Ja Rule: The Road To Redemption
Jeffrey Ja Rule Atkins came, saw and conquered from his first singles release on 1999's Venni Vetti Vecci. Moving forward, Rule dropped consistent radio and chart smashes with collaborations from the music worlds elite. At one point, the limelight brightly shined, showcasing a man who seemingly could not be toppled. Accusations, legal issues and one of the most publicized quarrels in recent Hip Hop history dimmed that light and darkness struck. Since then, Rule has seen an album go from anticipated to shelved and has remained relatively quiet as tracks from his unreleased album leaked onto the net.
The storm has passed. The relatively quiet Rule is no longer silent. Instead, hes releasing that once held back album with The Mirror, which will drop on his own Empire Records label. But, he isnt stopping there. Ready to get that limelight back, Rule is determined to unveil new music-a mix tape Rule York coming soon along with a new album before 2010-and his grind has not ceased as he continues to pursue television and film projects. In the midst of this, Rule spoke to HipHopDX to shed light on his upbringing in New York, religion, his L.I.F.E. Foundation and his survival guide to the music business.
After turmoil and tribulations, hes persevered. Now, Rule says the world is ready to see him back on top. They love to see an artist go to the top of the mountain and then go through hell and come back and be glorious! Its definitely my time, he told us. With a will that has yet to be stopped, despite the amount of turmoil hes endured, he says hes ready for redemption.
HipHopDX: You were born and raised in New York. What is your most vivid image of being in New York as a young child?
Ja Rule: Damn, I would have to say growing up in Hollis, seeing Run-DMC on 25th, drinkin 40's and shit. Butta Love and all of them dudes out on the corner just doing what they do. It was something to see for a young dude because they were so big.
DX: Sounds kind of like A Bronx Tale, getting to see your heroes like that.
Ja Rule: It was crazy at the time because at the time, we had two different types of heroes. One of our heroes was the drug dealer like 'Preme [Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff] and them, [Fat] Cat and them getting all the money in Queens, riding and doing their thing and Benny and all of them dudes. Benny was from our side and he was down with us so we used to see them a lot coming through. So, you see both sides of it. Then, you see Run and them with all of them, chillin, drinkin 40's on the corner, rollin dice, just being regular dudes. But, they were so big on the music side, it was just weird. It was like "Okay, I could be that, but I could be that, too because theyre from out here, from our backyard."
DX: Did you get to meet any of them at that time or growing up?
Ja Rule: Yeah, its funny because I met Run and [DMC] like one time when I was growing up. I spoke to them or whatever. They were sitting on the stoop and my aunt took me over to say whats up to them. She knew them. She hung out with them. That was funny. But, [Jam Master] Jay, I actually hung out with and got to know and befriend.
DX: Later on?
Ja Rule: Yeah, but before I was Ja Rule and had my music out. [Before all of that], I knew Jay.
DX: I also read somewhere that you were raised a Jehovahs Witness. How much of those lessons have stayed with you till today?
Ja Rule: I was a kid, man. I was a baby. I was about eight, nine years old. Thats about as far as it went. I went to live with my mom when I was 10, 11 [and that was it].
DX: So, did you practice any religion growing up?
Ja Rule: You know what? I had a funny religious life. Early in my life, my grandparents and my mother and everybody was Jehovahs Witnesses. Then, my mother got a fellowship. I was living with my grandparents. Then, I went to live with my mom. When I went to live with my mom, I used to go hang out with some of my friends. I was in junior high school at the time and I would hang out with some of my friends at their house. Their mother used to make them go to Sunday school church every Sunday. So, I used to go to church with him. Id go spend the night on the weekends at his house and have to go to church with him on Sunday so I got to see the Catholic side of religion. Then, as I got a little older, it was cool to be a Muslim. So, we started getting into being Five Percenters, Muslim and stuff like that. So, I looked at a lot of different religions in my life. Whats funny about religion is-and this is why I dont deal with religion like that no more at all, Im just a spiritual person, I dont fuck with religion-that basically God is trying to send the same message through every religion. Live right. Live in his eyes. Live the best life you could live. Be honest. Be good people, basically. But, its the man that changes the rules throughout each religion. To me, that just didnt make sense.
DX: Now, you founded the L.I.F.E. Foundation, something that few shed light on. What brought this upon and what have you learned about yourself through your work with L.I.F.E.?
