In April of 2004, VIBE dissected Ja Rule’s career in a cover story titled, Against All Odds. We examined whether or not the raspy-voiced rapper would be able to return to hip-hop supremacy, after undergoing a federal investigation on his record label, a crippling feud with 50 Cent and releasing an album that failed to go platinum like its predecessors. Snarling shirtless on the cover, Ja stands with his hands behind his back next to the headline: Is This The End?
Ten years later, the drama that boiled Ja’s blood in his eye barely makes him blink. Murder Inc. is extinct and Ja’s jail inspired video sets turned into a real-life residence for the rapper, while he spent nearly two years behind bars. He’s in no rush to present a new album to the fickle-fans that shunned him a decade earlier. Instead, Ja is focusing on the launch of his new book—cleverly titled Unruly—and a new family-based reality show slated for MTV networks.
On an arctic night in the nation’s capital, Ja is admiring a new painting of himself backstage at the Howard Theatre. He poses for a few photos next to the artwork that remarkably resembles him, then drifts off to sign a few autographs for fans that have snuck beyond security. His concert earlier contained a diverse crowd that seemed to know all the words to Ja’s melodic ballads from the early 2000’s. He is intoxicated off the whiff of approval. VIBE caught up with the R.U.L.E. after his show for a candid conversation. —Christopher Harris
VIBE: How does it feel to be a free black man in DC?
Ja Rule: I’m so happy to be free on these streets. Back with my family, my kids, that’s the most important thing. You know? Family first. I love the district, this is my second home. I have a lot of niggas from out here. Howard Theatre is a legendary theatre. Howard Theatre, Apollo Theatre, It don’t get no better than that.
How anxious were you to return to music while you were in prison?
I was writing stuff in my head. Thinking about it, I couldn't wait to get back to it. It’s all good.
Did you write a lot?
I don’t write nothing down on paper, and two, I wasn't really inspired when I was in prison. There’s not really much to inspire you in there. I was kinda waiting to come home. I didn't have much time. Probably, if I had more time I would've got me a pen and pad and put something down. I waited till I got home and went to the studio and smashed it out .
Who are some of the new artists that have grabbed your attention?
I like a lot of the new artists out there. Drake, Wale. French, that’s my brother. There’s a lot of good cats out there. A$AP, Kendrick.
Are these people you would like to feature on your upcoming album?
Yeah, I would work with all of them because they’re really good, talented dudes.
Your first book, Unruly, is slated to be released this June. What's it about?
It’s a book about my life story but it’s inspirational for a lot of young black men going through the same shit I went through, the same struggles. Coming up in the hood, not really knowing how to handle a situation, getting into money and this whole crazy world that we call hip-hop and everything moving so fast. It’s the story of my life, told from two different perspectives—from Ja Rule, the young cat coming up, hungry, living his dream, money, women and this that and the third.
Getting VIBE covers?
All of that. Then, the more introspective person, which is Jeff Atkins, the father and husband. It’s a really good story.
We get to see more of that side of you on your new TV show right?
Yeah, I’m doing my new TV show it’s called Follow the Rules. You’ll see me being a father, a husband, my kids and my wife.
I saw that you were in Milan for Fashion week.
I love fashion week. I love fashion. Milan, London, New York all those spots are really good spots for fashion week. I went out there with my wife and we had some good times for sure.
Are you into the high-fashion designers?
Love em, I love em all. I’m into fashion.
Will Ashanti definitely be on your next project?
Me and her are working on some stuff so hopefully we’ll be able to put something together on the new album.
Last year, you shared a flight with your former foe 50 Cent. What happened when you two saw each other?
We actually did share the same flight [laughs] which is crazy. Ain’t nothing really to talk about it is what it was. He seen me, I seen him. We said what’s up and we rode our flight and that was that.
Not at all, we both grown men now.
You guys had an epic beef. It’s not really like that in hip-hop anymore, right?
That was a long time ago. We‘re both about our money, about our families and we’re doing what we’re doing.