"With me, I didn’t create melodic tunes. There were people doing melodic tunes before me, but I made it my shit. And that’s the difference. When I want to kick it up a notch and do something y’all can’t do, I do this. We can all go in the booth and spit and go hard at each other. We used to do that all day. Me and X used to go to different spots and battle rhyme. DMX was a battle rhymer back in the day. And with Cash Money Click we would go to video shoots and battle rappers, that’s what it was. It’s nothing for an artist to go in the booth and spit it. I can do that and rock with anybody.
But that melodic shit? I did it in a way that no one else could do or even wanted to try. For me that was my special shit that separated me from other artists."
Last year, Ja Rule was planting the seeds for a comeback. We talked about the leak of his shleved album The Mirror, and how suddenly his previously maligned singing style has become popular again.
Ja Rule is excited. For the past several years, the Inc lead artist has taken a back seat after dominating the early 2000s with a string of chart-topping hits. Now, Rule finds himself on the verge of releasing an official comeback LP this November. But first, he has a special treat for fans in The Mirror, the original studio album that has been leaked in various incarnations since 2007. Ja Rule is ready for a comeback, but are the fans ready for him?
Ismael AbduSalaam: Congratulations on finally getting The Mirror completed, I know you’ve been working on it for a minute.
Ja Rule: Nah, The Mirror’s been done. We just had some issues with it, some leak issues. I ain’t that nigga to hit my fans with some shit they heard. Even if two fans heard it, I’m not putting it out there for the public. So I went in and made a whole new album. The new album is crazy, but a lot of people didn’t hear Mirror. I’ve been getting hit on Twitter, Myspace, and Facebook with people asking about The Mirror. So I realized there are a lot of people who didn’t hear the shit. So today they’ll get a taste of it.
Ismael: So you’re the one leaking it?
Ja Rule: Actually that’s not true. The album was leaked already. I don’t know how it got leaked. People could get it and hear it online. That fucked up my whole project. But I just want people to hear the album who didn’t.
Ismael: This is your first album in about 5 years. With the title, it alludes to facing the truth about yourself once you look in the mirror. What are the big truths you learned about yourself as Ja Rule the artist and man during this past half-decade?
Ja Rule: It’s hard for the public to distinguish the truth. They get a persona that you portray or they see on screen, but that may not necessarily be the person that you are. Or they may only know you from the singles you drop and do videos for. A lot of fans don’t get to soak up the whole album. With The Mirror, I just wanted people to get an inside look to what it is like to be me and go through what an artist goes through period.
Ismael: Not to make you feel old, but we’re right at the 10 year anniversary of Venni Vetti Vecci. Even amongst your biggest critics, that’s the album that many concede was executed well. For the fans who love that album, can they expect tracks like “Story To Tell” and “It’s Murda,” or will they get more “Mesmerize” and the other radio songs that took you to stardom?
Ja Rule: The Mirror is really a compilation of complex and different records. They’re not all the same. I got records like “Father Forgive Me” on the album, and “Sing a Prayer For Me.” These records are completely different. I wanted people to feel those sides of me because I’m an artist that likes to grow with each project.
That’s something that people don’t understand about artists. If you go to your job everyday and get bored at it sometimes, it’s the same thing with us, [especially] if you go in the studio and doing the same type of music year after year. You get bored and want to try something new and expand your horizons. When you hear “Father Forgive Me,” that’s me broadening my horizons and moving to something different.
Ismael: Let’s go back to 2007 when you were first wrapping up this project. Were you getting a lot of resistance from Universal, since they were expecting those platinum hits, and you were now seeking to experiment? Was it a struggle getting them to see your vision?
Ja Rule: It wasn’t really a fight. The situation just didn’t work, it wasn’t a marriage. Sometimes it’s like that. When you see a project do 5 or 10 million that was a project that had good chemistry all around it. Not just through the making of it, but after recording to the marketing and promoting of it. Those are special because everybody is in tune and wants the same thing. It wasn’t like that with The Mirror.
I was new over there at Motown. They never got no money with me in the past. I was a Def Jam
artist. There was poor communication on both ends.
Ismael: We’re ending the first decade of the 2000s, and pretty much the R&B/Hip-Hop collaborations that people were slamming you for are making a resurgence like they normally do every few years. When you look at today’s scene, do you feel it validates you now that people are running or trying to run with the formula you perfected?
Ja Rule: I said it in one of rhymes on Message to Mankind, “I gave birth to a style that’s way too common now/Niggas cocktailed my shit/Got it all watered down.” [laughs] That’s how I feel about it. Like autotune. That was T-Pain’s sound. And now everybody uses it, and Jay puts out “Death of Autotune.” Now, T-Pain might have a hard time coming back with his own sound, because so many people saturated and made it not the shit. I like autotune and think its some fly shit. Roger Troutman was the first and T-Pain made it his own thing.
With me, I didn’t create melodic tunes. There were people doing melodic tunes before me, but I made it my shit. And that’s the difference. When I want to kick it up a notch and do something y’all can’t do, I do this. We can all go in the booth and spit and go hard at each other. We used to do that all day. Me and X used to go to different spots and battle rhyme. DMX was a battle rhymer back in the day. And with Cash Money Click we would go to video shoots and battle rappers, that’s what it was. It’s nothing for an artist to go in the booth and spit it. I can do that and rock with anybody.
But that melodic shit? I did it in a way that no one else could do or even wanted to try. For me that was my special shit that separated me from other artists.
Ismael: I’m sure you used your time away to enjoy your family, and also grow as a human being. So looking at Hip-Hop, do you feel it’s grown with you, or has regressed from where you left it?
