They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and although Ja Rule caught an L in the most intense rap beef of the last decade, his perseverance shows through the rational and realistic view he has of his storied career. Complex sat down to talk with The Rule about his forthcoming LP The Mirror, his beef with 50, and who Congress should really be questioning in their hearings. Uh-oh.
What has proved to be the harder task for you: breaking into the rap scene, or mounting this comeback?
Ja Rule: I would have to say breaking in. It’s so hard to get heard and get discovered. I know there’s so many artists going through it right now that can relate, so I would have to say breaking into the industry is 10 times harder. Maintaining your status and staying relevant is a tough task, too.
What can we expect from the new album, what point of view is it written from?
Ja Rule: A very truthful one. I’ve always been honest with music; my music has always spoken for who I am. But with this album it’s more personal, there’s a lot of questions that I think the public wanted to ask me, and there’s a lot of questions that they wanted answers for, so I took this album to use it as a forum to do that.
Is it written from a time before you broke in?
Ja Rule: This album definitely reflects my whole career. It takes you back to a time where I was just having fun with the music, when I was oblivious to all politics of it all. It takes me to that time because in essence, I’m not making this record right now to be recognized as a new artist, I’m making this album to be more of a statement album. I had freedom to write about all kinds of topics, and really dive into different areas of my life, like from the beginning, the Venni Vetti Vecci era, the Pain is Love era, when I felt that I went through all the struggles and the pain from my peers and the people around me to accept me to give me that love, right into what I call “the mirror effect,” which is this album and what I feel I’m going through right now. It’s that mirror effect when you get to the pain, when you go through all the pain and the struggle to get to that love, that part of that love, brings you right back to the pain.
The guest list: Game and Lil Wayne are already confirmed, who else can we expect?
Ja Rule: I kind of want to keep it under wraps. Really I want this album to be more about me, I want the public to be focused on Rule. I know I’m a big collaborator, and don’t get me wrong, I have my collaborations on this album, but I didn’t want the release of the album to be all about that. When people get the album, then they can enjoy the guest appearances.
Now, when you buried the hatchet with Game, who approached who?
Ja Rule: We kind of had a mutual friend, and I have been hearing little things on my end that he didn’t really have any beef with me, it was just that he was with G-Unit at the time, I would re-iterate back to that person at the time, well I don’t really have no problems with the homie, my beef is with 50. It would be that kind of back and forth thing, and then one day he hit me on the pager like “Yo, What Up? It’s Game.” And I was like what’s up and we kind of kicked it from there and we started kind of airing it out, talking about why things were what they were. Once we got a chance to air it out and talk like men, it was understood what it was, and now we cool. That’s my homie and we good.
What’s the status of your latest arrest?
Ja Rule: I’m not really allowed to talk about it because it’s an open case, so my lawyers are advising me not to speak too much on it, but yeah, I got to go back to court on November 7, I think.
How was the response for that Wayne concert?
Ja Rule: The concert was insane. It was a memorable moment, Weezy in New York for the first time, sold out the Beacon, beautiful concert, and beautiful night for hip-hop, and then, you know, the bullshit takes place.
Years ago with the infamous video shoot was taking place on Jamaica Ave, and you and Murder Inc were getting all the love at that time, what’s it like to go back there now?
Ja Rule: Oh I was just out there the other day on the Ave, I just did a BET “My Block” running through the hood all crazy; it’s nothing, that’s my hood. I don’t get nothing but love out there, that’s where I’m from, that’s where I was raised, everybody knows me.
The situation you went through with 50 was one of the most unique situations rap has seen in a while, what was it like being apart of the most serious off-the-wax beef in years?
Ja Rule: It was fun for me. I ain’t got a scratch on me, homie. (laughs). It’s one of those things I wish I didn’t get public like that, because it didn’t start that way. Obviously it help build 50′s career and who he is today, which I guess is a tribute to him. He was a good salesman on how to market hip-hop beef, but realistically it was street beef. He knew how to spin it and market it well. But my thing is it spun hip-hop into a negative area. Everybody’s beefing, everybody thinks that’s the way to get on and make a record, and get hot in the industry, and everyone knows it’s a gimmick that he used to get hot with that. With that whole beef situation, because there really was no physical altercations after the fact.
But there was physical altercations between?
Ja Rule: Well that’s because he screamed my name and I went to see him. That’s the difference people don’t understand. Everyone talks about the beef I had with 50; he has beef with all types of rappers, but I’m the only rapper who went and handled my business and went and hollered at him man to man. Either you sit down and discuss it [the beef] like men or you fight it out and get it out in the open and get it out the way. And since the beginning of time, since Caesar, this is how things get settled. And the moment I heard he had a record about me, I knew where he resided, I knew where he hung out, I went and seen and him. “Homie, you have a problem with me? What’s happening? You ain’t got to rhyme about it, I’m right here in front of your face.” So that’s how our situation took place, and I handled my business with 50 and 50 knows that. That’s why I’m such a threat to him, that’s why he doesn’t like me so much. It’s old news, it’s really irrelevant, it was the past. I’m not bitter about nothing and he shouldn’t be. It happened, he came out, he shitted on me, people feed into it. Yo, people hated on me for a whole two years, I’m not bitter. I don’t give a fuck; this is the business we’re in, and it’s a tough business.
