Music Fights Oppression: The Seemingly Juxtaposed Jay-Z and Annie


The songs called “It’s A Hard Knock Life” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” have only one difference in overall meaning and message to the projected listener; that the latter documents the destitution blacks experience in the ghetto, and the former displays the hardships orphans growing up encounter.  There are many differences between the main characters behind both songs however, for one- Annie is a fictional white orphaned girl, and Jay-Z a black entrepreneurial hip hop artist.  Both had disturbing trials growing up in a society that envisions its children growing up in green pasture suburban utopia.  This was not so for the fictional character Annie and the boisterous rapper Jay-Z.  Both versions of “It’s A Hard Knock Life” divulge the tribulations that an alienated adolescent living in American poverty must endure.
Jay-Z sampled Annie’s song in order to metaphorically express his view that growing up as a black child in the inner city can compare to living in an orphanage.  Jay-Z’s message is that the ghetto and the orphanage are one in the same, you have to fend for yourself in order to survive in a stratified and isolating society.  Jay-Z had to endure just that growing up in the projects in Brooklyn, and thus he applied his upbringing to It’s A Hard Knock Life’s verses: “I’m from the school of the hard knocks, we must not let outsiders violate our blocks”(Jay-Z). References to his upbringing in the Brooklyn streets sporadically pop up throughout the song, interspersed with boasts about how much money he makes after becoming at first a star rap artist and then a very successful entrepreneur.  The juxtaposition of rags to riches is the unifying theme to both songs.  Along with metaphorically linking his rap to Annie’s song, Jay-Z also connects the song literally to his past because his father abandoned him when he was a child. (CNN)
The music video for “It’s A Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” features black children in the streets singing the chorus sample: “It’s the hard knock life, for us/ It’s the hard knock life, for us!!/ Steada treated, we get tricked/ Steada kisses, we get kicked/ It’s the hard knock life!!”(Charnin and Strouse).  The children in Jay-Z’s video do not look pitiful and destitute, but they look defiant and confident about themselves.  Jay-Z’s philosophy about growing up poor means getting enough confidence that will allow you to use your abilities in order to come up from rags to riches.  Annie prevails in the same sense by being adopted by a wealthy and very bald caucasian gentlemen named Daddy Warbucks.  Yet Annie did nothing with her own abilities in order to escape poverty and alienation, she fully depended upon another person in order to bail her out.  Jay-Z follows the same individualistic philosophy that has prevailed in American culture for hundreds of years and he applies this to the lyrics “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”(Jay-z). He was able to ascend from “boppin” on the corners to driving very luxurious automobiles all because he was able to develop his flow so well that he had to become a hugely successful rap artist, he wrote his own fate.  Annie on the other hand, was just adorable enough to win the adoration of a very rich man who was vaguely connected to her.
Although Annie was able to escape the orphan life it was only through another person, in order to provide a happy ending to the movie’s story.  Of course orphans never get the miracle chance that Annie does, and the lyrics in Annie’s version of “It’s A Hard Knock Life” disseminate not only how the neglected orphan feels estranged from society, but how they aren’t even given more than subsistence living “Cotton blankets, ‘Steada of wool! Empty Bellies ‘Steada of full! It’s the hard-knock life!”(Charnin and Strouse)   The orphans must endure the tribulations that the woman who runs the orphanage sets before them, but this only adds to plot development, and does not go much further in addressing legitimate concerns about social justice.  The base idea behind the whole song is referenced bluntly in the refrain “No one cares for you a smidge When you’re in an orphanage!”(Charnin and Strouse)
Jay-Z on the other hand, magnifies Annie’s orphanage refrain by extenuating that in order to rise from ghetto poverty, he had to have hustled, committed crime, and dominate other rap artists.  Domination is a main motif in Jay-Z’s song, placing it in the portrait of other rap artists at the time by portraying the rap artist’s struggle in the dog-eat-dog hip hop recording industry.  Jay-Z justifies his past criminal actions that are deemed negative by society because he believes that crime is the only way to overcome the weak position that capitalist and post- segregation American society sets him and many other black people in “fleein the murder scene, you know me well from nightmares of a lonely cell, my only hell But since when y’all niggaz know me to fail?”(Jay-z).  Jay-Z is quick to point out the trials a young black man growing up in the inner city faces: being thrown in jail, to dealing drugs and being involved with violence.  Annie on the other hand, was completely a victim to society, fleeing her social ills through fantasy plot sequences that presuppose the wooings of the extremely wealthy Daddy Warbucks.  Jay-Z didn’t have that luxury, he had to make the best out of his situation by hustling and expounding his verses with the world.
Jay-z. “It’s A Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”.  Volume 2 A Hard Knock Life. 1998.
“It’s A Hard Knock Life”. Charnin and Strouse. 1972.
Oprah Winfrey. Jay-z . CNN. September 9, 2009.

About Sean William Lynch
Sean William Lynch is a poet from New Jersey who was born in 1992. Lynch's first book of poems "the city of your mind" was published in 2013 by Whirlwind Press. Frank Sherlock, the poet laureate of Philadelphia, called Lynch's debut poetry book "visionary." CA Conrad claimed that the book was "marvelous!" S.W. Lynch's writing has been featured in numerous publications online and in print, including Milkfist, Poetry Quarterly, and Tincture Journal.

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