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Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life

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Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 29, 1998
RecordedDecember 1997 – August 1998
GenreHip hop
Jay-Z chronology
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life
Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter
Singles from Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
  1. "Can I Get A..."
    Released: August 22, 1998
  2. "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"
    Released: October 17, 1998
  3. "Money, Cash, Hoes"
    Released: December 18, 1998
  4. "Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)"
    Released: March 1, 1999

Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life is the third studio album by American rapper Jay-Z. It was released on September 29, 1998, by Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam Recordings. It went on to become his most commercially successful album, selling over 6 million copies in the United States. In the liner notes of the album, Jay-Z gives his thoughts on various tracks. The lyrics to the fast-paced "Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)" are also included.


Jay described the background to the album's lyrical themes in a December 1998 interview with Blues & Soul, saying, "Primarily I see myself as so much more than a rapper. I really believe I'm the voice for a lot of people who don't have that microphone or who can't rap. So I wanted to represent and tell the story of everybody who's been through what I've been through, or knows somebody that has. I also wanted to speak about our lifestyle to people who – though they may live, say, in the suburbs and not be part of that world – still want to know about it and understand it."[1] Jay told MTV News that Vol. 2 was going to be his final album, but he later walked that statement back.


Several tracks in this feature a rougher sound than the glossier Bad Boy production on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, most notably the three tracks produced by Ruff Ryders beatmaker Swizz Beatz. With the exception of Stevie J on "Ride or Die," Bad Boy producers play no role in Vol. 2, though Jay-Z enlisted Timbaland, Jermaine Dupri, and Irv Gotti for a more pop-oriented sound on three of the album's singles. This would also be Jay-Z's last album to feature his mentor Big Jaz.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
The Baltimore Sun[3]
Christgau's Consumer Guide(3-star Honorable Mention)(3-star Honorable Mention)(3-star Honorable Mention)[4]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[5]
Los Angeles Times[7]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[10]
The Source4.5/5[11]

In a contemporary review for Playboy, Robert Christgau deemed Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life a progression from its predecessor, featuring more noticeable beats that would appeal to listeners other than just hip hop aesthetes. He highlighted the title track's "audacious Annie sample" and the production of Swizz Beatz, who he believed took influence from postminimalist composers such Steve Reich and Philip Glass. "And whatever Jay-Z's moral values", Christgau wrote, "the man knows how to put words together and say them real fast."[12] He later gave it a three-star honorable mention in his Consumer Guide book, indicating "an enjoyable effort that consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure".[4] In The A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin said the record was "an uneven if worthwhile" album whose best songs "strip gangsta rap of its superthug bravado and replace it with a more nuanced understanding of the human emotions behind the gangsta facade".[13] Q called it "the epitome of mainstream hip hop" at the time.[9]

Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life was later ranked number 46 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums from the 1990s.[14]

Commercial performance[edit]

Vol. 2... became Jay-Z's first album to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200, selling over 350,000 copies in its first week, and spent a total of 5 consecutive weeks at the top spot.[15][16] Vol. 2... charted at number one in its second week earning 208,000 copies [16] and stayed at the top for a third consecutive week selling 186,000 copies.[17] In its fifth week, the album sold just under 174,000 copies and once again stayed at number one.[18] It is Jay-Z's best selling album as of 2013 and was certified 5× Platinum by the RIAA in 2000. By 2013, the album had sold 5,400,000 copies in the United States.[19] The album won Grammy Award for Best Rap Album at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards. Though he won the award, he boycotted the ceremony, citing what he sees as the Grammys' continuing disrespect of hip hop because they were not going to broadcast the rap nominations. He told MTV, "I am boycotting the Grammys because too many major rap artists continue to be overlooked. Rappers deserve more attention from the Grammy committee and from the whole world. If it's got a gun everybody knows about it; but if we go on a world tour, no one knows."

Track listing[edit]

1."Intro – Hand It Down" (featuring Memphis Bleek)DJ Premier2:56
2."Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"The 45 King3:58
3."If I Should Die" (featuring Da Ranjahz)
Swizz Beatz4:55
4."Ride or Die"
Stevie J4:48
5."Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)" (featuring Big Jaz)Timbaland3:53
6."Money, Cash, Hoes" (featuring DMX)
Swizz Beatz4:46
7."A Week Ago" (featuring Too $hort)J-Runnah5:00
8."Coming of Age (Da Sequel)" (featuring Memphis Bleek)
  • S. Carter
  • Dean
Swizz Beatz4:21
9."Can I Get A..." (featuring Ja Rule and Amil)
10."Paper Chase" (featuring Foxy Brown)
  • S. Carter
  • Mosley
11."Reservoir Dogs" (featuring The LOX, Beanie Sigel and Sauce Money)
12."It's Like That" (featuring Kid Capri)
Kid Capri3:45
13."It's Alright" (featuring Memphis Bleek)
14."Money Ain't a Thang" (featuring Jermaine Dupri)
Jermaine Dupri4:13


  • ^[a] – co-producer
  • ^[b] – uncredited co-producer
  • "If I Should Die" features additional vocals by Wais and Half Dead.
  • "Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)" features additional vocals by Amil.
  • "It's Like That" features additional vocals by Liz.

