Producer: The 45 King
Album: Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

Jay gave us prophecy on his first joint, but it was commercially ignored (though critically acclaimed). After his follow-up, Volume 1, was panned by fans for being overly jiggy, it was becoming harder and harder for Jay to distinguish himself from the dozens of other NYC upstarts with similar content. This would change forever after Jay heard Kid Capri play a DJ Mark The 45 King-production that sampled the Broadway musical, Annie, after one of his sets in NYC.

As the story goes, Mark the 45 King was watching TV when he saw the commercial for Annie's return to Broadway and immediately picked up on the “It's The Hard Knock Life” sample. 45 later found the Annie album in a bin at the Salvation Army and bought it for a quarter.

Mark crafted the beat and gave it to Kid Capri for Capri's Soundtrack To The Streets album but when Jay heard the instrumental, he was able to persuade Capri to give it to him for his Volume 2 project.

This critical and commercial mega-hit set Jay apart from the rest of the class and sereved as the catalyst for his rise to superstardom. The song marked Jay's arrival to the mainstream masses with a global smash that analyzed life's ills and appealed to all races, ages, and cultures. Volume 2...Hard Knock Life would go on to become Jay's most commercially successful album selling over five million copies in the United States alone.

What still sticks out about the record is how the hook is so innocent and accessible, yet on the verses Jay promises to murder everything moving. “Hard Knock Life” was embraced by everyone—from street dudes to substitute teachers—and broke down yet another cultural barrier for hip-hop. One of Jay's signature records, it finds a perfect balance between hip-hop's street edge and it's pop aspirations. A delicate balance no rapper has been able to manage throughout their career quite like Jay-Z.