Since the release of his solo debut in 1999, Ja Rule’s image has ranged from being the epitome of thug fabulous to becoming the poster child for Hip Hop pop crossover. In a seemingly never-ending trail of controversy, Ja Rule faced one of his biggest challenges when 50 Cent began taking serious jabs at Ja’s credibility in 2003. A nation of beef-hungry fans followed 50’s lead in the jeering, and for a while it appeared as though Ja Rule had hit bottom with regard to public opinion. Not one to let adversity bring him down, he pressed on.
In October 2004, Ja hit the top of the charts once again with the smooth single “Wonderful” which features R. Kelly and Ashanti, while simultaneously winning the praise of DJ’s across the country for his grittier street single “New York” featuring Jadakiss and Fat Joe.
It’s just another day at the infamous Crack House studio in downtown Manhattan, the spot where Ja Rule and Ashanti have taken turns knocking out multi-platinum albums the past couple of years. Ja is upbeat, and flashes a charming smile when I ask him about the logo on his shirt that reads: Never Count Me Amongst The Broken Men. “It’s from my new clothing line,” he explains. “It’s a quote from the revolutionary George Jackson.” The appropriation of that quote in relation to where Ja Rule’s career stands today is almost eerie. Clearly happy with his current state of affairs, he is on the edge of a refreshing new time in his life.
In a candid interview with AllHipHop.com, Ja speaks on a few lingering topics surrounding his career, and gives us his thoughts on the next phase of his life - a new movie role, a new clothing line, and his new album R.U.L.E.
AllHipHop.com: How do you personally feel about the evolution of Hip Hop, and what do you feel that you as an artist have contributed to it?
Ja Rule: The evolution of Hip Hop is incredible – 30 years of it. I LOVE YOU HIP HOP! [laughs] The phenomenon has just grown and grown. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that there were a lot of critics in the early stages saying that it wouldn’t last, that it was just a passing fad. I think they didn’t realize that the consumer would grow up and still listen to Hip Hop, because Hip Hop is a youthful, rebellious, renegade style of music. I guess they really thought that you would get older and you would fade out of the Hip Hop phase, but here I am, 28, still listening to Hip Hop, and my little son is one and he listens to Hip Hop, and when he’s 15, I’ll be 40… it just keeps growing. I’ve carved my own niche in the game. I’ve gotten ridiculed for it, but sometimes when you create a new lane, you get ridiculed for it.
AllHipHop.com: It’s not really a new lane per se, when you look back at Grandmaster Flash or Kurtis Blow, they had singing on the hooks and that R&B thing going…
Ja Rule: Yeah, it’s just that when Hip Hop went through the gangsta rap stage, everybody was so hard, that there hadn’t been an artist that was willing to take the dive and say ‘I’m gonna do some s**t for the women’, and I did that. Before me, LL took that. As far as my flow and everything, I have a different flow. I spit it, don’t get it f**ked up, but I experiment with my flow, and as an artist you should want to experiment.
AllHipHop.com: Your first album was actually very lyrical, granted you did have some sing-songy hooks, but you did come pretty ferociously with the lyrics. As time went on and you had the more pop type songs, people were criticizing you like, ‘He can’t rap’. How did that make you feel as a lyricist?
Ja Rule: People say what they want to, they’re always going to have their opinions or whatever, but people know I spit. I can get on the mic and do what I need to do. It’s just a thing you go through as an artist where you want to do different things. You’ve been doing this type of style of records for a long time, and you want to do something new. As an artist you should want to expand and grow. It’s funny though, because in this business, whenever artists try to go outside and expand and grow, everybody wants you to regress and come back to your original. It’s a funny business, and you’ve just got to learn how to move in it and still be yourself.
AllHipHop.com: How do you react to critics who pick you apart for the changes you’ve made over the years?
Ja Rule: F**k the critics. Do you. There’s always gonna be someone judging what you do. You know what I’ve found out about a lot of critics? They were aspiring artists. They wanted to do and be, and sometimes they look at the artists like, ‘I could have did that. F**k you’. They give you that s**t, and you gotta understand and know that’s what you’re dealing with sometimes. The ones that can’t sing, they really go through it. I know that I’m talented, and I’ve done a lot of things in this business, made a lot of big records.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel about the direction that Murder, Inc. has taken, most obviously the name change?
Ja Rule: That’s something we just had to do… the federal investigation, and it’s kind of hard to do big deals with big companies when ‘Murder, Inc’ is on the letterhead. It doesn’t look right sitting next to ‘Disney’. We had to take that Murder off the Inc.
AllHipHop.com: Not to mention that Murder, Inc has gone from a very grimy street sounds to a more pop, user friendly sound.
