Pop Playground
The Fall of Ja Rule

mainstream hip-hop has been becoming more and more like a car-crash soap opera since the mid-nineties. The sagas of gossip, violent posturing and hilariously juvenile threats are now better known than the music of some artists and as important in promoting mainstream hip-hop records as MTV, mixtapes or The Source. Just look at it's biggest names; banal actors peddling the same Scarface storyline and building careers on exaggeration, dubious jewellery and expensive patronages. As with most beefs, the messes Ja Rule got himself into were convoluted, based on rumours, marketing strategies, bullshittery, hype, misunderstandings and testosterone. Seems the contest of outdoing other MCs with lyrical skills degenerates quickly into loudmouth egotistical boys involving vicious personal put downs by some of the biggest egos in the music business.

Ja Rule’s career has been driven by commercial considerations and now he seems to be seeking the respect of his peers for both his talent and his marketplace achievements through beefs with people like 50 Cent and DMX. I started off with many other hip-hop fans laughing along at the idea of Ja seriously taking on other MCs. These artists' careers so depended upon appearing as real/street/gutter as possible and this meant they had everything to lose. From an MC battle perspective, his pop life was a great weakness and fuel to the fire for giving him a lyrical bloody-nose. Most of the people who dislike him claim that he is a faker: he sings too much and he paraphrases, yet doesn’t represent, the polarities of Pac’s nihilism or tenderness.

The contest of Ja Rule Vs Everyone Else left him with the biggest on vinyl spanking of all time, the type that leaves a red raw glowing palm print across the arse. And, unfortunately, the forthcoming Blood in My Eye LP doesn't destroy all the competition with well aimed attacks or contain some of the finest pop since ABBA, so he's going to drown in shit creek regardless of his seafaring ability. In all, it seems that he's decided to take the leap away from his Ashanti duet days and reinvent himself as a thug once more (more disses, more shameless Pac impersonations).

Hip-hop can be both notoriously unforgiving and fickle so it's unlikely that he'll ever draw any kind of respect from the collective hip-hop mind after the disses that have flown back and forth over the last few years. Being both successful and arrogant, he hasn’t even got the underdog card to play as a way of rounding up support. Trouble creates interest, and his problems with DMX were wholly avoidable, and (probably) helped along by X’s demonic crack-inspired idea that no one has the right to sound anything like him at all, ever. However, comparisons to DMX aren’t really accurate. Their voices are similar, but their styles definitely are not; X barely manages to control himself through a barrage of stop-start up-down flows, where Ja is much less fevered and passionate (and far more mediocre).

DMX used to specialise in a blood-splashed belligerence, but quickly refashioned himself as into a tormented theist-gangster. But the DMX recipe does keep him hitting that number one spot with every LP he has dropped; he shouts, he barks, he talks at worrying length about his love for dogs and does a fair amount of accapella praying. Admittedly, it doesn’t sound very good on paper. Couple this with the fact that he is an ugly minded, very vocal homophobic piece of shit and it's surprising to see why he still seems to have a lot more support than Ja in their little tiff. He and Ja go way back to the start of their careers when they both signed deals (through Irv Gotti) at around the same time and use similar rough, gruff tones. The beef gained some steam around both the release of X's autobiography and his latest and hopefully last (he promised!) LP, the dreadful Grand Champ.

At first Ja seemed to take a reasonably mature angle, trying to avoid any friction by denying he bit his style from X and claiming, “BB King said it the best, we all take from each other and make it better and that's how music is made.” Not good enough for the juvenile Mr. X, I'm afraid. "I have to set a few things straight. You got niggas running around running they mouth that don't really get down like that. I just want to clear the air. I seen him in the club one night. This nigga sends a nigga over to me like yo, Ja's over there. Like what the fuck am I supposed to do, go over there and suck his dick? Ja-Rule is a diva! He can't fuck with X, never." His main weapon was the false accusation that Ja-Rule was in fact a homosexual, claiming he even had a recording of Ja’s stylist claiming that Ja had plied him with ecstasy and had sex with him. If X doesn't approve of aspects of the homosexual sex-life then why does he keep asking everyone to suck his dick? Ja's odd but hilarious response was “What we do at Murder Inc., you see, what we do is like, um, we got the money we got the power and with that comes bitches. So how I look being gay. That’s not even in my nature. I kiss like a man and I go to war like a man". What this disagreement boiled down to was no more hard-hitting or lyrically involved than Ja claiming he was some kind of reincarnated 2pac and DMX claiming Ja was gay.

