Album Review | JAY-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Click HERE to stream this album

This album was released on September 29th in the year of our Lord 1998. I wasn’t really sure if this is a classic album or not, but it looks like the streets are saying it is. I think I’m gonna like this. The streets are telling me that it’s “one of the best East Coast Rap albums,” and “better [than Vol. 1] in every aspect.” I guess that’s a good sign. The only song I’ve ever heard from this album is the title track, and I can’t really remember what I thought about it. I think I liked it. I’m not really sure tho. I don’t know. I’m gonna be optimistic about this project. I’ll try to keep an open mind.

Track 1: Intro – Hand It Down (Performed by Memphis Bleek) [Prod. DJ Premier]

The fake ass Al Pacino is back again saying some random bullshit that I don’t care about. He said “OKAY. I’M RELOADEEEED” again tho. That was great. The song’s actually starting now. This beat is dope af. Bleek is goin’ in now. This is dope. His flow is cool. Okay, I just listened to the entire song. I know I didn’t really say much about this track, but I do like it. It’s just one verse over a great beat. It wasn’t an amazing verse or anything. It was cool tho. The best thing about this track is the production. I guess that’s pretty normal for a JAY-Z album. I like this song tho. This is dope to me.

Track 2: Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) [Prod. The 45 King]

Hard Knock Life

This is one of Jay’s most popular singles. I love that Annie sample they flipped for the hook. It really shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s awesome tho. The beat is dope af. Jay’s flow is decent on the first verse. I’m not really feelin’ some of these lyrics tho…

Where all my niggas with the rubber grips? Bust shots / And if you with me, mama, rub on your tits, and what not.

Yeah, this first verse is pretty fucking rough to be honest. His flow was nothing special, and I feel pretty comfortable classifying a lot of these lyrics as struggle bars…

Let’s stick up the world and split it 50/50, uh-huh / Let’s take the dough, and stay real jiggy, uh-huh / And sip the Cris’ and get pissy-pissy / Flow infinitely like the memory of my nigga Biggie, baby.

It just seems like he’s bullshitting this song. The second verse was way better tho. That was actually a good verse. The third verse was cool. The song just ended. Yeah, I like this song, but it could definitely be better. It’s good tho. I fuck with this one.

Track 3: If I Should Die Feat. Da Ranjahz (Prod. Swizz Beatz)

Apparently Da Ranjahz are a duo comprised of Wais P & Haph Dead. I’ve heard Wais P rap before, but I’ve never heard of this Haph Dead guy. Wait a minute… Didn’t Wais P go to jail recently? Yeah I just looked it up. I guess my diction was off. “Recently” is kind of a stretch. He was arrested for sex trafficking & driving while intoxicated. This was in 2015; I’m not sure if he’s still in jail. He raps a lot about being a pimp tho. I guess this is another one of those self-snitch situations. Smh… I know rappers like to glorify being a pimp, but that’s really fucked up. Pimp’s are basically sex slave masters. Obviously the level of severity varies with each pimp. Well, I guess a lot of the shit rappers talk about is fucked up. Cooking crack, and killing people, and shit. The whole pimp thing just seems a lot more fucked up to me for some reason. I guess it’s because they’re exploiting women. Drug dealers exploit people too, but at least it’s not one specific gender. Anyone who thinks gigolos are treated with the same level of cruelty and disrespect as female prostitutes is unbelievably stupid, but I digress. Let’s talk about this actual song. The beat is decent. I’m not feelin’ this shitty hook. The more I listen to this song the less I like the production. It’s really repetitive and irritating. The first verse from Jay was fine… This… This isn’t a good song. I don’t think it’s terrible so far, but nothing about it is good. I’m not really feelin’ this verse from Wais P.

I got demands to meet and questions to fulfill / Like, “is that mystery God real?” / And “how was Kennedy killed?”

…What? How was Kennedy killed? Are you fucking shitting me right now? How the fuck does he not know how he was killed? THERE’S A FUCKING VIDEO OF HIM GETTING HIS BRAINS BLOWN OUT. He was shot, Wais. That’s how he was killed. He was fucking shot in the head. Hmm… Now that I think about it, whoever the shooter was had really good aim. He hit that motherfucker right in the head, and he was in a moving car. I’m pretty sure he was fairly distant too. Anyway, Wais P’s flow was cool, but aside from that it didn’t really do anything for me. Damn… Haph’s verse was actually really fuckin’ cool. He was rapping about dying and returning back like the spirit of Christ. He was on some other shit. It was really dope tho. However, I still don’t think this is a good song. The hook was shitty. The beat was shitty. The verses were nothing special for the most part. It’s just a really lackluster track. It’s mediocre to me.

