Ja Rule's career, unpacked.
The higher the climb, the harder the fall-- a reality that Ja Rule knows all too well. Commanding the airwaves in the late ‘90s and early aughts with a steady stream of chart-topping tracks and smooth R&B collaborations with turn-of-the-millenium queens like J. Lo and Ashanti, it seemed that Ja Rule had nowhere to go but up.
Unfortunately for the Queens-bred emcee, the label he hitched his star too would soon prove to be his undoing. Watching from the sidelines as his label, Murder Inc. imploded before him, Ja Rule’s career quickly followed suit as a long-running list of Ls overshadowed past triumphs like “Holla Holla” and “Always On Time.”
Wondering where the rapper went wrong? Keep reading for a comprehensive analysis of the professional triumphs and pitfalls of the 42-year-old industry veteran.
The Rise of Murder Inc.
Ja Rule and Irv Gotti at the 2001 Source Awards - Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Former A&R man Irv Gotti earned the blessing and support of Russell Simmons to start his own label, Murder Inc. Records, after helping fuel Def Jam's success with artists like DMX and Ja Rule.
Given $3 million from Simmons as seed money for the enterprise, Gotti and his brother/business partner Chris Lorenzo dedicated themselves to bolstering the success of their flagship artist’s, Ja Rule’s debut release. After the overwhelming success of Ja Rule’s 1999 debut studio album Venni Vetti Vicci, which was also Murder Inc.'s first release, their position as a formidable hip-hop label capable of backing top artists and churning out hits was solidified. Venni Vetti Vicci went platinum, and Murder Inc. pivoted to backing R&B songstress Lil’ Mo as well, who linked up with Ja Rule for tracks like “Put It on Me” and “I Cry.”
While Ja continued to rake in the accolades -- his third album, Pain is Love, debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2001, and went on to receive a Grammy nod (ultimately losing to OutKast)-- Murder Inc. was grooming frequent collaborator Ashanti for superstar status. Her own eponymous debut album, released five months after Pain is Love, and broke records, more than one. She had the highest-selling female artist debut at the time, moving just over 500,000 copies in her first week. She would go on to earn triple-platinum status in the same year, and more than a few Grammy nominations. It was clear that Gotti’s Murder Inc. crew was a force to be reckoned with.
The Fall of Murder Inc/Beef With 50 Cent And Shady Records
Ja Rule and Ashanti at 2004 "Do Something" Brick Awards - Scott Eells/Getty Images
Unfortunately for the Murder Inc, family however, the label would soon crumble almost just as quickly as it was built. Armed with a venomous dislike for Ja Rule, then up-and-coming rapper 50 Cent aimed his target at the "Livin' It Up" emcee and sparked one of the most iconic rap beef's in the industry's history. Following a series-of-back and forth disputes that ranged from on wax to physical, Irv Gotti eventually admitted that Fif bodied both Murder Inc. and rival Ja Rule with the release of the diss track "Back Down" on Get Rich or Die Tryin' by sparking a shift in sound that the label couldn't keep up with.
"Yeah, we took an L but listen, the thing about it is when you’re going through it, you’re going through it,” Gotti explained in a 2013 interview on The Angie Martinez Show. “I’ll take you back. We was in my office, me and Rule, we in the office and [Funkmaster] Flex was about to play ‘In Da Club,’ [laughs] so Flex plays ‘In Da Club.’ That record was so dope, I looked at Rule and said, ‘We have a major problem.’ [laughs] … We took the L, but you know what? People take L’s. It’s not the L, it’s what you do and if you keep swinging and keep fighting.”
Just as Murder Inc. was taking blows from 50 Cent and Fif's Shady Records affiliates on both the charts and in the press, Gotti and his label soon found themselves in the middle of some serious legal troubles. On January 3rd 2003, an investigative task force comprised of a whopping six federal agencies along with the NYPD, raided Murder Inc.'s offices and Lorenzo's home in upstate NY in a search of evidence proving that Gotti used the label as a front for laundering drug money supplied by former drug kingpin Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff.
Unable to tread water after his label crumbled around him, Ja Rule was losing the support of the fans who once rallied behind his sing-song rap style. His 2002 LP, The Last Temptation, did not replicate the commercial success of Pain is Love; proving to be his lowest-selling album at the time, and even Ja Rule's biggest supporter Irv Gotti admitted that the public needed a break from the rapper's gravel-voiced delivery.
"Rule's been out since 1999. He came out in 1999 and we dropped an album every year since [then]," Gotti admitted in 2003, rationalizing Ja's seemingly fading popularity. "He's been on the radio — probably the most played rap artist [from] 1999 till now. I'll give the people that — maybe y'all want a little break from my man.
Reflecting on his early '00s downfall, Ja is well aware of just how effective the one-two punch delivered by both the feds and Shady Records was to his career.
"It was a roller coaster because everything—we was going up so fast and everything was happening so fast and then it went ‘shooom.’ It was no slope. It was no dip. It was just a straight [drop],” Ja admitted to radio host Angie Martinez in 2013. “And it was weird because I’m really, really a fan-driven artist…I think a lot of people think I was angry at the fans, but I wasn’t as much angry as I was hurt. Because like I said, I did a lot for my fans. It was really a weird time for me and I think out of that came the anger. And then I went into a dark place. And everything was dark for me. Everything that I wanted to do was just angry. My music, the way I moved on the streets.”