Ja Rule: I wouldn’t say that. We got a little something for everybody. On the tail end of things you’ve got Blackchild and Cadillac [Tah], grimy as they wanna be. But everybody’s capable of making a big record, and that’s the point of Hip Hop, because it’s so big that you never know. That one big record, you’re not underground anymore - you’re a big artist, you’re at the MTV awards. [laughs]
AllHipHop.com: Do the songs that you write, for yourself mainly, necessarily reflect your feelings and opinions, or do you look at the entertainment value of it and what people want in the streets?
Ja Rule: I’m basically going with my feelings and what I see. That’s how I make my music – strictly off passion – things I go through, things my friends go through. I see some of the things women go through and things I go through in relationships, and I put in songs. I’m not scared to do it. A lot of artists are scared to step outside their image and be human. There’s times when you’re mad, times when you’re sad – all types of emotions. In music, you should be able to express these emotions, but Hip Hop sometimes puts a chokehold on artists, like, ‘You do that type of music, you can’t do that type of music’. If you’re the jokey kind of rapper, okay then, joke, but don’t do no street s**t, cuz that ain’t you. In the same sense, everybody can’t say they’ve been on the streets, but if you write a rap just targeted towards anger, would you call it street? What would you call it? I dunno. That’s what I’m saying about Hip Hop, they’ll pigeonhole you to do one thing.
A lot of this business has to do with marketing. Some artists are more marketable than others. If that 14 or 15 year old girl has your poster up on her wall, that helps you. You could have the hottest music in the world, but if that poster’s not up on that wall… They buy artists that are not so hot because that poster’s up on the wall. You gotta weigh it out sometimes. Some artists are marketed through sex and other things, which really helps boost their sales value more than other artists.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of artists, Jay-Z included, admit to finding a formula and sticking to it. You’ve created a very successful formula with your pop songs. When 50 Cent dropped, you had a backlash from the fans, you had a backlash from the industry… now people are calling you ignorant, discounting your lyrical ability on every level. Do you feel at any point that you consciously changed directions, like ‘F**k it, if they want me to go street, I’ll go street. I’ll do Clap Back’?
Ja Rule: Naw, that was for me. [He’s] talking s**t about me, alright, here it is. That’s what that was, I had to get that off my chest. Now I can go in the studio and make records that mean something, other than ‘F**k you’. The backlash was funny, because I went through it like nobody went through it. I understand it all because I had to walk the streets. It went from, ‘F**k you! G-g-g-g Unit!’ to ‘F**k [him], Rule! Do you!’ I seen the change in the people. He’s doing the same type of flows, videos with the chicks, and commercial success… ‘Hey dawg, how are you s**ttin’ on this dude for doing that, and you’re doing it’? The people are going through that. Me and him already went through it – the people are going through it now. I had to realize this whole situation myself – this is the nature of the human beings. It’s funny to say, because I got money and things, but I’m the underdog right now, and people wanna root for Rule. It’s crazy to have that kind of burst going into your sixth album.
AllHipHop.com: It’s been a while since the interview with Minister Farrakhan regarding the situation between you and 50 Cent. It seemed very sincere on your part, but you were criticized for it. At any point did you regret doing it?
Ja Rule: I never regret anything I do. I think people misunderstood it. The interview was a real interview. It was meant for me to get my point across, as well as for the Minister to get his point across. My responses were open responses, but they didn’t show none of the open responses – they didn’t want to show any negative in the interview. Even though my responses were negative, it was truthful, heartful things that I was saying. It was reasonable, meaningful reasons why I don’t like that man. The conversation really got deep. He got into a conversation about him and Malcolm, and how they had differences, and how he had to choose between his leader, which was the Honorable Elijah Mohammad, and the man he wanted to be like. Like I said, I don’t regret anything I do, it was a great experience – I met the Minister, I stay in touch with the Minister. He’s a great man. I’m happy that I had that opportunity to sit and talk to him – it’s a moment in Hip Hop, regardless of how it came out.
The funny thing is that it was meant to be aired before my album [dropped], and it was supposed to be like a regular interview, but it got spun out of control. At first we were going to do it with Diane Sawyer or some s**t like that, because at the time I didn’t want to do interview after interview where everyone is asking the same questions. I said ‘I’ll do one big interview that everyone can watch and get their answers right there.’ A lot of names kept getting thrown around, and it came to Farrakhan.
AllHipHop.com: Considering the media hype and instigation behind the beef between Tupac and Biggie, the situation between you and 50 is probably what Minister Farrakhan and a lot of other people wanted to see squashed, like ‘Okay, you guys don’t like each other, that’s fine, but we don’t want to see any more people die’.
Ja Rule: That was the Minister’s basic message, and it’s a good message. I got kids, and a lot of people have kids, so that’s a great message to send out to the kids. Click here for part 2 of Ja Rule: Don’t Call It A Comeback.