Track 4: Ride or Die (Prod. DJ Stevie J)

This beat is fucking awesome. The hook is wack tho. It lasts way too fucking long too. This first verse is awesome. He’s in battle mode right now. Apparently this whole first verse is a diss towards Mase.

I bruise wack rap niggas; severely punish them / Especially those that get fucked for they publishing / Always gotta be the weakest nigga out the crew / I probably make more money off your album than you / You see the respect I get every time I come through / Check your own videos, you’ll always be number two.

The first verse was dope af. The second verse was dope too. Damn. This might actually be my favorite track so far. The hook is wack, but the great verses and fantastic production make up for it. This is really fuckin’ dope. I can’t say I’m completely in love with it because that hook is a problem, but I like it more than all the other tracks so far. This is dope.

Track 5: Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator ’99) Feat. Amil & Jaz-O [Prod. Timbaland]

Nigga What, Nigga Who

This beat is really fucking dope. Jay’s flow is great on this first verse too. I also liked that intro from Amil that Jhené Aiko later interpolated on Terrorist Threats by Ab-Soul. The subject matter isn’t really for me, and, again, the F bomb is inexcusable, but so far this is really great sonically. The hook’s fine. The misogynistic content really isn’t for me tho.

She’s mad at me ’cause Your Majesty just happened to be a pimp / What a tragedy / She wanted us to end ’cause I fucked her friends / She gave me one more chance, and I fucked her again / I seen her tears as she busted in / I said, “shit, there’s a draft; shut the door, bitch, and come on in.”

Man… What a fucking douche. Lmao. He’s just really not a likable person. I don’t think I’d wanna be friends with him. I’m not gonna pretend I haven’t heard much worse shit in music before tho. It’s not bad enough to ruin the song. The production and Jay’s flow are pretty much the only things that are really making me enjoy this to be honest. Jaz-O’s flow was fantastic. There was another F bomb tho. Ugh. Whatever. I like this song. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but, as I kinda mentioned before, this is dope sonically. I fuck with this one.

Track 6: Money, Cash, Hoes Feat. DMX (Prod. Swizz Beatz)

Hmm I wonder what this track’s gonna be about. Wow I just came up with a really good analogy. Drake is to JAY-Z as Kendrick Lamar is to Nas. Obviously there was more debate about Nas vs. JAY-Z than there currently is about Kendrick Lamar vs. Drake. I guess the only reason I can say this is because Kendrick & Nas typically have more interesting & meaningful content than Drake & Jay respectively. Jay & Drake also just tend to go for a trendier sound than Kendrick & Nas ever have. Kendrick’s thankfully never dropped a Nastradamus-level dud, but I feel pretty comfortable putting To Pimp A Butterfly & Illmatic in the same tier when it comes to quality. Not to mention The Lost Tapes & untitled unmastered. It’s not a perfect comparison, but I think it makes sense. People have probably already made this exact same analogy countless times before. I just never really put it together myself. ANYWAY, this beat is crazy. It’s weird as hell, but I really like it. It’s really unique. The first verse from Jay was nothing special. Lmao. DMX’s ad-libs during the hook are hilarious. The second verse was fine. This song is stupid as hell. It’s not bad tho. I’m enjoying it, but if somebody said it was wack, I wouldn’t argue with them. Just like with the previous track, I’m really only enjoying this sonically. Also, this isn’t really important, but… Money & cash are the same thing. I just feel like that should be noted. Anyway, DMX’s verse was cool. I don’t know how to feel about this song man… It’s really not bad. I just don’t really think there’s much replay value in it. The only thing that really stood out was the production. Nas & DMX had the better collaboration on I Am… Sorry for being a Nas stan lol. I can’t help it. Anyway, this really is a decent song, but I personally won’t be returning to it.