Ja Rule: Me and Erica Ford started that. Its a great foundation. I never thought that we could do the type of work that were doing and help as much as were doing in the community. I didnt really think we would make such an impact, as we are. But, we really are making a real impact. Kids that we started with in the program, when they first came in the program, they may not have been in school or they may have dropped out of school or their parents may have been in bad situations, with drugs or whatever the case may be and they have taken their lives and made complete three-sixties. It gives me goose bumps because none of us think that just by reaching out and giving these kids a little bit of love and support, that they could really turn around their lives and change them in this way. Its really happening. Its really working.
DX: Its amazing to see those success stories and to be a part of it, right?
Ja Rule: Its incredible. Its incredible and it makes you feel...It fulfills your life. We make music and we make records. The whole thing that we do is based upon the people buying what we sell them. So, for us to be able to give something to somebody who may not necessarily need money but just needs love, support or the fact that you tell them that they can do it or they can do better, thats a whole different type of animal than you just throwing money at kids. Understand? [In] my foundation, were really hands-on with the kids. We touch them. We feel them. They dont hear about Ja Rule. They get to see Ja Rule. Other artists have become a part of my camp. Michael Strahan is a big part of it. He comes and helps out. Queen Latifah [click to read], she comes and helps out. We have a lot of people who come and help out with the foundation and do good work. Ed Lover, Salt-N-Pepa...I dont want to leave anyone out because a lot of people do good work with my foundation. The kids appreciate the love being reciprocated because they love us too.
DX: Definitely. Now, on The Mirrors Father Forgive Me, you dig deep and find a Beatles inspired track to speak on life. What triggered the inspiration for the track and how did you manage to use the Beatles cut for it?
Ja Rule: I was actually at my L.A. crib. It was raining real hard and it was a late night. That record came on. I was by myself and it just struck me as one of those records that capture the moment. You know [the "Eleanor Rigby" lyric] I look at all the lonely people. Where do they come from? It just struck me. It hit me in a certain way. I went right in the studio in the house. Its just thoughts that run into my mind on rainy days. I like to look out my window and gather thoughts.
DX: This album is one that has been finished and leaked for some time. You have said that youve grown every year and every album. So, how will the new album, the one after The Mirror, be? What type of changes will we be seeing on that project?
Ja Rule: This album right here [the one being released later in 2009] is a really, really hot album. This album is fun. Its hot. I want to bring back the essence of Hip Hop with having a real good time, partying and everybody in love with Hip Hop. I dont feel everybodys in love with Hip Hop anymore, or in love with the art of doing it. I want to bring that feeling back. Me and my team, my camp, my Empire team, we got that vibe. To know us is to love us.
DX: Do you feel like The Mirror is a good representation of where you are today or is it passed its time?
Ja Rule: Its funny because I was just listening to it last night and everybody was sitting in the studio. I havent heard the album in awhile and we havent listened to the album in awhile. Everybody was like, "Yo, [The Mirror] [click to listen] a great album. Its a good album." Im feeling the same way like Yeah, it was a good album. But at the same time, Im feeling like Thats old Rule. Im fresh right now. Im fresh out the box right now. Im Rule York right now. My swaggers a little different right now. Everything is fresh. Its new. The new records are going to reflect that. Yall are going to enjoy them. The flows are fresh. Its crisp. It just feels good.
DX: In saying things feel new, for fans that were turned away by hate or fans growing up now that werent previously tuned into Rap, how would you re-present yourself?
Ja Rule: I would just have to say, be a leader in life. In this world, we dont have enough leaders. Thats what the problem is: too many followers. I understand everybody cant be a leader. Everybody dont have that trait. But, when it comes to decision making, you should be able to lead your own thoughts, at least. You understand? I think a lot of hate came from people not being able to be leaders that were not strong enough to say "Fuck you! I like good music. Ja Rules hot. Thats my shit." I say it all the time, its not for everybody but if I had to say one thing to the public, to the people out there, be your own person. Be a leader. If you like something, you like something. Thats your thing. If I like to fucking eat onions on my burger, I eat onions on my burger. Get the fuck out of here! Dont tell me you dont like this shit. You know? So, its all about being a leader and not being a follower in this world. I think [Barack] Obama is a good representation of leading your own destiny and saying Yes, you can when every one else is saying you cant.
