...a damn lucky chancer...
Ja Rule‘s stuck with a winning formula (gruff raps on life and love + Ashanti + Irv Gotti’s patented Casio beats) and won hip hop’s crown in the process. Only somewhere down the line he’s turned into a bit of a joke. You don’t drawl over J-Lo remixes and then expect to claim a place next to Tupac. His (supposedly) penultimate album may be dubbed ‘The Last Temptation’, but it comes on like a last ditch attempt to grab back some credibility. You wonder why someone who’s co-starred with Vin Diesel and had his mansion refurbished by Manhattan’s coolest fashion company Maurice Villency should care about credibility. But this is hip hop, and if you’ve got DMX claiming you’re a sell-out, then you have to retaliate.
Hence Ja‘s fourth album is a darker, moodier beast, full of self-aggrandizing raps about how he’s gonna get “even before I die”. Where before all the talk about murder and mayhem was just part of the Murder Inc.-styled persona, here it’s tinged with real frustration and menace: “If I ever walk the green mile / You can blame my lifestyle” he growls on ‘Murder Reigns’. Maybe he’s starting to believe his own claims to be Tupac‘s natural heir: recent statements in the New York Post about how “If I was Justin Timberlake I wouldn’t have to walk around with a gun, but when I’m around a group of black people, a defense comes on,” suggests he’s buying in to a dangerous myth.
At least his grimmer outlook has inspired some equally raw music. ‘Pop Niggas’ sees the Neptunes fashion a deep, piano-driven groove which nods to old skool house as much as their patented bass-thumping r’n’b, while the excellent arcade machine funk of ‘Destiny’ is the most out-there track Ja‘s been attached to. He still wants to hijack the charts – the Bobby Brown-assisted ‘Thug Lovin” and token Ashanti duet ‘Mesmerize’ are perfect pop-rap gems – and he’s still going on about Ecstasy (he’s “the president of the United Ghettos Of E-merica” apparently), but really ‘The Last Temptation’ is aimed at the doubters, not the kids. And it’s really not enough to convince them Ja Rule‘s anything more than a damn lucky chancer.