Ja Rule 1976–
Ja Rule 1976–
Rap musician, actor
With three multi-platinum albums released in just two years, Ja Rule has become one of the most successful rap artists to rule the charts. Much of his success is due to his ability to transcend rap’s gangsta imagery to embrace pop rhythms and universal themes. He has collaborated with heavy hitters of the rap world as well as heavy metal rockers. His street smart style and raw good looks have also landed him roles in several Hollywood films and as a model for Calvin Klein. Though his preferred tagline is “Murda,” after his record label Murder, Inc., the happily married Ja Rule is a crossover musician able to croon out a love song as well as a hard-edged rap.
Ja Rule was born Jeffrey Atkins on February 29, 1976, in Hollis, Queens, New York. When he was just five years old, his sister died. Too young to understand the impact of her death, Ja Rule nonetheless carried the loss with him for years. “How could you value a life then? Now that I’m older, I feel the pain,” he confessed to www.askmen.com. To acknowledge this pain he got a tattoo on his chest that reads “Pain is Love.” The phrase would later give title to his third album.
Though he was raised within the strict religious confines of a Jehovah’s Witness household, he found the strength to seek out his own religious understanding. He told www.askmen.com “I went through a lot of phases and studied many religions. I came to a conclusion: I am not into religion, I am spiritual and have whatever relationship with God, you do not need the middlemen.” He also found inspiration from soul music and grew up listening to Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. Being from Queens, home to LL Cool J and Run DMC, he also was influenced by rap and claimed to have written his first song in 1990. Sometime before graduating high school, Jeffrey became Ja Rule. He told MTV, “My rap name is my initials from my actual name, Jeff Atkins. The Rule got slapped on by a friend of mine. Everyone used to call me Ja, and my man just threw on Rule.”
Ja Rule told Entertainment Weekly, “I’ve never had a job in my life other than music. I started making records when I was 17, fresh outta high school and my momma’s house.” That first appearance was on a 1995 record by Mie Geronimo. The young rapper’s style caught the attention of the track’s producer—and fellow Hollis native—Irv Gotti who became an informal promoter of Ja Rule. Ja Rule next teamed up with two friends to form The Cash Money Click. They promptly signed with Blunt/TVT Records and released the 1995
Born Jeffrey Atkins on February 29, 1976, raised in Hollis, Queens, NY; married Aisha Murray, 2001; children: Britney, Jeff Jr.
Career: Rapper, musician: signed to Def Jam Records, 1998; performed on Jay-Z record, “Can I Get A,” 1998; released Venni, Vetti, Vecci, 1999; released Rule 3:36, 2000; performed on Jennifer Lopez record,” I’m Real,’ 2001; released Pain is Love, 2001; actor: Turn It Up, 2000; The Fast and the Furious, 2000; Half Past Dead, 2001; spokesperson/model: Fubu Clothing, Calvin Klein, Coca-Cola; Record Producer: Murder Inc. 2 Records, 2002-.
Awards: Artist of the Year, Vibe, 2001; World’s Best-Selling Rap Artist, World Music Awards, 2001; Best Solo Artist, GQ, 2002; Male Artist of the Year, Teen Choice Award, 2002.
Addresses: Home —West Orange, NJ. Record Company —Def Jam Recording, 89 Bradhurst Ave., New York, NY 10039.
single “Get the Fortune” with “For My Click” on the backside.
Though the record attracted some industry buzz and was popular on New York radio, Ja Rule’s budding career took a sharp turn into a brick wall. One of his partners in Cash Money went to prison and Ja Rule spent the next three years mired in record label red tape and disappointment. He passed time engaging other rappers—including the as yet unknown DMX—in MC battles on the streets of Queens. When Gotti became an artist representative for Def Jam Records he remembered the young rapper and arranged a meeting between Ja Rule and Def Jam. In 1998 he was signed to the label. Ja Rule’s first big coup was his performance on rapper Jay-Z’s Grammy winning album Volume 2: Hard Knock Life. Ja Rule lent his vocals to the hit single “Can I Get A” and became a rap sensation seemingly overnight. He went on to perform with Jay-Z’s Rockafella and DMX’s Ruff Ryders rap groups. Ja Rule was an instant hit and still reeling from that success, he and Gotti began working on his first album.
