Ja Rule was looking an awful lot like a hip-hop one-hit wonder a couple of years ago: His 1999 single, the catchy, boisterous “Holla Holla,” seemed more like a novelty tune from one of DMX’s buddies than a career-building smash. The doubters got a quick chin check when his second album, Rule 3:36, debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200. It’s already yielded two bouncy hit singles of its own – “Put It on Me” and “Between Me and You” – and has been hovering in the Top Ten for weeks. Now Ja —– born Jeffrey Atkins —– is also set to star as a crooked cop, opposite Denzel Washington, in Training Day, and is cementing deals on his new record label, MI2 (Murder Inc, 2). Not bad for a little guy from Queens with a scratchy voice.
You’ve gone from yelling “murder” on “Holla Holla” to creeping with chicks on your new album. What’s that about?
People missed a lot of the points I was trying to make on my first album. They always quote me as the “murder, murder” guy, but I had records on there that wasn’t all about that – “Daddy’s Little Baby,” “Race Against Time” – records that were serious. But, you know, sometimes when you have a big, big record, other things get missed.
You also have a song, “Extasy,” on this record, about the drug ecstasy. What made you do that?
Ecstasy! [Laughs] I’m saying, it’s a big drug. I was out in L.A. recording the album and everybody was doing it –
And you tried it.
Yeah. Yeah, I’ve tried it. I’m not gonna sit here and say, “No, I’ve never tried, I just wrote this song.”
Any memorable experiences?
[Laughs] Oh, I better shut my mouth on that one.
I understand you didn’t write down the lyrics to any of the songs on your new album – you did it all in your head.
I hear B.I.G. did it that way. I got it from Jay-Z. I was in the studio with Jay when he was recording “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” He was in there doing it, and I was like, “Man, you don’t write any of this down? Where you putting this?” He was like, “I write it in my head, then I go in the booth.” I kinda didn’t believe him at the time. I started trying to do it myself, and I could only remember two bars, three bars, four bars. Then I started remembering more and more – it became like an exercise. I challenged myself to do my whole second album like that. When I was doing it, I was creating my music more naturally. It’s just me and the track, and I’m up and I’m bouncing.
It’s been said that Jay got something from you as well: “Can I Get A…” was originally your song.
I talked about it before, but it just made me sound so vicious and so hateful. It wasn’t even that big of a deal. But “Can I Get A…” was my record. Jay wanted to use the record, he used the record, and it was profitable and prosperous for both of us.
What about DMX’s new song, “Do You”? It’s rumored he’s taking some swipes at you on that.
[Laughs] X says he’s not; X is my nigga. It’s funny, because people read these things and they hear these songs and they probably think that when we see each other, it’s “get away from me” and all that, but it’s all love. We take our stabs at each other here and there, but at the end of the day, we love each other. We just competitive. We don’t want to give anybody anything – even if it’s us.
There’s a lot of biblical imagery in your music. Where does that come from?
I think just being real religious growing up. I was a Jehovah’s Witness coming up and, you know, that background is real strict. It’s tough on children. If you’re an adult, you can make your own choices – you choose not to celebrate Christmas or you choose not to celebrate your birthday; that’s your business. But when you’re a kid, it’s kind of hard to grasp those ideas when all the other kids in school are getting gifts. And it hurts and it’s painful.
How did you get out of it?
When you do wrong or you go against their rules, you get “disfellowship.” My mom got disfellowship, and it was for something so simple. She used to get cocktails with her co-workers at lunch, but it was against the rules. And when you get disfellowship, nobody’s allowed to speak to you – not even your parents. Not until you get “reassociated.” The thing that hurt my mother is that her own mother, her whole family, just stopped talking to her the day after she got disfellowship. And as I grew older, I started to see, “I don’t think that I want that. Not if it’s separating families.”
Did you vibe to Joan Osborne’s song “One of Us” before you made your song “One of Us”?
Yeah. That’s how I came up with the idea. I wanted to make it in a hip-hop form where we could understand it, where we could see in our eyes if God was in our shoes. Joan Osborne’s is a great song, but it’s in her view. Even though she was speaking on a different point of view, I seen it through my eyes. And I made mine so that people who couldn’t see it through her record could now see it through mine.