Friday, July 27, 2012

Jay-Z -- "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" (1998)

From standin' on the corners boppin'
To drivin' some of the hottest cars 
New York has ever seen
For droppin' some of the hottest verses 
Rap has ever heard

It has been quite some time since our last "Hip Hop 101" class, hasn't it?  Well, better late than never.

Today's lecture features one of Jay-Z's biggest hits, "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," from his third album (its title was Vol.2 . . . Hard Knock Life), which was released in 1998.  

The album, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, made Jay-Z a superstar -- driving "some of the hottest cars New York has ever seen" as a result of his coming up with "some of the hottest verses rap has ever heard."  But as the lyrics quoted above indicate, Jay-Z hadn't forgotten what it was like to be a teenager standing on a Bed-Stuy street corner, working on his rhymes while peddling crack. 

Jay-Z and his Rolls Royce Phantom
Most of you don't know much about rap music, but I'm betting that you know the song that Jay-Z samples on this track: "It's a Hard Knock Life," from the very popular Broadway musical, Annie.  

A scene from Annie
Annie was based on the "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip, which I couldn't stand when I was a kid.  It opened on Broadway in 1977 and ran for nearly six years.  A 35th anniversary revival is scheduled to open on Broadway this fall.

"It's a Hard Knock Life" is performed by a number of young orphan girls leading a very barebones existence:

Instead of treated, we get tricked
Instead of kisses, we get kicked
It's a hard knock life! 

Even Christmas -- the best day of the year for most children -- is a bitter disappointment for the orphans:

Santa Claus we never see 
Santa Claus, what's that -- who's he? 
No one cares for you a smidge 
When you're in an orphanage
It's a hard knock life!

was made into a movie (starring Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, and Bernadette Peters) in 1982:

Last year, Will Smith announced that he wanted to produce a new movie version of the play that would star his daughter, Willow.  (Click here to read a 2 or 3 lines post featuring Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair.")  Smith wants Jay-Z to help write a new musical score.  I don't think the movie's been green-lighted yet -- we'll wait and see what happens.

The official music video for "Hard Knock Life" features a number of young children singing the lines from the Annie song.  While they might not be orphans in a literal sense, the video depicts their lives as far from easy.

"Hard Knock Life" was a big hit in the United States, and was Jay-Z's first single to achieve success outside the U.S.  It made the top 10 in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and all the Scandanavian countries.  (It reached only #21 on the French charts.  Why do the French always have to be so damn difficult?)

If Jay-Z can make a big hit out of a song sung by a bunch of little girls in a Broadway musical, he obviously has the talent to make a credible rap track out of just about anything.

Here's the parody of "Hard Knock Life" from Austin Powers in Goldmember, the third of the Austin Powers movies:

Here's the official music video for "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem):

Click here if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:

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