"There's no such thing as too much of a good thing."
In a capitalistic and materialistic culture, this type of belief is highly espoused and widely practiced. This reviewer for one is not challenging consumerism in the United States of America as such, especially as one who actively participates in that very system. As spiritually rewarding as it might be to sit on a mountaintop and contemplate nothingness, I'd much rather sit in a lounge chair, play GameCube, and listen to hip-hop all while washing down a cold beer.
Ja Rule is the type of rapper who enjoys the excesses of capitalism, and the luxury his fame and wealth affords him. He routinely tops the charts with every single, is found attractive by women all over the world, and can probably cop any car off the lot he wants without taking out a loan first. That's an admirable lifestyle, and who wouldn't want that? In fact, a lot of hip-hop artists I personally enjoy espouse the same mindset: Jay-Z, Erick Sermon, and Too $hort among them. So when it comes to Ja Rule, there's no problem with his subject matter per se; in other words nobody's "player hating" on his millionaire lifestyle.
For the most part, there's nothing wrong with Ja Rule's choice of beats to rap to either. Chink Santana, The Neptunes, 7 Aurelius and Irv Gotti provide a nice musical backdrop any hip-hop artist would be pleased with. True, Ja Rule does lose some cool points for "Murder Reigns" by rapping over the same Africa beat Xzibit did on "Heart of Man" weeks earlier. I'm also not the biggest Tony Tone Toni fan, so hearing Murder Inc. rap over "Anniversary" on the song "Murder Me" doesn't do it for me. And though it may seem like sacrilege to 2Pac fans, hearing "So Many Tears" be resurrected on "The Pledge Remix" featuring Nas was one of the album's high points and obviously had Death Row's blessing - Ja even says "Whattup Suge?" during the interlude.
So given there's no problem with Ja Rule's topic matter or his beats, why does "The Last Temptation" ultimately fail to deliver? It may be that it has more in common with the film it draws it's title from than intended. For those not familiar with Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" it interweaves both real and fictional accounts of Jesus into a film where Willem Dafoe plays the title role and Harvey Keitel (of all people) plays Judas. The storm of controversy the film brewed up among religious zealots eventually pushed it to big box office numbers, but couldn't necessarily cover up the fact that some of the actors were grossly miscast and a lot of the experience was unintentionally comical. Bottom line? The movie didn't live up to the hype.
Neither does Ja Rule. You would think after four albums and a lot of success at the top, he would take advantage of the broad latitude it affords him to be daring. This lesson seems not to have been lost on Jay-Z, who put his career on the line with a volumnious double album which featured both contemporary Jigga as well as experimental flows and personally poignant topic matter. When Ja Rule tries to be poignant though, he begs God to forgive him for his sins - and then goes right on sinning. It's predictable to the point of boredom. It's equally predictable to see Ja collaborate with R&B artists like Bobby Brown on "Thug Lovin'" and Ashanti on "Mesmerize"; and even moreso that those would be the album's first two singles. Unintentionally Ja Rule has been burying his own career by being on radio and TV, because even when he doesn't have a single in rotation he's on a single by J-Lo, J. Blige, Jagged Edge or Montell Jordan. Maybe there is such a thing as too much of a good thing?
All of this could be forgiveable if Ja Rule had anything interesting or new to say he hadn't said before, but "Pain is Love" seemed to be the apex of his career - and even that was an underwhelming verbal experience. Ja has the same problem Pastor Troy does. Whereas P tries to cover up his lack of material by yelling and shoting, Ja tries to cover up his by harmonizing and damn near singing his words as much as he raps them. It's a gimmick which has gotten the gruff-voiced rapper a lot of crossover success, but it still amounts to zip lyrically. Take "The Warning" for example; where Ja starts out once again begging the Lord to save him and then spits/sings the following:
"They all want me dead or alive
But they'll never take me alive
I'll get even before I die
Cause they all want me.. dead or alive
But they'll never take me alive
I'll get even before I die
Cause this world wants me.. dead or alive
Cause I'm runnin these streets and it ain't safe
Motherfuckers like you can't relate"
Ja, you're a wealthy thug rapper - do you really expect 98% of people who make less money than you to relate? That's not haterism, that's factualism in an economy that's in decline. As for the thug life, why are you running the streets with your wealth, where you know somebody who IS jealous can shoot you? Stay at home, play some GameCube, sip a beer and listen to some rap music. Actually scratch that last part, because Ja seems to have a one track mind when it comes to his choice of rappers. He's compared himself to Biggie and 'Pac before, but it never ends - he does it on "The Pledge Remix" and references B.I.G. on "Murder Reigns" immediately following:
"And lord knows I'll, DIEEE, I pledge allegience to homicide
And murdah be the case when I kill 'em
Whyyy, would they get a nigga like me started
I'm regarded the hardest workin artist since 'Pac - NIGGAZ!" - "The Pledge Remix"
"No more love, baby boy I throw back slugs
through your Green Bay throwback, I hits that up
And let you know where the reign is from
You ever heard of mixin whiskey with Jamaican rum? You get Biggie
Mix gin with a little cocaine, you got me" - "Murder Reigns"
Predictability sells in America. People like knowing they can get the same shit over and over again; if they already liked it once before then it's more of the same, por favor. Ja Rule is the artist for those people. And as much as I like the American lifestyle, after four albums of Ja I've come to the conclusion that some time on the mountaintop wouldn't be so bad after all; if it only meant I could get away from hearing or seeing from Ja for at least five minutes. He's the Triple H of rap music; nuff said.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: November 23, 2002