1999’s Venni Vetti Vecci propelled Ja Rule into rap stardom fueled by the gold hit single “Holla, Holla.” Roughly translated from the Latin to mean “he came, he saw, he conquered,” the album delivered 17 tracks drawn from rap’s stable of gangsta imagery—street violence, sexual dominance over women, inferiority of fellow rappers. It was confrontational and bleak and went multi-platinum. Much was made over the aggressively triumphant title. However, Ja Rule pointed to a more soulful meaning telling www.mtv.com “People took the ‘he conquered’ part as conquering the rap game. That’s a goal of mine, so you can take it as that, but really what I meant was a conquering of myself. I learned a lot from having a bum deal to getting my deal with Def Jam. I had my daughter. It was a growth period. So that was the theme of the first album.” The album also introduced the world to his distinctive voice. Gravelly and gruff, it is often compared to that of the late rapper Tupac.
In 2000 Ja Rule found a new career when he landed a major role in the rap-themed street drama Turn it Up. Though the film was a box-office flop, Ja Rule’s performance was hailed as gritty and true and it helped land him a featured role in The Fast and the Furious. In the prison drama Half Past Dead with Steven Seagal, Ja Rule played a street thug—the type of character revered in mainstream rap. To critics who say he is being pigeonholed in these types of roles because he is a rapper, he told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s funny how people always say that you get used in the business,” he says. “But my thinking is that if nobody can use you, then you’re useless. You want to be useful.”
Ja Rule stayed useful on the musical front too. He embarked on near non-stop tours including Def Jam’s 2000 Hard Knock Life Tour—the highest grossing rap tour in history. He and Gotti established the imprint label Murder, Inc. on Def Jam and together they released his second album, Rule 3:36. He explained the title to www.mtv.com “That’s one of my rules. [It] stands for, ‘He who believes in Ja shall have everlasting love. He who does not shall not see life, but the wrath of my vengeance.’ It’s my message to the world.”
Despite the gangsta posturing of this explanation, the album marked a the beginning of a shift in Ja Rule’s style from confrontational rapper to pop-tinged crooner. Debuting at number one on the Billboard charts, the album featured the single, “Between Me and You,” a catchy pop hit with hip-hop rhythms and playful lyrics. “After the success of my first album, everybody expected me to come back with a ‘Holla, Holla,’ or at least a tip,” Ja Rule told www.teenpeople.com “I kinda went left, a whole opposite direction, came back with ‘Between Me and You’ and now, it’s more successful than ‘Holla!& rsquo;” His instincts were right, the single went to the top five on the charts and became one of the most played songs on urban radio.
The second hit single off the album moved Ja Rule even further from the gangsta style in becoming an ode to women and love. “Put It On Me” relays the story of a man longing for his wife and family. The song is a far cry from the standard school rap that disrespects women at best, degrades them at worst. Of this new direction, he told Australia’s Herald Sun, “It’s just a real side of men, rappers, that we don’t get to show, because the whole image of being a rapper always has been tough. They don’t get to really show the side they show wives at home and girlfriends and stuff, it just hasn’t been accepted well. I think I’ve been fortunate enough to cross barriers and people respect it as paying homage to the ladies and not as being soft.”
Again, his instincts paid off. The song soared to the top of the charts and broke records on the Broadcast Data Systems report which tracks how many times a record is played on radio stations. Along with “Between Me and You,” it helped keep Rule 3:36 in the Top 100 for over forty weeks following its release and led to its triple-platinum sales.
The following year, Ja Rule paid the ultimate homage to love when he wed his longtime girlfriend Aisha Murray in a private ceremony in Hawaii. Together for over eight years, the couple were already parents to Britney and Jeff Jr. at the time of their wedding. He told Jet of his decision to marry, “You need stability in your life. I’m 25 and running around and seeing a lot. You’ve got to learn the difference between what’s good to you and what’s good for you. If you learn the difference, you’ll get it.” With Aisha he got what he wanted—a family. However, he admited that his career is a double-edged sword when it comes to them. “Just being in this industry is a sacrifice. I don’t get to see my family, and I have two kids,” he explained in an article on www.rollingstone.com “I’m always on the road, but I gotta do it to make sure they get good schooling. It’s all about sacrificin’.”
Ja Rule’s musical career continued to grow in 2001. He earned the title of Vibe Magazine Artist of the Year, performed in a highly-publicized USO-style show for U.S. troops overseas following the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11th, and joined Jennifer Lopez on her mega-hit single “I’m Real.” He also released his third album in just two years, Pain is Love. It went straight to number one and, thanks to the singles “Livin’ It Up” and “Always On Time,” scored platinum within three months of its debut.
