Since March of this year, Ja Rule has been living out a real-life 25th Hour. After pleading guilty to attempted possession of a weapon in December 2010, the 35-year-old rapper is set to begin an 18-month prison sentence this week. Despite the upcoming stint behind bars, Ja remained optimistic and upbeat when Rap-Up.com caught up with him, even discussing plans for a world tour beginning on the last day of his sentence.
With two albums in the works, P.ain I.s L.ove 2 and The Renaissance Project, and a clock ticking on his free time, Ja Rule’s main pre-jail priorities, spending time with his family and finishing up his albums, have taken precedence over the intricacies of the court case and any lingering regrets.
Following a string of hits in the late ’90s and early 2000s, years before his sing-rap style would be appropriated by Drake, Lil Wayne, and others, the rapper became 50 Cent’s primary punching bag and, fairly or not, the exemplar for a style of hip-hop—one marked by sleek, sung choruses and radio-friendly staples—that became passé with the increasing popularity of the harder, more militant, G-Unit era.
Second chances in hip-hop are rare, but with the “Always on Time” hitmaker back on good terms with his Murder Inc. associates (He reunited with Lloyd and Ashanti on stage in April and is collaborating with the latter on “LOL”), he is hoping to pull a Lil Wayne and retain, if not increase, his popularity while in prison. On the eve of his sentence, Ja Rule spoke with Rap-Up.com about his new projects, what he learned from Lil Wayne, the ridiculousness of “Twitter beef,” feeling betrayed by Lloyd, and how he’s risen above the hate.
How would you differentiate between P.ain I.s L.ove 2 and The Renaissance Project?
The Renaissance Project I just had fun with. I didn’t take myself too seriously or dig deep into what I’ve been going through. I just wanted to get into the studio with a clear mind, have fun, not think about none of that crazy shit. I didn’t want to indulge in any of that past shit. But then when we got to P.ain I.s L.ove 2, that’s what it is. Pain is love. So I had to give ’em some pain. When I think of the phrase “Pain is love,” I think of sacrifice and I’ve been through a lot of sacrifice and that’s what this album reflects. P.ain I.s L.ove was more about coming up in the streets and sacrificing a lot there to get to here. On this album, the sacrifice is deeper. I’m going to prison. I’m really making a deep sacrifice now.
What did you want to do with these albums that differed from past records?
I did a little less singing on these. I always want to be a little different from the pack and yeah, I’m the guy that’s known for the harmony singing shit, but since everyone else is doing it, I might as well do something different. I might as well just rap straight now [laughs].
Have you learned anything from Lil Wayne’s jail experience?
Weezy basically put out the blueprint on how you do your bid and keep things moving on the outside. You make sure you got a project that’s out there and is hopefully doing well and keep your vibe moving. You make a bunch of videos before you go in. You want to try to get one of your artists moving out there so they can hold the flag while you’re gone. He knew how to do it successfully where the people don’t miss you that much. And I think that could happen for me. With Pac too, he came out of jail guns blazing. As soon as he came out of jail, they took him straight to the studio.
Do you plan on writing or recording in jail?
I don’t know if I’ll be able to record, but I’ll definitely be writing. I haven’t written rhymes in about 10 years. I got it from Jay-Z, who got it from Big. It may feel weird, but it’s just going to be impossible to store all that shit in my brain. But I’m in a great headspace right now. I’m 35. I’ve grown up a lot.
You seem surprisingly upbeat for someone about to go to jail for 18 months…
I got friends doing life in prison. I speak to my man [Kenneth] Supreme [McGriff] and he almost got the chair. The fact that he’s still breathing, I’m just like, 18 months? Are you serious? Some people sit in the hole for that long. You sneeze at this shit and you get it over with and you do it. I stopped smoking weed, though, about a month ago. There’s not going to be weed inside and if there is, I don’t want to fuck around with that shit. So I kicked the habit now. I smoked weed every day of my life for as long as I can remember. But I pride myself on being strong-minded.
When you look back on the case, do you think it was fairly handled?