Track 7: A Week Ago Feat. Too $hort (Prod. J-Runnah)

This beat is dope af. The first verse was actually really nice. He’s rapping about how his partner in crime got arrested, and now he’s worrying that he’s gonna finesse him. The hook from Too $hort isn’t bad. Okay, I’m about halfway through this song, and I can already tell this is my favorite track so far. This is one of the few tracks from JAY-Z that actually has interesting content. Even on his previous albums I felt like there were songs with relatively creative ideas, but this is the only track so far from this album that I can say that about. There’s not a single thing about this track I don’t like. Too $hort didn’t get a verse, which I have no problem with. The production is great, and Jay did a great job rapping about his homie turning his back on him. I was recently finessed by a close friend, and it’s pretty tough to accept. If you’ve never been stabbed in the back by a fake friend you’re incredibly lucky. Anyway, I think this is one of the best songs I’ve heard from JAY-Z period. This is dope af to me.

Track 8: Coming of Age (Da Sequel) Feat. Memphis Bleek [Prod. Swizz Beatz]

This beat is dope. I really like Jay’s energetic delivery on this track. He’s trading verses with Memphis Bleek. They both sound pretty good. Jay’s rapping about how he’s not sure if he trusts Memphis Bleek anymore. Memphis Bleek’s rapping about how he’s tryna replace Jay since he doesn’t pay him enough respect. This is actually really fucking cool. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the whole Mafioso Rap thing, but this might actually be one of the most interesting Mafioso Rap songs I’ve ever heard. I love how instead of them directly talking to each other it’s just switching back and forth between Jay & Bleek’s thoughts.

Look at that fake smile he just gave me; it’s breaking my heart / Should I school him or pull the tools out, and just break him apart? / I felt his hatred it was harsh / Before this faking shit start / I should take him in back of the building and blaze him.

The last line of that four bar verse felt kinda clunky because he kinda ditched the rhyme scheme he had going. I guess “take him” rhymes with “blaze him.” It just wasn’t structured very well. This is extreme nitpicking tho. Huh. The way this song ended was kinda… Uh… It wasn’t bad I guess. It just didn’t go where I thought it would go. Instead of anything really happening, they were just like “wait a minute… I love you, bro,” and then everything was cool between them after that. It was kind of an anticlimactic ending, but I guess it’s not too bad. This song is still really dope to me.

Track 9: Can I Get A… Feat. Amil & Ja Rule (Prod. Irv Gotti)

You know, I was kinda hoping that I’d never have to talk about Ja Rule on this website. I guess that was pretty unrealistic tho. I’ve never heard a complete song from him. I’ve heard short clips of some of it tho. I’m not a fan. I’m 90% sure that if I gave him a chance and reviewed one of his albums, I’d regret starting it after the first track. Anyway, this beat is nothing special. Jay’s flow is cool on this first verse, but the subject matter isn’t for me at all. The first verse wasn’t too bad I guess. This hook is awful.

Can I get a “fuck you” to these bitches from all of my niggas who don’t love hoes? They get no dough.

Even if you disregard the lyrics, this melodic delivery he’s using sounds awful. This sounds like generic shitty mainstream Hip Pop from the late 90s. You know why? Because that’s what it is. This is the wackest song on the album so far. Literally the only tolerable thing about this is Jay’s flow. Amil’s flow was decent too. Ja’s verse was fine. This song is terrible tho. I don’t know why it’s pissing me off so much. I really just don’t have any tolerance for this shitty, dated, commercial sound. This is wack af to me.

Track 10: Paper Chase Feat. Foxy Brown (Prod. Timbaland)

This beat is nice. Foxy Brown’s verse at the beginning was fine. I kinda wish she didn’t end every bar with the same word, but it’s not too bad. The hook is tolerable. I’m almost done with the song. I really don’t have anything to say about it. It’s kinda boring. The beat’s nice, but aside from that nothing stands out to me. It’s a decent track, but I’m never gonna listen to this shit ever again.

Track 11: Reservoir Dogs Feat. The LOX, Beanie Sigel & Sauce Money (Prod. Erick Sermon, POP & Rockwilder)

Okay, this is gonna be good. I’m not too familiar with Beanie Sigel’s work, but I really like what I’ve heard from him. I like Sauce Money’s previous features on Jay’s work, and I love The LOX. It’s starting now. Sheek Louch is on the first verse. I feel like Sheek is often left out. A lot of times when you see a feature from The LOX, it really just means Jadakiss & Styles P. Like on that Gotti song by Lil Wayne. I really like Sheek Louch tho; he has a really good flow and delivery in my opinion. I think he’s really charismatic. His verse was dope. Beanie Sigel has never been too impressive to me as a lyricist, but his voice & delivery are fantastic. He just sounds hard as fuck whenever he says anything.

Y’all niggas nuts like testicles.