Again, the album showed the softer side of rap and featured pop hits as well as a couple of love songs. The Boston Herald wrote of the album, “Rule is taking steps toward the brighter and the more emotionally substantive side of life. When he raps about needing love, he sounds more vulnerable than any thug in recent memory.” But Ja Rule didn’t forget his background and for the hardcore fan he included the raw-edged raps “Dial M for Murder” and “Worldwide Gangsta.” However, those anthems are countered with tunes that question that lifestyle, including “Never Again” and “Lost Little Girl.”
In addition to this softening of the gangsta heart, the album drew acclaim for Ja Rule’s singing voice which was highlighted throughout the album. It prompted a reviewer in The Houston Chronicle to write, “His ability to sing with clarity in that crusty baritone is the next level in his hit radio career.” Of his musical shift, Ja Rule told www.mtv.com “I want them to look at me and say, ‘Yo, he is a rapper and he comes from the rap world, but he can do so many other things.’ I think it’s in us to do these things, but a lot of artists are scared to explore their musical talents.” He continued, “I don’t think all of them grasp the real true essence of music. It’s really something spiritual. It’s universal. It’s driven by passion and feeling. I wanna do some things with this album. I wanna break some barriers.”
Ja Rule succeeded in breaking expectations and barriers when he collaborated with the heavy metal super group Metallica on their record We Did It Again. In addition to the rockers, Ja Rule has worked with Brandy, Mary J. Blige, and Mariah Carey, and has fielded offers from TLC, Macy Gray, and Latin crooner Enrique Iglesias. He explained his popularity to www.mtv.com saying, “I’m established now, and people respect what I do as an artist now versus just [making] a hot record.” The president of Def Jam concurred, saying in the same on-line article, “He’s worked tremendously to make sure he defines himself as being more than just a guy who raps. He is becoming his own business, and people want to be in the Ja Rule business.” His ability to sell records hasn’t hurt him either. He was named the “World’s Best-Selling Rap Artist” during the 2002 World Music Awards.
Ja Rule has his future well-mapped out. He told the Herald Sun “I want to do my last two albums and concentrate on then doing my movie thing and working on building up [his new record company Murder Inc. 2], building up these new talented artists we have.” He continued laughing, “I’m looking forward to being an old man one day. I’ll still make music, but I don’t want to make solo albums any more.” He explained his drive and determination to the Los Angeles Times, “I want to better myself. I call it the [Michael] Jordan theory. I think he was one of the best self-motivators ever. Even when he was on the top of his game, he found a way to get better. I want to elevate and step up my game.”
Venni, Vetti, Vecci, Def Jam Records, 1999.
Rule 3:36, Def Jam Records/Murder, Inc., 2000.
Pain is Love, Def Jam Records/Murder, Inc., 2001.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 16, 2001, p. C2.
The Boston Herald, October 26, 2001, p. 22.
Dallas Morning News, October 21, 2001 p. 9C.
The Florida Times Union, December 28, 2001 p. WE-11.
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), January 31, 2002, p. 33.
The Houston Chronicle, October 21, 2001, p. 6.
Jet, July 16, 2001, p. 36; March 25, 2002, p. 44.
Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2001, p. F4.
Rolling Stone, July 17, 2001.
Best-selling album since 1990: Pain Is Love (2001)
Hit songs since 1990: "Holla Holla," "Between Me and You," "Always on Time"
With a winning smile, a gravelly voice, and a facility for unforgettable hooks, Ja Rule became one of the most successful rappers on the hip-hop scene in the late 1990s. Releasing albums at a torrid clip of one per year, as well as appearing in major motion pictures, the Queens, New York, native launched hit after hit with songs such as "Holla Holla" and "Between You and Me," often juxtaposing his gruff vocals with the smooth vocals of a female singer. Rule was the rare hip-hop artist who appealed to both male and female listeners with a combination of street anthems and bad boy sensitivity.
Born Jeff Atkins, Ja Rule began rapping at age sixteen, making his debut on Mic Geronimo's 1995 single, "Time to Build." The song gained Rule the attention of the TVT label, which signed his trio, the Cash Money Click, to a recording contract. Their single "Get the Fortune" (1995) gained some airplay on Hot 97, one of New York's leading rap/R&B stations. Soon after, producer and later benefactor, Irv Gotti, introduced Rule to Def Jam Records president Lyor Cohen. The latter was so impressed with Gotti's street savvy that he hired the producer as an A&R (artist and repertoire) scout and asked him to make Rule his first signing.
