Last year Ja Rule nearly made a career-ending mistake with his "Blood in My Eye" album. An ongoing feud with 50 Cent caused Ja to lash out both at him and anybody down with him, which by extension is of course Eminem and G-Unit. The problem is that while Ja has some credibility when it comes to making commercial hits and even gets some props for his gruff but effective sing-song flow and hooks, he's no battle MC and shouldn't even pretend to be. To win a hip-hop war of words you've got to be able to shut down your opponent with better rhymes and punchlines than he's got, to prove that you're hot and he's not. Ja declared himself ready for the battle but forgot to put any ammunition in his gun first, and as a result the brash 50 and his band of co-horts ate Ja for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even a midnight snack. The battle was over before it even began and all that was left was a bitter album with no memorable disses and none of Ja Rule's traditionally catchy pop tunes. Some critics even openly proclaimed his career to be over.
To Ja's credit, he's not listening to the critics. Having released five of his own albums since 1999, Ja has gone from being called a knockoff of DMX to being a well known star in his own right. Fans and foes alike both have to concede Ja almost singlehandedly made the pop/R&B duet a staple to be found at the top of the charts, working with everyone from Ashanti to J-Lo to Mary J. Blige both on and off his albums. Ja's best weapon in the war is not to fight with the likes of lyrical wordsmiths of Eminem's calibre or hardcore thug rappers of 50's calibre, but to simply do what he does best - make more of that pop shit. What better victory is there than to have hot songs, a hot album, and success on the charts? Even LL Cool J had to move on from battling the likes of Kool Moe Dee and Canibus to come back with more and more hits. So in the first official single off the simply titled "R.U.L.E.," Ja hooks up with Ashanti and R. Kelly and takes his hip-pop over the top on "Wonderful":
"All my bros, the cheddar and glamorous things
Copped a few cars, a crib with a East and a West wing
Cuz this is how I'm livin and y'all women know the secrets
on how to get it and keep it, how to prey on our weakness
The power of the P-U-S-S-Y
Got a lotta niggaz wonderin it ain't just I
Gotta keep the cash comin and that's on my life
If it wasn't for the money and the things I got
Shit, she probably wouldn't like me
But I keep her and Irv and Jeffrey quite icy
Sip seraphim, who doesn't like me
And the murderous I-N-C"
Ja strikes gold on this one - just hardcore enough to keep his cred but smooth enough with R. Kelly crooning the hook, Ashanti lending a hand and a catchy beat by Jimi Kendrix to bring it all together and make it hot. But Ja didn't forget to make songs for his hardcore fans either, as with the excellent Cool & Dre produced "New York." The only downside to the song might be that by having Fat Joe and Jadakiss as guests on this hot track, they upstage Ja lyrically and make his most memorable contribution the song's hook - Jada in particular:
"I swear it couldn't be sweeter
Life's a bitch dependin on how you treat her, you might get rich
It's guaranteed you gon' die and you might get missed
For maybe 2 or 3 hours, 'til they light they spliffs
And that coke'll get you a long time
But when I let 'em know the dope is out, it's like America Online
Wise has awoken, and you know they say that you deserved it
whenever you die with your eyes open"
Ja largely succeds in making the 18 tracks and 70+ minutes of "R.U.L.E." more interesting than his last effort, but not without a few flaws. The intro and the other three skits are an unnecessary waste of time. "Get it Started" with Claudette Ortiz seems to be trying a little TOO HARD to crossover on the pop charts, whenever it inevitably gets released as a single. "Never Thought" actually achieves the effect much better with an unnamed singer and a pounding Jimi Kendrix beat. Guest starts tend to weaken Ja's impact on the whole, a necessary evil for his musical direction but still easy to notice when Lloyd is on both "Caught Up" and "Where I'm From" and even Trick Daddy gets a piece of the action on "Life Goes On." The critics were wrong though - Ja Rule's career is not over yet. This is not an overwhelming strong album lyrically, but it's a pleasant enough one to listen to musically - and from Ja Rule that's enough to get by.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: November 9, 2004