Not at all. I think the NYPD has a special unit that targets rappers and I don’t think that’s right. We are public figures and we come from dark backgrounds and we make a lot of money and take care of a lot of people. We should be allowed to have a firearm. Now granted, mine was illegal. I’m in the wrong for that. But the general argument is that people have the right to bear arms. The NYPD has public records of death threats on my life. I’ve had police come to my mother’s home and tell her they have death threats against her son. It’s not a secret.
You said recently that you’re done with any sort of Twitter beef. Isn’t the inherent idea of a beef on a computer paradoxical?
Yeah, man. Who does that? I was like, “What the fuck am I doing? Are you serious, Rule?” I couldn’t believe it myself, but at the moment [50 insulted me], it just took me by surprise like, “This motherfucker’s still running his mouth!” [Laughs] Twitter’s gonna get somebody killed. It probably already has and we just don’t know it. I see all kinds of artists going through this shit and they take to Twitter to air it out. I look at Twitter as my own personal media. I’m my own media now. I don’t have to wait for you motherfuckers to clear shit up. You will never see another Twitter beef with me. People can say whatever they want to me on Twitter and I’ll just be like, “Eh. Good for you.”
Lloyd brought you out on stage recently for a Murder Inc. reunion. Why didn’t that happen sooner?
I think we were all going in different directions and people were pulling them away from me and [Irv] Gotti, and that strained the relationship. And Lloyd doing records [“Let’s Get It In” featuring 50 Cent] with my quote-unquote enemy was a little bit strained too. I felt a little bit betrayed. I like Lloyd; he’s like a little brother. It was a little crazy that that could happen. But he’s young and still growing. I made a lot of mistakes as a young artist and I was wild and crazy. I think some of those moves I did strained relationships with other artists, especially me and Jay-Z’s relationship.
Jay used to say to me, “Ja, when you get to a certain level, you’ll understand the moves that I make,” and I didn’t at the time but as I grew, I understood things. At the time, I was young and you get to making a lot of money and smelling your own shit. It’s that time of your life where everything’s moving so fast that you make a lot of mistakes and you don’t realize it until you look back and go, “What the fuck was I thinking?” Lloyd told me, “I made a mistake.” And it is what it is.
In the past 10 years, you’ve been a polarizing figure in hip-hop. Looking back, do you feel under-appreciated?
That’s a funny question because, no I don’t think I was underappreciated. I think people very much appreciated what I did. I think I caught the backlash of it because of what 50 came out and made it. He tried to make a mockery of my sound. I think people fell for the old banana in the tailpipe. People were told that pizza was disgusting and then were sold pizza [laughs].
Why do you think some people hate you?
I don’t know. I don’t know. Did I kill your dog? Did I splash your moms on the curb with water? I don’t feel I did anything to warrant people to hate me other than 50 told people to hate me. In this world, there aren’t a lot of leaders; just followers. And everyone wants to be cool so bad. At the time, it was cool to hate on Ja Rule because that machine was blowing up so big. I think people jumped on that bandwagon. I get people all the time on Twitter who say, “Yo, I was brainwashed. I’m sorry.” But people think I’m sitting at home thinking about this shit. I don’t give a fuck. I’m living a better life than I could’ve ever imagined for myself and my kids.
When you think back to when you first started, do you get nostalgic for that era of hip-hop or is it more about looking forward?
I do miss the old days because before the whole beef thing, we all used to get together, have softball games, and bond together. I think that camaraderie got closer after Big and Pac passed, and I think we made a conscious effort as hip-hop artists to try and be better with each other. That era was great and then the G-Unit era came in and was built on so much hate, anger, and jealousy that I think it put everybody in that space, even the fans. And then all of a sudden, it wasn’t fun no more. The whole aura changed. You’d get artists that followed that come up like, “Wow, that shit worked for him. I’m gonna start a beef with such and such.” The whole vibe of hip-hop went dark.
How much have you told your children about your upcoming bid?
I talk to them. I don’t want them to go to school and feel like they should be ashamed of what daddy’s done. Daddy hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary. You have the right to bear arms in America. The only thing daddy did wrong is not registering the gun. That is my crime. Having a gun is not a crime in America. One of the teachers at my son’s school came up to my wife and said, “I understand. He’s an entertainer. He should be allowed to have a gun. There are people out there who are insane and he should be allowed to protect himself.” Look at John Lennon. If he had had a pistol on him that day, he might still be with us.