He’s sold over 30 million records. He led a team of hit makers to platinum success for nearly 5 years, while keeping his record label on the tongues of everyone in the industry and on every major magazine cover. The way the fans covet Lil’ Wayne, Drake, and Rick Ross today, they once featured Ja Rule on the same pedestal, and similarly the industry honored him with enough awards to fill every room of the ‘Murder Mansion.’ These days on the heals of his seventh solo album, Pain Is Love 2 (Pil2), Jeff Atkins seems to be forgotten in an industry that appears to have quickly developed a fatal case of Alzheimer’s disease. While serving a 2 year prison sentence, he is learning firsthand that sometimes Pain is Just… pain, because when it comes to the rapper, seems there is no love for Ja Rule.
I can still remember the effect Ja Rule’s Pain Is Love album had on me when it was released back in 2001. Packed with hits, including, “Down ss Btch” & “Always On Time,” the album helped propel Ja Rule to the ranks of Hip-Hop elite. I remember the constant appearances, and announcements for the album’s release. I remember the radio takeover and being so completely over hearing, “I’m Real.” But that was then.
Last week, I didn’t know Ja Rule had released Pil2 until I happened to catch morning radio as they announced the meal Ja’s would be having on Wednesday, the 29th, his 36th birthday. First they took shots at him for being locked up. Then they took shots at him for the meals he’d be having throughout the day. After all that, they followed it up with, ‘oh yeah, and he also released Pil2,’ only to make some more snickers and giggles.
Disgusted, I switched the station to the Hottest Hip-Hop in NYC, only for their radio show to run the same story Almost verbatim! Snickers and giggles included. Shit, if pain is love, I don’t know if I want it.
A supporter of music, I made my way to Best Buy before week’s end to get my copy. No, it wasn’t available next to Maino, Estelle and the other new releases. It was filed away, behind a copy of ‘The Best of Ja Rule.’
Such is the life of Ja Rule. A week before he went to do his bid for gun charges in Oneida, NY, I had a chance to talk to him during one of his final press days (The images used in this feature are from that day). I never released the interview because of all the uncertainty that then surrounded Pil2. By then the album was complete and he expected for it to be released shortly, though he realized he wouldn’t be able to do it before the prison sentence began. At the time, Ja spoke of putting together the project with the help of producer, 7, who had been working with Ja since the original Pain Is Love album. Ja hoped the album would be received well by the industry and fans. His return after a 8 year lay-off, he hopped would help kick off a return to prominence.
Ja spoke on his excitement about the video for the single, “Real Life Fantasy,” shot by friend and longtime partner Hype Williams. He also addressed the second verse lyrics about his former Murder Inc family, summing it up by saying, “we’re all still cool. I’ve talked to all of them recently.” When I tried to press him about individual members he continued, “I talked to every in the last couple months except Charlie [Baltimore].” However, keep in mind this was a year ago and things might have changed.
Ja admitted that he was nervous about starting the sentence, but he was also disappointed that after staying away from the penitentiary for most of his life, he would be spending part of his 30’s behind bars. Still he was eager to get it started so that it could be over with, hopefully in 18 months, and not the full 2 year sentence. Unfortunately, a month later, Ja was sentenced to another 28 months for tax evasion. The time can be served concurrently, but he’s definitely looking at close to a 2-year minimum.
Pain Is Love 2 doesn’t live up to its predecessor, though its not for lack of effort. The blockbuster features are replaced with several appearanced by new comer Leah Siegel as well as an appearance by Dirty Money’s Kalenna Harper. The Pain is still there and Ja definitely put his heart into it.
Regardless of the album’s sales, despite anyone’s thoughts on ‘the beef’, forgetting the end of The Inc, and overlooking the fact that he is serving time, the point that needs to be drilled home is that the legacy speaks for itself. The years of service, the body of work can’t go unnoticed. I imagine his family hearing/reading some of the stories of the past week and it seems that for the most part it is an unfortunate and inaccurate portrayal of a man. So if the majority won’t acknowledge the greatness that was, and the potential of what’s to come, then hopefully I have done my part in providing just a tiny bit of love in a world filled with pain. It’s still okay to be a Ja Rule fan.
“No one ever gets the roses while they can still smell them.”
Images by Christian Ortiz for Parlé Magazine
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