Beans is one of the few MCs who can say something like that and make it sound good. Woah… What the fuck? Why does Jadakiss’ voice sound so… normal? I mean, it still sounds like him, but it’s nowhere near as gravelly as it is today. I haven’t really heard a lot of The LOX’s earlier shit, so I guess Jadakiss’ voice originally didn’t sound as raspy as it does today. It’s not something I have a problem with. I was just a little confused. His verse was still great tho. This song is fucking awesome. Sauce Money’s verse was cool. Styles P killed it. He probably had my favorite verse so far. Jay’s verse was great too tho. I don’t feel like he got outshined at all honestly. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album so far. This is dope af.

Track 12: It’s Like That Feat. Kid Capri & Liz Leite (Prod. Kid Capri)

This beat sounds familiar. It has a pretty simplistic melody tho, so that might have something to do with it. I don’t wanna call it generic, but it sounds like something I’ve heard before. It’s dope tho. I liked the first verse from Jay. The hook kinda sucks, but it’s not bad enough to ruin the song. The second verse was really fuckin’ dope. This is another dope song. I don’t really have much to say about it. I think Kid Capri is the only DJ who can scream in the background of a song and make me like it. The hook could’ve been better, but aside from that I don’t have any problems with this track. This is a good song.

Track 13: It’s Alright Feat. Memphis Bleek (Prod. Dame Dash)

Huh… I never knew Dame Dash was an actual producer. This beat’s kinda cool. It feels like it’s missing something tho. The hook is nothing special. Same goes for the first verse. Wow. I just listened to the whole song. This is definitely one of the most underwhelming songs on the whole album. I liked Bleek’s verse a little better than Jay’s, but it’s still not really that impressive to me. I don’t know. It’s not terrible. I’m never gonna listen to this shit intentionally tho.

Track 14: Money Ain’t a Thang Feat. Jermaine Dupri (Prod. Jermaine Dupri)

This beat is alright. This feels like a really weird way to end this album. I just listened to the whole song. It’s not good. It’s not super terrible or anything, but I’m not gonna listen to this shit again. I pretty much feel exactly the same way about this song as I did the previous track. This doesn’t feel like a proper outro. The music kinda just stops and then the album’s done. I’ve really got nothing to say about this track honestly. It’s another generic JAY-Z song about money. It’s not for me.

Final Thoughts:

Jesus fuck this marathon is a real chore to get through so far. Don’t get it twisted tho; this is nowhere near as torturous as the Tech N9ne Marathon. That was a fucking nightmare. None of the albums I’ve reviewed for this JAY-Z Marathon are even bad so far. I loved the first one. This album right here is just really boring to me. I honestly feel exactly the same way about this one as I did the previous one. I’m not really seeing the huge improvement that the streets were talking about. I think this project is probably more consistent, but Vol. 1 had higher highs in my opinion. This is a tolerable project tho. It’s definitely not bad. My feelings about this album—and JAY-Z in general to be honest—can be summed up by this one made up word: meh. It’s some of the most average, basic Hip Hop music I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s worth skimming even if you’re not a fan of Jay tho. There are a fair amount of good songs on it. Just don’t expect greatness. It’s an okay album.

Favorite Song: Reservoir Dogs

Least Favorite Song: Can I Get A…

Verdict:

C+

60-69

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One comment

  1. (A lil history for ya)
    This album was the beginning in the battle of Dame Dash vs Lyor Cohen/Def Jam. Jay would go on tour with fellow Def Jam acts, Method Man/Redman, Ja Rule/Murder Inc & DMX w/Ruff Ryders and both sides butted heads over whether or not it would be billed as a Def Jam or Rockafella show. Every attempt Def Jam made to coincide with Chatty Patty (Dame) was met with insults and a foul attitude. A lot of this was documented in the 1998 film “Backstage” (great watch for some rare performances and interviews.)

    Around this time Rockafella released a a film/soundtrack, the film was told by Jay’s music videos called “Streets Is Watching” (featuring then unreleased music videos). It did quite well for it’s time, but up to today’s standards…..meh.

    Now on my personal opinion on this album, I hate it. This for me marked the end of Hardcore NY Hip Hop in the mainstream. Jay and Puffy, were bringing in the flashy Armani suits and watered everything down to the point where you could tell they were jacking the South’s then newborn sound.

    This shit is and will forever be wack to me. Imma give this a 4.5/10

    Great Job!

    Liked by 1 person

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