DX: You often have said that you took a lot of bashing, people throwing stones at you and you having to face incredible adversity in the business. Emerging from that, what do you think is the best thing that has come from it? If you had to flip the negative into a positive.
Ja Rule: Throwin stones at my glass house, man! [Laughs] What doesnt kill you will only make you stronger man. Let me tell you, in life, you need haters. Understand? They keep you on your A-game. They let you distinguish the real from the fake so you need them in your life. You need haters. Katt Williams [click to read] said it best. If you got motherfuckin 10 haters, you need to be finding out how to get you the motherfuckin 15 by the time the summers out. Thats real talk. Its all good because an artist is defined, not only by the people that hate them as well. If you look at great artists or great athletes, theyre not always loved. They were hated, too. Look at the late, great Michael Jackson. He died thinking that America didnt like him. How deep is that? So, youve got to understand that to be loved, you have to be hated, as well. That means you were loved to a height where people have to hate you because theyre jealous. You have to have those types of people in the world. Theres Jesus and theres Judas. Theres Caesar and theres Brutus. Thats just how life is.
DX: Was there a point where you felt like Michael Jackson may have felt, where you felt as though it was really getting to you?
Ja Rule: Nah, because Im not a recluse. Thats the difference. Isolation is dangerous. You should never isolate yourself from whats around you because then you cant see where the danger is coming from or where the hate is coming from. By the time you get a chance to peek out, its already on you. So, you have to go out and live amongst it. I enjoy going out and enjoy my life. I live a good life, man. Im not going to let haters fuckin...You dont eat what I shit, you understand? So, why am I worried about what haters think about me? You cant live your life that way. So, you laugh at the haters. Actually, you know what you find out? Haters are really closet haters. When you go outside and out and about, its nothing but love. So, I started to figure out, where the fuck are all these haters? They must be hiding behind their computers because when I go out and about, its nothing but love.
DX: Take me back to 1990s. You were just starting your work with Rap. What did you learn in your first year?
Ja Rule: I learned that its a business. The reasons I got into it was for the passion and the love of the music. I quickly learned that its a business and Im here to make money for this company.
DX: Did you have to learn that the hard way?
Ja Rule: Nah, because Im pretty smart. Im quick on my toes. Im a hustler. I knew what it was. So, when I came with Venni Vetti Vecci [in 1999], it was like Alright, lets go back in and make a new album. No break. After I came with 3:36 [click to read] [in 2000], it was like Alright, lets go in and make the next one. It was really no breaks.
DX: Early in your career, you also worked with Jay-Z and DMX. Those must have been insane studio sessions. Do you have a more memorable moment from that time and your work together?
Ja Rule: I dont know. A lot of times in the early days, you couldnt get X and Jay [click to read] in the same studio. They really didnt...They had friction. So, you couldnt get them in the same studio for a long time. It would just be me. Id come in and do my parts and then X would come in and do his part or Id be in the studio with Jay and wed do our parts. I would mingle with both of them, but they didnt mingle with each other at all, really.
DX: Did you ever try to reconcile things between the two?
Ja Rule: You know, it wasnt really my place to do that because I met both of them through [Irv] Gotti [click to read]. Gotti would try to do it but it was a tough thing. It was a tough thing.
DX: Now, you went on an impressive streak with Rule 3:36 (2000) and Pain is Love (2001) and then The Last Temptation (2002). One after the other. Guest spots to singles, etc. You were on cloud 9 on the charts. For many artists, its something theyll never accomplish. What was it like to be on top of the music world?
Ja Rule: Its one of those crazy feelings where you get into this business and thats something that you wish for. Its something that you dream about. You got to sleep, dream about it and wake up sweating [Laughs] because thats your goal! So, when you sort of reach that goal and youre there and people are in admiration and in awe of you, its kind of hard to soak it all in at one time. I think a lot of people dont handle it properly. With me, Ive always been a humble artist. Im not arrogant. Im not cocky. Im extremely confident but theres a difference. Its something that feels good when its there but it feels like its supposed to be. So, you just take it in stride. I think some people are so shocked that its happening that they take it in the wrong way. For me, once it was happening, it was like, "This is what Ive been living for. This is my moment! This is what its supposed to be." You know?
DX: At some point, it seemed like public perception started to turn on you. Around this time, people began hearing 50 Cent's dis records and the beef blew up. Do you think it was blown up by the media or was it deeper than the music for you?
