Wow, a post on Ja Rule? Who'd thunk it??!! Well, I'd be lying if I said I was never a fan of him. Most of us were fans, that is until the onslaught from 50 Cent and G-Unit came around the beginning of 2003. Oddly enough, after DMX had success with a more rugged style in the late 90s, you can say Ja Rule shared similar success (but not more than X). I'll give him credit, he did bring a rugged style to hip in 1999 when it was most needed (and this was after being featured on Jay-Z's hit "Can I Get A..." in 98). Time and perspective has allowed me to see Ja Rule in a different light, which is not due to his incarceration, and when it comes to hip hop, I do have a tendency to view certain things with a "hindsight is 20/20" standpoint.
By far Ja Rule's best and most consistent album. I did own this album at one point, but I ended up selling it a few years back, and chances are I'll be adding it to my collection. Although I haven't heard it in years, I still remember how dope it was, mainly because it was in rotation around its release in 1999 (plus it was another album my cousin Andre copped before me, lol, so I ended up borrowing it that summer). I never thought I would mention the word "excellent" in something related to Ja Rule, but make no mistake about it, that's exactly what this album is, featuring dope production, little to no filler, plus the best Ja has ever been on the lyrical side. In my opinion, he peaked with this album.
Rating- 4 stars
5 favorite songs- Let's Ride, Only Begotten Son, It's Murda, Story To Tell, and World's Most Dangerous
Ja returned one year later with his sophomore album, "Rule 3:36". It was nowhere near as good as his debut, but it's fairly decent. Lyrically it was more of the same, however, the production was very good, not to mention he was already flirting with a more R&B style here, which would be furthered explored and expanded on with his third album. I did own this album, but chances are it won't return to my collection. Highlights on this album include "Watching Me", "6 Feet Underground", "Put It On Me", "F*** You".
Rating- 3 stars overall
If my memory serves me correctly, I either bought this one the day it came out or 2 weeks after (I also sold this one too). Moreso than any of his albums, this one holds the most nostalgic vibes with me, mostly due to the singles "Always On Time" (featuring Ashanti), "Livin It Up" (featuring Case), and "I'm Real (Murder Remix)" featuring Jennifer Lopez. Those three songs may have annoyed some people, but in my case, if I were to hear any of these songs today, I would bob my head, all the while reminiscing on the year 2001. Those songs also received frequent spins on radio and mad videoplay, as he was firmly entrenched in the R&B style, catering to his mostly female fanbase. This would come to backfire on him, but more on that later. Overall, this was another decent album, and "Dial M For Murder" was one of the hardest songs he ever made (can't deny the tight beat for this one).
Rating- 3 stars
Oh GOD, NOT this album (facepalm). I literally can't stand this album and it's clearly not only one of the worst albums I've ever heard, but the permanent downfall of Ja-Rule begins here. It was still more of the same from Ja, and in this case, it was NOT a good thing at all. This album was as unfocused and uninspired as they come, as the two "hit singles", "Mesmerize" featuring Ashanti and "Thug Lovin" featuring Bobby Brown were totally forgettable and maligned by fans. Speaking of forgettable and maligned, how can you have a song titled "Pop N***** (which was also one of the Neptunes worst tracks) on the same album as a completely cornball R&B styled song, the inappropriately titled "Murder Me", which suffers from forgettable lyrics and an even worse hook (sampling Tony Toni Tone's classic "Anniversary" did him NO favors). The ONLY notable thing on this album was Nas' appearance on "The Pledge (Remix)", which started a waves of rumors that laughably suggested Nas was on the verge of signing with Murder Inc. Records, smh. You couldn't pay me to listen to this atrocity again.
Rating- 1 star, which is for "The Pledge (Remix)", everything else is a COMPLETE thumbs down.