Ja Rule: And if you don’t know that sometimes fans are going to be fickle and throw rocks at that glass house that you built, you ain’t ready for this business and you need to go sit down somewhere. But I’m fully prepared and I know what this business is about, I come from the old school. I’ve seen Jay come up, I’ve seen X come up, I came up with them. I’ve been around that whole circle of situations; I’ve seen Jay’s reaction when ‘Pac started to shit on him! I’ve seen how he was getting backlash! And then ‘Pac died and he didn’t even get a chance to respond. He just had to take that on the chin. I was there when Lil Cease brought B.I.G the fucking “Hit ‘Em Up” joint. I seen B.I.G’s reaction, when he first heard the record. When B.I.G first heard that from ‘Pac, B.I.G’s reaction was like “Why is homie doing this? ‘Cause he don’t mean that, this dude was my man.” See, they were friends. That’s kind of how I feel when I hear X talking shit. I’m like “X, dawg, you don’t mean that, nigga, c’mon X.” But we always give X a pass and excuse X for his wild and crazy tirades, because we know X has a drug problem and we appease X. We treat X like a child at times. So when you talk about the whole beef shit and the whole history of beef, I’ve been through it all and have seen it all. I say it in one of my rhymes on Father Forgive Me : “I done been through it and seen it all lately/I’m get through it just bare your soul with me/it’s all crazy, but it’s all made me, realize the gift that the lord gave me”
Now you address it on The Mirror?
Ja Rule: Oh for sure. I don’t address 50 on The Mirror at all. You may hear little references on a record here or there, stabs, a gentle touch here, but it’s all real talk. It’s none of the propaganda; it’s just real music. I got a record on my album called “Judas.” And we all know who Judas is. But to me, it’s like a “Lost Ones” record that Jay made. It’s not a diss song, it’s a real song. So when people hear it, I don’t want people to take it the wrong way. Because I may be talking about somebody that I love, that’s a friend of mine that I deal with. But sometimes people need to be talked to hard, they need tough love.
Looking back on it, would you handle anything differently?
Ja Rule: Not at all. Had I not gone through all of that I wouldn’t be in the same mental space that I am now. I’m much smarter, I’m hungry as an MC; I may have lost a little bit of an edge, this being my seventh album, if everything was still peachy-keen for Rule. I may not have went into the studio with the same conviction, but right now I’m amped up, I feel like a new artist. I want to win! It’s not about the fact that I have to win, because we’re making money, we’re doing good things, we doing other big things, but I want it and that’s the difference. Wanting it and needing it is two different things.
Do you think you guys will have issues forever? You brought Farrakhan in, who did wonders for Common and Ice Cube, but not a lot of progress was made, do you think this will go on whether it’s subliminally or tap references forever?
Ja Rule: Let me tell you, from my end: I could care less about what he’s doing, or what he’s saying or anything else like that. To me he doesn’t even exist. So when people ask me about him I never dodge the questions, I never get on the interview and say don’t ask me any questions about 50, because sometimes these things need to be answered. In reality, he doesn’t even exist to me. He’s not relevant right now in my life.
When Irv caught the case, was there talk of him going away for a while and you taking the reigns of the INC?
Ja Rule: Absolutely. Me and Gotti had that discussion. Gotti going through the trial made me perk up and say well, damn, what the fuck is to come of Murder Inc if Gotti goes to jail? I’m the guy who’s in charge now? I mean, I’m the creative guy, I don’t fit behind the desk, I don’t know any business, I know the business, but I don’t do it. So there’s a big difference between knowing the business and doing the business. So I had to really put my business cap on and start thinking, wow, if my partner’s not here, I’m going to have to hold us down, and I don’t want to fail him because I don’t know the business. So I had to start preparing myself for the worst. And one thing ‘Preme taught me was always prepare for the worst, so if it doesn’t turn out that way, you’re above the curve.
Back in ’99 the XXL cover with You, X, Jay-Z and the planned Murder Inc super group, do you ever wish that group actually came into fruition?
Ja Rule: I do. I wish that would have happened because it would have been a good thing for hip-hop, it would’ve made its mark. Even though it would’ve hurt Ja Rule’s presence, and the mark that I’ve made in hip-hop, if that project took place. I was the low man on the totem pole, I hadn’t even put out an album, so if we did that album, it would have been more or less, “Ja’s only hot because he did that Murder Inc project with X and Jay.” There wouldn’t have been no “Holla, Holla” probably, there wouldn’t have been no “Between Me and You.” Those records wouldn’t have come to fruition right away because I would have been riding such a high wave with that Murder Inc situation. So in a way I wish it would’ve happened because it would’ve been a great thing for hip-hop, but like I said, I don’t regret anything that has happened in my life, because God takes certain turns for reasons.
