A song from the 1977 musical “Annie” is not the most obvious inspiration for Jay Z. But after he heard the hook, he decided it was a great fit with his message of ghetto life.
Produced by Mark “45 King” James, the instrument is built around the melody of the Annie sample. The actual singing is pitched up, and the song has a powerful but simple bassline and hard hitting drums added. There’s a real bop to it, and it’s no wonder the song was so popular.
Jay Z gives here what remains one of the best lyrical performances he’s ever done, with a straightforward message of how he has escaped the ghetto and become successful.
Danielle Brisebois, the girl who sang the sampled chorus, doesn’t get any money from the song as she was paid a single fee for the soundtrack. Which must sting a bit seeing how many copies the song has sold (certified Platinum in 2015).
The song reached number 2 in the U.K. and on the U.S. Rap chart, and number 15 on the Billboard Top 100.
“Hard Knock Life” was released in 1998 on the album, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life.