Ja Rule: I mean, the media always plays their part in those situations. They love it. Thats really what its all for. The media eats it up. The people love it. It's entertainment.
DX: But, for you, was it deeper than Rap?
Ja Rule: Of course it was. Of course it was, for me. For everybody else, it was just a source of entertainment. Were the ones that actually have to go through the lawsuits and court dates and all of that shit. Nobody else gets to feel that but us.
DX: That must have been a difficult time to go through all of that.
Ja Rule: Absolutely.
DX: Was there a moment in the beef, and Im talking about the one with 50 Cent, specifically, where you felt like lines were crossed that shouldnt have been, by either party?
Ja Rule: I dont think so. Its all fair in love and war, you know? Its whatever.
DX: After years in the game and going through all that you went through, you can pretty much write a book about this game or even a manual. If you did, what would be your number one rule to follow. Why?
Ja Rule: Id say listen to the Rules of Engagement on The Mirror. [Starts reciting lyrics.] Its ten rules to this. Take notes, you bastards! [Laughs]
DX: Yeah, on Rules of Engagement, you say Never outshine your master. What inspired that quote and what experience did that come from?
Ja Rule: That comes from business. When youre working at a company, you never want to show your boss that you want his job or that you want to become him. Hell keep you down or he may fire you! You can ask Puff that. When he started with Uptown back in the days with Andre Harrell.
DX: You also say conceal your intentions always.
Ja Rule: Yeah [reciting lyrics] Nowadays, niggas even snitchin and catch phrase.
DX: How does that reflect what youve gone through?
Ja Rule: I mean, you know, talk on records about this and this and that which leads police to this and this and that. Thatd be considered snitchin and catch phrase.
DX: Do you think you were blamed or unfairly criticized by the public for not talking about how much dirt you did lyrically?
Ja Rule: Youve gotta understand that we were under a federal investigation. Its a different thing when the feds are in your office or bugging your homes. I dont think anybody out there, nobody thats going to read this article, can even understand what that pressure is like. You understand? For them to call you in their office and then describing your house to you and shit as a joke to let you know, "Weve been in there." I dont think anybody thats going to read this article knows what that feels like. So, until you walk in my shoes or can understand the type of things that Murder Inc. had to endure, just take a seat back and enjoy the music. Dont be so involved because it doesnt really involve any of you. We are all entertainers and were here to entertain and make good music for yall. Thats what Im about. Thats what music is about. Thats what Hip Hop is about.
DX: Did that type of pressure make you and your business associates become closer than ever or did it tear you guys apart? I know often times, those types of situations can do one of the two.
Ja Rule: I mean, it did both. Me and Gotti were real close during those times. It made us closer and shit. Then others, it made a strain because that situation didnt really apply to their situations so it was easier for them to walk away from it.
DX: Did you feel betrayed by that?
Ja Rule: At first, you do. But, then you grow and you get older and now that its all said and done, you kind of understand it. You may not forgive it one hundred percent or whatever, but you understand it and you move on.
DX: Now, you said Gotti and you grew closer because of the circumstances surrounding your business. He has his reality show on Vh1 with Gottis Way. You came out on that a few times. Do you foresee having a Ja Rule reality show in the future?
Ja Rule: Nah, nah, nah. Nah. I took a shot at it and we watched a couple of the pilots and episodes but I didnt like it. I didnt want to do it. But, I have a new sitcom that were putting together thatll be coming to a TV screen near you. Its called Being Flagrant. Thats the tentative title, but I think thats going to be the title.
DX: Did you sense the tides turning in your favor already?
Ja Rule: I mean, you know, its Hip Hop. It changes every few years. Its time for something reminiscent of what it was. People love the success story. They love to see an artist go to the top of the mountain and then go through hell and come back and be glorious! Its definitely my time. Im having a good run. Im having fun and it just feels good. The energy from the people feels good. I was just out on 42nd Street the other day. I came out of my meeting with my publicist and the people on the streets just mobbed me. They mobbed me. Just to say, Yo, nigga, do your thing! We love you! It was an ill thing because, it was like, Im used to it but, sometimes when you think people are not riding with you or they may have a certain perception of what youre doing, it comes as a different aura when it happens. It was like a two second thing. It just happened so fast. It lets me know that the people want me to come back right now. The love is there. Im here. Im happy and Im going to put together a crazy album.