautifully here.
*5 out of 5*

3. If I Should Die

I gotta give this one verbatim, because Jay describes this song nicely.

"And If I Should Die it's basically saying that a nigga done a whole lot. A nigga ain't expect to be anywhere, especially where I'm at in my career. I never expected to be where I'm at now, so I feel I've accomplished everything, I'm happy. If I die don't cry my niggas, just keep doin it, keep gettin it on."

Jay, along with The Ranjahz, bring the dopeness over this banger from Swizz Beatz.
*4 out of 5*

4. Ride Or Die
"Ride or die. Don't fuck with me, bottom line."

"Always gotta be the weakest nigga out the crew/I probably make more money off your album than you/....Check your own videos, you always be #2/Niggas talkin real greasy on them R&B records/But I'm platinum a million times nigga check the credits"

Well, Jay's view of this good song sums it up pretty much. In addition, that line below it was a direct response to Mase's verse on 112's "Love Me", when he said "what we hear is platinum that, platinum this/Platinum whips, nobody got no platinum hits". Of course Mase didn't need to respond, because he didn't want it with Jay in ANY form.
*4 out of 5*
5. Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)

"That nigga Jaz brought me into this whole business. The Originators was the first song I was on, people think Hawaiian Sophie was the first song I was on, I just filled in a couple of words on that joint (Hawaiian Sophie). We was using that fast style that everybody seems to be using now."

 "So what I do is rap and sex, imagine how I stroke/See how I was flowin on my last cassette/Rapid fire like I'm blastin a tech, no jam though, never get high, never run outta ammo"

Oh man, I couldn't picture anyone other than Timbaland making the beat to this classic. Jay and Jaz-O bring back the initial "originator flow", but with an updated sound, and it delivered in spades. I remember my friend Shaun going crazy when he first heard it, and so did I.
*5 out of 5*

6. Money, Cash, Hoes

"It's........ murrrder, that's what Money, Cash, Hoes is."

"It's like New York's been soft ever since Snoop came through and crushed the buildings"

Ooohh, that's that line right there, lol, and let me tell you, a few artists weren't too happy about it, specifically Prodigy of Mobb Deep, but that's another story that'll eventually be covered. This DMX assisted banger is another classic, also featuring Swizz' second best beat ever.
*5 out of 5*

7. A Week Ago

"This song was made because snitching became too cool. It felt like if you could participate in all the good times of hustlin, spending money, whatever you feel is the good life of hustlin and all. You already know the consequences of your act. You know you can eventually go to jail or anything can happen to you. Niggas always wanna take a nigga down when they go down. I mean stand up."

This is the first of two songs (the 2nd one is next) where you really get an introspective Jay-Z of sorts, and his assessment up top, again, sums up this song in a nutshell. Outstanding.

"Funny what seven days can change/A stand up nigga now you sit down to aim/Used to have a firm grip now you droppin names/It was all good just a week ago"

*5 out of 5*

8. Coming Of Age (Da Sequel)

"Y'all really have to take your time with this one. It's all about thought. Everything else in between is just what we were thinking, like he (Memphis Bleek) would think something then I would think something. It's a very mental record. You really have to take your time with this one."

For starters, this is arguably the best performance of Bleek's career, if not from a lyrical standpoint, then definitely for such an inspired performance. As Jay said, you really have to take your time with this one, and it truly is a very worthy sequel to the first one from "Reasonable Doubt". Bleek is no longer a rookie, as he has slowly but surely "risen through the ranks" and he's ready to step up ("I done came up, put my life on the line/Soaked the game up, now it's my time to shine/Time to change up, no more second in line"). Jay, on the other hand, is having to deal with the young man he mentored along the way, almost as if he sees a part of himself in Bleek and he's slightly resenting it. Whew, great stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

9. Can I Get A...

"This record is basically saying, if I wasn't doing this or if I wasn't doing such and such, would you roll with a nigga, would you be there for a nigga, and if not, then fuck you."

Lol, well said Jay. Looking back on it, this song can be considered a textbook example of "multi-promotion" in hip hop. Not only is the song tight, but let's take a look at what it did:

1) In addition to the first ever pairing of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan for the first "Rush Hour" film, this song was also a selling point for the film and its soundtrack.

2) With "Hard Knock Life" still in heavy rotation on radio and TV at the time, plus "Money Ain't A Thang" and "It's Alright" not too far behind, "Can I Get A..." also sold this album.

3) Amil was along for the ride, however, this put a buzz on Ja Rule, leading to his 1999 debut.

*5 out of 5*

10. Paper Chase

"It's like the perfect New York route right there. It's like two people, we're not trying to take over the town, we just want everybody to get money."

Jay and Foxy on the all but familiar "paper chase" over a thumpin Timbaland track
*3.5 out of 5*

11. Reservoir Dogs

"That's what happens when you put a hot track in the studio with a bunch of niggas and lock the doors, a bunch of ill niggas. You never know what's gonna come out. Big things: the lyrics."

Oh man, revisiting this, I still can't begin to tell you who had the best verse in this song, because they're ALL DOPE. Now when I think about it, 1998 was the year of some truly dope collaborations featuring 5 or more MCs spittin over equally dope production, and this is one of them. Jay assembled an all star cast of lyrical talent, ranging from the up and coming (Beanie Sigel), the underrated (Sauce Money, in one of his final appearances on the Roc-A-Fella label), and the terrific trio of the Lox. Add Erick Sermon (and Darold Trotter) behind the boards, and what you got is another classic.
*5 out of 5*

12. It's Like That

With all due respect, I'm not sure why Kid Capri was on this one, because it's far from a "party anthem". In fact, this seemed like it should've been titled "Ride Or Die" rather than song #4 when you listen to the lyrics.
*4 out of 5*

*13. It's Alright

This is the first of two bonus tracks, and there's no way "It's Like That" was going to close this album. This was also on the "Streets Is Watching" soundtrack, highlighted by what I consider Bleek's second best verse after "Coming Of Age".
*3.5 out of 5*

*14. Money Ain't A Thang

"Y'all shit ain't for real til y'all ship a mill/And y'all hit a R&B chick and she fit the bill/Said she love my necklace, started relaxin/Now that's what the fuck I call a chain reaction"

This was also featured on JD's "Life In 1472" album, released in July of 1998. With or without JD present, this song still holds up today. I also remember Jay's first verse (which is damn good) was featured as a hip hop quotable in the July 1998 issue of The Source. This was met with a mixed reaction, but I thought it was a good choice.
*5 out of 5*

My friend Shaun copped this about a week or so after its release, and his version came with a bonus disc. I bought mine a few months later so I didn't get the bonus unfortunately. Remember "Things That Groupies Say", "Crew Love" with Jay, Sigel and Bleek, a tight Sigel freestyle? This and more was on that disc. Overall, this album has aged considerably well, and Jay was well on his way to complete superstardom afterwards. He linked up with some of the hottest MCs and producers at the time, something he would continue to do throughout his career, and we got an excellent album in the process. Great job.

4.5 stars

*It moved 350,000 units in its first week, and from there it was certified 5X platinum as of 2013, remaining his best selling album
*The album won a Grammy in 1999 for Best Rap Album, Jay's first            

When we head to 1999, the reign continues into the new millennium.  


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