"It was a lot going on in that time frame," Ja continued. "You got the federal indictment. Here’s what it is, it was orchestrated very well. He was a part of the juggernauts at that moment. Eminem, Dre, they were very, very big in what they were doing as well. So, as we were big over on our side they were also big on their side. And as everything started to crumble for us as far as we didn’t have a label home anymore, ya understand? There was a lot of things that were falling apart for us."
Crushed by the force of the top MCs at the time, with no label to back him up, Ja Rule's star began to fade.
Departure From Murder Inc. Records
Ashanti, Irv Gotti and Ja Rule announce their new label name "The Inc." - Peter Kramer/Getty Images
After dropping the "Murder" moniker and rebranding as simply "The Inc," Gotti and Ja Rule attempted to rebuild their reputation in the industry. Despite the ongoing investigation, Ja dropped his sixth studio album R.U.L.E, which proved to be somewhat of a bright spot for the artist, after the critical disapproval of Blood in My Eye. R.U.L.E. earned RIAA-certified Gold status and boasted the lead single "Wonderful" which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Inc. was then forced to release one more album, Exodus, a "Greatest Hits" compilation, to complete Ja's contractual obligations with the label, thus serving as his last release with The Inc. Still under investigation under drug laundering charges, Def Jam refused to renew The Inc.'s contract and Ja announced a hiatus from the music industry.
In 2009, Ja Rule announced that he was no longer signed to The Inc. During the years prior, Irv Gotti was having difficulty finding another label to house The Inc., and when he finally did, with Universal Music Group, it didn't last long.
Ja's first album on his own label, Mpire, was meant to be The Mirror-- however taking another professional L, interest in The Mirror was almost non-existent, and thus, it was pushed back, and eventually leaked online. Ja's seventh studio album was quickly relegated to mixtape status, while he went back to the drawing board.
Ja Rule leaving the courthouse on bail - Thos Robinson/Getty Images
In the midst of label turmoil and career beef, Ja Rule was no stranger to legal troubles as well. In 2007, he was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon after police stopped a car for a traffic violation in which the rapper was a passenger. A semi-automatic handgun (.40-caliber Taurus pistol) was discovered during a search of the vehicle and was later linked to the rapper. After pleading guilty to the charge, Ja was sentenced to two years in prison and surrendered himself to authorities on June 8, 2011.
"It's a different experience, I guess. Here I am supposed to be this famous guy, big rap star, big movie star or whatever, and now I'm one of the guys," says Ja of his time spent in the Big House. "Prison strips you of all of that; you don't feel like that guy anymore. People still treat you a different way, because you are who you are, but in reality, you're just a number to the state and to the guards and everyone else in there. You're the same. You're one of them."
Heaping on the misery, Ja Rule received an additional 28-month prison sentence for tax evasion in July 2011 set to run concurrently with his state term for failing to pay taxes on more than $3 million in earnings between 2004–2006. After being released from prison on the weapons charge on February 21, 2013, Ja was swiftly taken into federal custody for the tax case, finally seeing the true light of day on May 7, 2013 after he was granted an early release from prison.
Most recently, Ja Rule faces lawsuits aplenty, filed by ticket buyers and high-profile investors in the well-documented, abysmal failure of the 2017 Fyre Festival. Leading the charge of lawsuits is a $100 million class action suit. Along with other Fyre organizers, Ja Rule is accused of placing attendees in unsafe and unsuitable conditions in the Bahamas, counting fraud among the allegations. In another round of bad PR, Ja admitted that while the festival was a complete disaster, he should not be held at fault for the horrific conditions attendees endured.
"People didn’t really know I had anything to do with the festival until it went wrong. And then it was like, ‘JA RULE’S FESTIVAL!” explained Ja Rule during a 2018 appearance on Revolt TV’s Drink Champs. “[…] It was my idea, my vision to do this. And I’m in no way, shape, or form ashamed of my vision […] I wanted to create something amazing. And I’m not a n***a that likes to put blame and throw people under the bus […] I should’ve been more on top of things. I should’ve not trusted people in certain things. And maybe—I’m positive things wouldn’t have been like that. That part of it, I take responsibility."
"These things in business happen," he continued. "But the one thing that I’m really proud of myself of is that I didn’t let [Fyre] set me back the way people thought it would,” Ja explained. “I lost money in that shit... I didn’t make a dollar out of any of that. My main lesson that I learned out of that is: Never give nobody the keys to your motherfuckin’ car. You can get in it, n***a, but you can’t drive […] It’s like the old saying, ‘You want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.’"
Two recent documentaries exposing the inner-workings of the failed event, by HULU and Netflix respectively, have only encouraged the swarm of negative attention on Ja, with the rapper responding with apologies (and little else) on social media.
A Comeback In The Works?
Ja Rule September 2018 - Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ja is seemingly putting in work to dig his way back to relevancy, reminding his remaining fans that he's not done churning out new music.
Seemingly unbothered by 50 Cent's continued clowning regarding his lackluster ticket sales, Ja Rule is continuing to soldier on and is even teasing a nostalgic collaboration album with Ashanti.
With Murder Inc poised to make a similar comeback under Gotti's direction, we may be seeing more of Ja Rule in the coming months despite the high peak and long, low valleys of his professional career.
Would you be here for a Ja Rule comeback?