Ja Rule: Hip-Hop changes every few years. I remember a time when dancing was the shit in Hip-Hop when I was younger: from the cabbage patch, the wop, pee wee herman, the Biz Mark, we had a gang of songs and dance records! And it was cool for us to do that. Now I’m 33, and you sound about in my age bracket and that era, and you know Hip-Hop has always been a youthful thing. [The dances] are for the kids to enjoy and have fun.
But Hip-Hop is such a big business now, and we grew up with the music. So now you have fans of all ages. That’s why artists like myself, Jay, and Kanye can come up and still sell records because it grows. I listen to Hip-Hop and I’m 33. My kids listen to it. They’re going to grow up and I’m going to get older still listening to Hip-Hop. Then their kids will come up listening to it. So Hip-hop will keep getting bigger as long as we keep putting out good music.
Ismael: Looking at R.U.L.E. that contained one of the last high-profile NY collaborations to go national in “New York.” Where do see NY Hip-Hop now in terms of quality?
Ja Rule: [Pauses] Y’know, I don’t like to categorize it like that. I feel we’re all Hip-Hop. It’s not music, it’s a state of mind and way of living. It’s the clothes, attitude, walk, and everything that we do. We are different from society, and I don’t want to generalize from region to region. We all made Hip-Hop, and grew up loving it. It’s not like any other form of music. Other genres don’t categorize their shit by region to region, it’s all one thing. I feel we should really stop the divide and conquer shit they try to throw at us. We’re all Hip-Hop.
Ismael: The “Uh-Oh” joint with Wayne was right as he started building the superstar momentum that has manifested today. Did you foresee him becoming as big as he is?
Ja Rule: Weezy was doing what he wanted to do. You have to do the music that you feel in your heart, because that’s what the people will feel. When it’s coming from there, the people respond. He really put in a lot of work on the underground circuit, mixtapes, and he pleased the people. He loved Hip-Hop. He didn’t do it for the money. For about two years straight he said “this is for the people and the fans.” And that’s why he received the love and the rewards. It was a fucking small flame that blew into a fire. He deserved it and worked hard for it.
Ismael: You have a new label imprint with Empire Records. Are you looking to create a distinct brand away from the Inc or just build onto that movement?
Ja Rule: We made history with Murder Inc. It’s incredible to look back at it. But Empire is my movement. [Irv] Gotti is my brother who I love to death, and is supporting me. I guess if you merge the two you have the Inc Empire. [laughs] It is two separate things but still one thing.
Ismael: You did some venting about DMX and Ashanti on the track “Judas,” regarding some of the past issues you had with the moves they’ve made. Is all that done now, or are there any other past transgressions you needed to let out on The Mirror?
Ja Rule: Nah, I didn’t want anyone to look at The Mirror as a diss album. That was a song I felt I had to get off my chest. When I have thoughts I have to get them out my head through song. “Judas” was just a real record I felt I needed to make. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings; I love everyone that was supposedly talked about on that record. I have no problems with anyone.
Ismael: I remember hearing you speak of the 2002-2003 period as a time when the public just threw you on the “hate train” for no reason. When you look back at that period, do you think there’s anything you could’ve done differently to stop it, or do you feel it was a just an inevitable freight train?
Ja Rule: The fans don’t get a chance to understand the ins and outs of how things work. I don’t think they’re privy to inside information on the underhanded s**t that goes on in this industry. They only get to see what is printed, and perception is reality. That situation and everything around that period in my career didn’t make sense. It didn’t add up. 2+2=8. [laughs] I look at it now and laugh. I’m happy I can because you have to make light of situations like that or you’ll drive yourself crazy. I know how we move and it’s just a funny situation, one of those things you deal with in life. God sends you a test, and you have to pull through and show you’re a strong dude. That takes a lot for a nigga to stand up and walk through fire when people are throwing stones.
Ismael: Best case scenario for The Mirror, do you want to recapture that superstar status you had before? After experiencing how quickly people can tear you down, is that a reality you still strive for? Or is having the love of your diehard fans enough?
Ja Rule: I have an uncanny love out there. There’s diehard Ja Rule fans out there, and those that really hate me. But when I look at the reasons people don’t like me, it never really resonates. They’re usually frivolous reasons, never about hating the music. I’m not concerned with that. I’m concerned with those who understand what goes on in the music business and what happened with all the shit I’ve been through. People like comeback stories, to see someone be on top, fall, and come back to glory. That’s the American story. A lot of people are rooting for me to do that with my situation and my new label. I’m getting a lot of love and good feedback. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve been touring for about four years now overseas and it’s crazy. People want to see me win and I don’t want to let them down. I want to put out that music that people will enjoy.
The Mirror is a present for them to enjoy. They’ll get a chance to enjoy it in its entirety. And it’s free, you don’t have to pay shit for it. I’ll have a mixtape soon and then my new album. I feel it is my time to hit off Hip-Hop.
On The Mirror I didn’t do too many guests. I have Weezy, Game, and a lot of new artists who did their thing. It’s just a great album. And I got production from my man Erick Sermon and Chink Santana.
Ismael: What’s the early word on that new album?
Ja Rule: New album coming real soon, looking to drop around October or November. I worked really hard for the fans. Look out for my new label Empire Records and all my new artists. I don’t have a title yet. I may do a little contest to get the fans to give some ideas. I’m tittering with it every day.
Ismael: I’m sure today the fans who haven’t heard The Mirror will be eager to give it a listen.
Ja Rule: Yeah man, but I’m not trying to get in any trouble with Universal [laughs]. The album was already leaked don’t sue me! It’s all love, and it’s getting real crazy. I got a lot of people backing me and it’s feeling good, my nigga.