The DMX/Ja Rule beef seems to be cooling off as X has now retired from music (yeah yeah, whatever) to answer the holy call and dedicate his life to the service of god. What an excellent choice of spokesman, O holy spirit; a rich, egocentric, bitter, hateful, misogynistic, homophobe. You've got to ask the obvious question: why didn't Def Jam just rap the knuckles of the labelmates early on in the row and send them on their merry way, if not because of the previous violent history of hip-hop beefs, then at least to stop them acting like a pair of misbehaving teens at the back of the classroom. Any two people working for the same company in the real world who acted like this would be out on their arses pronto. But as entertainers they get press, they get sales and they get money. The label wins whatever the outcome of the beef may be.

But money isn't the main motivator for everyone who thinks Ja is a twat. Common even took time out from adoring Erykah Badu to take a quick swing at him on "Soul Power" (from the so-so Electric Circus), accusing Ja of being a 2Pac impersonator, that most heinous of all hip-hop crimes.

"You made a hit, and came up on a few dollars,
I'd rather listen to silence than you "Holla",
Why is your persona from the late great that made "Dear Mama"? My realness is the armour that I wear up in this sport for truth,
You a decoy,
Common Sense is like the future of the b-boy"

Ja, ever the Wildean razor edged wit, quipped back "I heard that little subliminal shit. This nigga got a crusty beard with shit flakes stuck in it. He in a Smurf hat, you feel me? How is that real hip hop?". Hardly a subliminal, Ja, you silly sod. Everyone knows it’s you!

The 50 vs. Ja thing is almost popular music folklore now. When 50 turned up on Shady Records it was obvious that Ja would be in the sights of the most influential names in hip-hop for a good kicking. The legend goes that 50 was allegedly friends with a young gentleman who relieved Ja of his fancy platinum chain way back in the distant past. Ja was aggrieved and the rest is history: they bicker like old women. 50’s obvious skill at composing on point and funny disses would’ve probably sunk the lyrically devolved Ja anyway. 50 has filled mixtapes with attacks on Ja and portly label boss Irv Gotti. Amongst the many threatening and mocking cuts were the playful and humorously accurate “Duet advert” skits featuring Ja shouting along with acts like Nickelback, Enrique, Avril Laverne, Enrique, Pink, Shakira and even himself. Then came the YOU ARE NOT A GANGSTA! anthem “Wanksta” and Ja became the butt of the hip-hop community.

Sensing the tide of popularity may be truly turning against him as a tidal wave of shit-throwing there was only one real option; to find a powerful, popular ally to boost both his own popularity and sales for Murder Inc. Enter Suge Knight of Death Row Records: probably the most unpopular man in the music industry along with the record label most likely to swindle artists out of their royalties. This friendship saw Ja and Suge shout praise at each other and got Murder Inc. onto the Death Row flop Dysfunktional Family soundtrack doing nothing to boost it's stunted sales. But you can’t be friends with Suge without some of his bad attitude and ego rubbing off on you, so he took the opportunity of a remix of duet-mate Ashanti's "The Pledge" to attack Snoop Dogg (not Suge’s best pal) out of the blue and align himself once more with 2Pac.

"I'm regarded the hardest working artist since Pac, niggas!
And I ain't talkin if I'm like the better,
I'm talkin if he was here we'd probably ride together,
On this chick ass nigga with curls, Bitch Dogg, Get at me dog,
Rule nigga the boss, You always been a pup,
Now ain't it a pity, that you running to I.G., dying to be me, But I pledge I.N.C. and for the love, I'm a bleed it in blood and die from hot slugs, motherfuckers"

Just to seal his fate he turned on the seemingly disinterested Dre to try to add his publicity worthy name to the scrap. Throwing a few weak left jabs his way hoping to stir him into action. Addressing Dre directly in an interview with The Source magazine, "Suge just chased you the fuck up outta here, so what, you think I'm the sucka?...If you're gonna be authorizing 50 Cent to spew records on me, then I wanna do what I gotta do to take your company under. And that goes for Dre, Em, or whoever."