With a rough, in-your-face baritone growl that drew immediate comparisons to one of hip-hop's most revered voices, that of late rapper Tupac Shakur, Rule immediately gained notice with his solo debut single, "Story to Tell," from the soundtrack to the film Belly (1998). After a lauded appearance on Jay-Z's 1998 club hit "Can I Get A . . ." on which he wrote the "hook"—the melodic, repeated chorus—Rule was ready to release his debut, Venni, Vetti, Vecci (1999), translated, "He came, he saw, he conquered." Like many late 1990s hip-hop albums, the record was available in bootleg versions on the streets of New York prior to its release, but thanks to the hit single "Holla Holla," it debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 chart.
With an elastic funk groove and party atmosphere, "Holla Holla" is typical of Rule's early work, with a lyric about yearning for sex, partying with friends, and making money. Rule pays frequent homage to his label, Murder Inc., with songs such as "It's Murda," "Murda 4 Life," and "The Murderers." According to label lore, the deadly name has nothing to do with violence, but rather is a reference to how Murder Inc.'s artists "murder," or top, all other artists with their rapping. The grim, violent work is not unlike hit albums by another gruff-voiced New York rapper, DMX, with whom Rule performs a duet on "It's Murda," and with whom he would later feud over the similarity of their styles. By year's end, the album had sold 1 million copies. It was quickly followed by a collaboration between Rule and the Murderers—Blackchild, 0-1, Vita, and Tah Murdah—called Irv Gotti Presents the Murderers (2000), which was decried for its lyrics about violence toward police and homosexuals.
On his second solo album, Rule 3:36 (2000), Rule does not drastically alter his style, though the album features a mix of more positive songs along with harsh, violent ones over spare, percussion heavy tracks. The addition of female vocalists helped the rapper reach a whole new audience. Rule is a thuggish street tough haunted by spirituality. "Between Me and You" is a straight-ahead sexual romp about infidelity over a slinky keyboard track that has a touch of Asian strings and a booming drum beat.
Similarly, on the hit "gangsta and a lady" duet with female rapper Vita, "Put It on Me," Rule—who is married to his high school sweetheart, with whom he has two children—sings, "What would I be without my baby / The thought alone might break me / And I don't want to go crazy / But every thug needs a lady," showing a sensitive side not normally seen in street-tough rappers. The album sold 3 million copies by year's end.
Rule Branches out in Acting as the Hits Keep Coming
With his good looks and affable charm, Rule was a natural for film work, appearing with rapper Pras in Turn It Up (2000) and as street racer Edwin Bishop in the hit movie The Fast and the Furious (2001); Rule also contributed songs to the soundtracks of both films. Rule released his third album, Pain Is Love, in October 2001; it debuted at number one with sales of 360,000, earning Rule his second top debut in less than a year. The album sold more than 1 million copies within a month.
Pain Is Love follows the same pattern as its predecessor, mixing hard core anthems about the violent life on the street with duets with girlish singers. The pop-oriented "I'm Real," with actress/singer Jennifer Lopez and "Always on Time," with rising Murder Inc. star Ashanti, established Rule as an unparalleled rap hit maker, uncovering his facility with gruff, but melodic singing alongside his burr-voiced rapping.
Rule appeared in the film Half Past Dead (2002) with action star Steven Seagal, and in May 2002 he announced that he would release two more albums before retiring from recording to concentrate on acting. The Last Temptation (2002) is purportedly a return to Rule's grittier ghetto anthems, but the singer continues to mix sweet and sour on the album. Troubled R&B singer Bobby Brown provides the mellifluous chorus to the hit single "Thug Lovin'," while Ashanti drops in for the sexy duet "Mesmerize." In November 2002, Rule and Ashanti announced that they would co-star in urban-themed sequels to the films Sparkle and Grease.
Ja Rule often drew fire from peers for embracing pop hooks and radio-friendly fare, but in a genre where credibility is paramount, the Queens rapper had the last laugh with a string of hit albums. Bringing an unparalleled melody to mainstream hip-hop, Rule proved that even thugs need love.
Venni Vetti Vecci (Def Jam/Murder Inc., 1999); Rule 3:36 (Def Jam/Murder Inc., 2000); Pain Is Love (Def Jam/Murder Inc., 2001); The Last Temptation (Def Jam/Murder Inc., 2002).
Turn It Up (2000); The Fast and the Furious (2001); Half Past Dead (2002).