Sample credits[edit]

Intro (Hand It Down)

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)

  • "It's The Hard Knock Life" from Annie

Money, Cash, Hoes

  • "Theme of Thief" from Tohru Nakabayashi & Y. "Dolphin" Takada (from the Golden Axe soundtrack)

A Week Ago

Reservoir Dogs

  • "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes
  • "24- Carat Black (Theme)" by 24 Carat Black
  • "Know How" by Young MC

It's Like That

It's Alright

Money Ain't a Thang



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[32] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[33] Gold 100,000
United States (RIAA)[34] 6× Platinum 6,000,000

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, Pete. Jay Z: A B&S classic interview December 1998, Blues & Soul
  2. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life – Jay-Z". AllMusic. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  3. ^ Considine, J. D. (November 12, 1998). "Jay-Z: Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life (Rockafella/Def Jam 314 558 902)". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (2000). Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. Macmillan Publishers. pp. xvi, 149. ISBN 0312245602.
  5. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Jay-Z". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0857125958.
  6. ^ Spence D. (November 12, 2003). "Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life". IGN. Archived from the original on June 16, 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  7. ^ Baker, Soren (October 10, 1998). "Jay-Z Offers Intense Tales of 'Life' and the Street". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 17, 2016. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  8. ^ Crysell, Andy (November 12, 1998). "Jay-Z – Volume 2... Hard Knock Life". NME. Archived from the original on August 17, 2000. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Jay-Z: Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life". Q. No. 171. December 2000. p. 144.
  10. ^ Caramanica, Jon (2004). "Jay-Z". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 424–25. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  11. ^ Rodriguez, Carlito (November 1998). "Jay-Z: Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life". The Source. No. 110. p. 190.
  12. ^ Christgau, Robert (November 1998). "Beck, Jay Z". Playboy. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  13. ^ Rabin, Nathan (March 29, 2002). "Jay-Z: Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  14. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Nineties". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  15. ^ "Jay-Z". Billboard. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  16. ^ a b Reiss, Randy (October 14, 1998). "Jay Z's New Hard Knock Life Has A Golden Week".
  17. ^ Boehlert, Eric (October 21, 1998). "Dylan Breaks Top 40, Jay-Z Stays at No. 1". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  18. ^ "JAY-Z HOLDS OFF DRU HILL, R.E.M. ON ALBUM CHART". Retrieved March 12, 2022.
  19. ^ "The 50 Best Selling Rap Albums of All Time18. Jay Z Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (1998)". In 2023, the album was officially certified 6x platinum in the United States.
  20. ^ "Jay-Z Chart History (Canadian Albums)". Billboard. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  21. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Jay-Z – Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  22. ^ "Jay-Z Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  23. ^ "Jay-Z Chart History (Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums)". Billboard. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  24. ^ "Jay-Z – Chart history". www.billboard.com. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  25. ^ "Jay-Z – Chart history". www.billboard.com. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  26. ^ "Jay-Z – Chart history". www.billboard.com. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  27. ^ "Top Billboard 200 Albums – Year-End 1998". Billboard. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  28. ^ "1998 The Year in Music". Billboard. Vol. 110, no. 52. December 26, 1998. p. YE-50. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  29. ^ "Top Billboard 200 Albums – Year-End 1999". Billboard. Archived from the original on January 24, 2015. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  30. ^ "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums – Year-End 1999". Billboard. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  31. ^ Geoff Mayfield (December 25, 1999). 1999 The Year in Music Totally '90s: Diary of a Decade - The listing of Top Pop Albums of the '90s & Hot 100 Singles of the '90s. Billboard. Retrieved October 15, 2010.
  32. ^ "Canadian album certifications – JAY Z – Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life". Music Canada.
  33. ^ "British album certifications – JAY Z – Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
  34. ^ "American album certifications – JAY-Z – HARD KNOCK LIFE". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved April 7, 2023.

External links[edit]