Dre did bite back eventually on Obie Trice’s “Shit Hits the Fan”'. Could've been more interesting, Dre's never been known as a lyricist, and since Ice Cube is close to signing up with Aftermath he should've got him to write his lyrics like he used to do. He can be a right nasty little bastard. The best line is left till last, no great wit or ebonics lesson required

Quit trying to be tough nigga,
you look like an asshole

So that’s how other see him, how does he see himself? "Nigga I AM THE HOOD! You know how many street niggas is eating off me? Off my plate? From my hand? I go back to Queens to this day give out food, money, everything. Queens, holla back at your boy. The streets man, it’s like I'm they son. They know that. And that’s why a lot of niggas hate me. I got both sides of the game the streets and the success…But that’s black peoples, dog. You can’t get not even like half a crumb or they turn on you. My album should be 10X platinum by now. Look at my talent, dog!" So how does this sheer arrogance and utter stupidity mesh with his seemingly diplomatic move of meeting with Nation of Islam’s Minister Farrakhan to create a dialogue between him and 50? Coincidentally (or not), the interview aired on the same day that Blood in my Eye dropped (see the quick capsule review below), and Ja actually came off as reasonably erudite, perhaps because he was removed from his usual overtly masculine environment. 50 has stated he won't be meeting Farrakhan: as far as he's concerned it's all a shoddy Murda Inc. publicity stunt. Having seen interview footage on his New Breed DVD, (which was favourably edited), I think it's more likely to be because 50's skills in spitting lyrics are not replicated in his everyday speech. It was a run-of-the-mill chat, Ja insisting he didn't start the beef, that it was all about jealousy, but that it's about more than just records and sales now. Farrakhan believed this had been fuelled by a bloodthirsty media trying to force hip-hop from it's influential position in youth/popular culture, and mentioned getting the boys together for a joint tour. That's never going to happen.

Rule is pretty much finished as far his peers are concerned, and it's a glaring contradiction that on the day he released his angriest LP he was seen looking for a peaceful resolution. He should stick to entertaining us with pop, where skills or a bad attitude are not a pre-requisite. Ja sits somewhere between the worlds of manufactured pop and hip-hop, and in true musical-chairs style if he stays up too long running around pretending to be hardcore one minute and then an adult the next, he'll lose his fan base and his place in the game.

Ja Rule: Quick Capsule Reviews

The debut Venni Vetti Vecci (1999) was a heartily average debut with a few good tracks among the many bad thug anthems. It was saved from bargain bin obscurity by the massively radio- and MTV-friendly "Holla" single. A few other interesting tracks worth tracking down were the dirty south production on "Let's Ride," and "Story to Tell," with its grim piano noir sound.

Irv Gotti Presents: The Murderers (2000) attempted to capitalise on Ja’s early chart successes as well as being an attempt to kick-start the careers of Murder Inc. label artists through association. Without a flagship single, no one was interested in a bunch of MOR MCs, even a "Holla" remix featuring Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes smelled of sweaty desperation instead of camaraderie.

Rule: 3:36 (2000) ended this weak watery attempt at a thug life and he slid him quickly downhill into flaccid pop rnb ballads. I love pop as much as the next man who loves pop, but this is an exercise in the banal. The utterly unconvincing oriental pop sheen of the Christina Milan duet "Between Me and You" doesn't sit well with his previous thugisms. A production that would be perfect for any better MC, “Six feet Underground” was hidden away here; an insistent midi piano and a sped up eerie Piaf sounding sample weave around the track.

Pain is Love (2001) is his worst work to date, and his most Pac influenced, culminating in the theatrics of “So Much Pain” and the literally painful-to-behold production of “Little Lost Girl”. Filled with his awful singsong hooks, the fake comedy horns on the intro to “Livin’ it Up” sum up the whole LP. It. Sounds. Like. Shit.

The Last Temptation (2002). Despite a Nas verse, a Neptunes beat and an appearance by new West Coast hope Eastwood, this is business as usual for Ja. The carcass of an interpolation of Toto’s Africa” and a further episode of the tired beauty and beast routine with Ashanti showed time (and ideas) had finally run out. He was half right when he bellowed out “This is classic shit!” during the lukewarm diarrhea of “Thug Lovin’”.

Blood in my Eye (2003) is Ja back at his hardcore best. Only joking, it’s cack. Anti-50 skits that lack humour or punch and a shortage of duets signify he’s trying to sound scary. The problem with most of Ja's music is that Irv Gotti does most of it (or he’s a ghost producer with really, really shitty taste in beats) and it lacks spontaneity, balls or standout melodies. Even a decent MC like ex-Outlawz member Hussein Fatal can’t bring any life into the music here. It’s rubbish.

By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2003-11-05
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