Around the time of the Backstage film, it seemed as though New York acts were tight-knit. What do you remember from those days?
Ja Rule: Fun. That was when hip-hop was real for me. Those are the days when hip-hop and battles was real. It wasn’t about this fly-by-night WWF bullshit, that you’re seeing today. It was the illest thing, because as much as I wanted to be the best and I wanted to be better than Jay, and better than X, and better than Red and Meth, I was on that tour. As much as I wanted to excel and be the best, I have respect for all these dudes. I respected Red and Meth, I respected X and Jay, these are the MC’s that I wanted to be in their spot. I wanted to be the headliner and shit. So even though I had the killer instinct, it was still a respect factor for the niggas that did it before me. And I think hip-hop has lost that.
Do you think we’ll ever see New York rap together like that again?
Ja Rule: Yeah, because I’m going to fucking take the seat again. And when I take the seat again, I’m cool with everybody. I don’t have any problems with nobody, except for one man and we all know who he is. I don’t even got beef with none of his little [people]; I don’t even know those dudes. I could care less about them. When we’re talking about beef we’re going to talk about what beef really is: You aim for your target, you don’t go shoot up the whole block. So I only got beef with one man, and I’m not going to sit around and say I got beef with the dudes that’s with him. That’s WWF shit. I only got beef with one man, so if we were to get back in full form, what we’re going to do this year, I would take it in a whole different zone. I want to put together an East-West-South tour, because I hate the way the media tries to divide hip-hop into East, West, South. We’re all one genre of music the last time I checked. Why do we have to be segregated, why do we have to be separated? It’s the whole divide and conquer shit, and it’s being brought beyond race right now, it’s being brought into a music genre. If all hip-hop merges together right now, and we all make records together and we all do what we do and have a good time, and fucking hold down hip-hop, we push pop to the side we push R&B to the side, we’re the #1 genre and that’s it. Then we can shut down the fucking Don Imuses of the world and the Al Sharptons of the world and start making more positive moves in our communities and make it look like hip-hop is the biggest supporter of the communities out there, which we are anyway. But nobody sees that because there’s so much negativity being thrown at us, and then we support that by fighting against each other. I’ve seen this done many times, it’s been done throughout history, it’s in the rulebook somewhere, the shit that they’re doing with hip-hop right now.
Did you see that report about Congress preparing to hold hearings??
Ja Rule: (interrupts) Yeah, they got my man Doug Morris under fire and shit, they got him going down to go speak to Congress about hip-hop lyrics, are you fucking serious? There’s a fucking black kid right now about to get 25 years for having a fight with some white kids over hanging the nooses over the white tree, lets get to that. Let’s get into shit like that, because that’s what’s tearing up America, not me calling a woman a bitch or a hoe on my rap songs. And if it is, then we need to go step to Paramount, and fucking MGM, and all of these other motherfuckers that’s making all of these movies and we need to go step to MTV and Viacom, and lets talk about all these fucking shows that they have on MTV that is promoting homosexuality, that my kids can’t watch this shit. Dating shows that’s showing two guys or two girls in mid afternoon. Let’s talk about shit like that! If that’s not fucking up America, I don’t know what is. There’s a lot of issues we can address besides hip-hop, but they want to put everything on us like we’re the problem. But see, and this is going to be a shameless fucking plug, but I said, “when everyone wants to point the finger, and ask why there’s so much corruption, they only need to look in the mirror.” It starts with themselves.
How does it feel to have given Karrine Steffans the most infamous nickname ever?
Ja Rule: [Laughs] Did I do that? [Laughs] Yo, that’s insane. I can’t even comment on it. [Laughs]
So you’ve been pretty consistent on releasing albums, how many more do you have in you?
Ja Rule: Considering the state of hip-hop and the way I’m moving in my life, I would say I got around 3 more and then I’m going to run my companies and watch my new artists do what they do, and have a good time doing it.
What means more to you: platinum plaques from the past or fan support now?
Ja Rule: I think they go hand in hand, because the plaques represent the fans’ support. Throughout my career I never really cared about awards, even though I’ve got a gang of them, but I never really appreciated them, I never really looked at them like this is the pinnacle of my success because it’s not really fan appreciation it’s like peer appreciation, like your peers think you’re great, and the academy voted you in this year, because you had a good year. Those feelings change, and they’re never consistent, or sometimes they are because the academy loves you that much. I’ve seen artists be nominated and they don’t even have albums out, because the academy loves them. The fans’ appreciation is the biggest achievement you can have as an artist.