The downfall of Ja Rule continues here. Released in 2003, the same year 50 Cent released his SCATHING Ja Rule diss, "Back Down" (more on Ja's failure to respond later), this album was almost worse than "The Last Temptation", and most memorable was the fact that a week before this album dropped, in a clear publicity stunt, Ja met with the minister Louis Farrakhan in an attempt to squash the beef, but the stunt did NOTHING to help Ja or his fledgling career and it failed MISERABLY. The SOLE highlight of this album was "Clap Back" (a half hearted attempt at striking back at 50, much like this entire album), but that was mostly due to Scott Storch's TIGHT beat.
Now when I think about it, this is the album that "The Last Temptation" SHOULD'VE been, but by then it was too little too late. Apparently he didn't learn anything from the distain that fans had for "Mesmerize" and "Thug Lovin", as one of the first singles from this album was "Wonderful", which featured Ashanti and R. Kelly, and it was another forgettable song. One thing I will give Ja credit for is linking up with Jadakiss and Fat Joe (two of New York's hottest acts in 2004) in the form of "New York". It was a tight song and probably the last thing Ja did that can be described as "very good". The small buzz that the "New York" single had did not work wonders, as this album was not on anyone's radar (despite the fact that it may be his most underrated piece of work), and his career was all but dead at this point.
Up until now, I never even heard of this album, as it was originally scheduled for a 2007 release, but it was released two years later as a free download. It was a digital release, but the poor performance necessitated the change. No desire to check this out.
Released VERY quietly on February 28, 2012, I have not checked out this album, and I honestly have no desire to do so, much like his next planned album, "The Renaissance Project", which is scheduled to be released in 2013.
As you can see, this is quite the roller coaster in terms of a career, to go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. What happened in my opinion????? Well, you can chalk it up to three things:
The term "murders"
This may be the lesser of the three things I'm going to talk about, but it plays a role. Even though Irv Gotti had alleged ties to the mob, naming the label "Murder Inc. Records", not to mention calling themselves "murderers" at every given opportunity was about of overblown and ridiculous as you can get in hip hop. I know some artists exaggerate things quite a bit, but to call yourself "murderers" is NOT the way to go, and it hurt their image, especially towards the end of their run at the top.
FAILURE to respond to the G-Unit onslaught
This is probably the most important one. No one would ever mistake Ja Rule as a top notch lyricist, but he was decent (at times) on the mic, and when you consider his earlier material, specifically his first album and other collaborations with Jay-Z and DMX, he could hold his own. After a scathing diss record towards Ja, in this case 50 Cent's "Back Down", any other artist would've responded, however, not only did Ja NOT respond (hip hop mistake #1), he let fellow labelmates/friends Black Child and Tah Murdah do his lyrical bidding (hip hop mistake #2), as well as feeling he was "too big" to respond (hip hop mistake #3). If you understand hip hop, all of these things were complete no no's. When it comes to a diss record like "Back Down", you simply CANNOT let that go unanswered, point blank. You also CANNOT think you're too big for a battle, not to mention letting your labelmates do your bidding. Now some may argue that having the likes of 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Lloyd Banks, Eminem, Young Buck, and D-12 coming after you, you shouldn't even bother with a response, but this is hip hop and this is a battle. Had he responded (and lost) in battle, he still would've kept his credibility as an artist, especially by standing up to an onslaught like that. He failed to respond, and the later results spoke for themselves. He was ridiculed and lyrically assaulted SO much (not to mention entire mixtapes about him and his crew) that it changed his career forever and it did irreparable damage.
Incorporating a little R&B into hip hop is fine, but, you don't want to go overboard with it, and that's what Ja Rule did ad nauseum. I understand staying in your lane, but when it comes to hip hop, you have to change things up a little, not keep going with the same thing(s) over and over again to the point when it becomes an annoyance to the fans. He hinted at it on the "Rule 3:36" album, then going further with it on "Pain Is Love", which brought him the most success, but once he got to "The Last Temptation", that should've sparked a need to do something different, and for whatever reason, he failed to do that, and again, the results spoke for themselves.
Overall, Ja Rule did have a lot of success, circa 1999-2002, but his failures caught up with him and by the time he may have realized it, it was indeed too late, and at this point, I don't think anyone is checking for anything he does, and that includes long time/die hard fans. The times have clearly passed him by.