Artist: Ja RuleTitle: R.U.L.E.Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Matt Barone

While many have prematurely considered his career a wrap, Ja Rule has risen up to silence all naysayers with his sixth, and arguably most important, album, R.U.L.E (Def Jam). Cleverly opening up with Ja delivering Denzel Washington’s campfire spiritual from the Civil War epic Glory, R.U.L.E. flaunts a consistent vibe of a man revitalized through his music. While last year’s abrasive Blood In My Eye presented a rapper full of rage directed at a certain Queens-based crew, Ja now wisely looks past his high-profile opposition and sets his sights on the Billboard charts he once called home. Crafting radio-friendly jams and street-geared numbers that rival any of his previous best, Ja is in top form throughout R.U.L.E., solidifying a true comeback, though he never really left.

As the powerful horns of “Last of the Mohicans” kick in, it’s clear that Ja is more focused than ever. Declaring that “I’m not even in my prime yet, but a veteran in this motherfuckin’ rap shit,” he uses “Last of the Mohicans” to forcefully stake his claim before embracing his light-hearted commercial niche with R.Kelly and Ashanti on ‘Wonderful.” This musical comfort zone is further recognized on “The Manual,” where he clearly draws the lines between hoes and housewives over Jimi Kendrix’s vibrant acoustic guitar plucks. On the subdued and atmospheric “Never Thought,” his ‘wrong side of the tracks’ upbringing attracts an upper-class shorty, to whom he spits witty one-liners like, “You use credit, I rubber band rap my hundreds.”

Before the days of hits such as “Put It On Me” and “Always On Time,” though, Ja scored with rougher-edged offerings such as “It’s Murda”; on R.U.L.E., he caters to the “Murda” audience with equal authority. He engages in rugged “Gun Talk” with Black Child, while his The Inc. associates Cadillac Tah and Young Merc join in to ride DJ Twinz’ 70’s soul production with verbal grime on “Bout My Business.” However, the disc’s strongest street ode comes in the scorching “New York,” as Fat Joe and Jadakiss team up with Ja to provide quintessential NYC bravado.

Always injecting passion amidst his flirting and boasting, Ja also includes acute introspection on R.U.L.E.. Trick Daddy and Chink Santana help him to mourn lost love ones on the emotional “Life Goes On,” and on “Where I’m From,” The Inc.’s young crooner Lloyd’s smooth hook and Jimi Kendrix’s solemn piano melody provide the soundtrack for Ja to contemplate urban plight with genuine concern.

If it weren’t for the painfully bland beats heard on the generic “What’s My Name” and “Get It Started,” R.U.L.E would be a pure top-to-bottom success; these two selections are minor setbacks, though. With his latest release, Ja Rule has proven that weathering through hateful storms and sudden public neglect is in his blood. Whether he is able to reclaim all of his former fans with R.U.L.E. or not is to be determined; but, for those who have remained loyal to him throughout his hard times, Ja Rule has rewarded them with a truly enjoyable and gratifying album.