Jeffrey Atkins (born February 29, 1976), better known by his stage name Ja Rule, is an American recording artist, singer, songwriter and actor from Queens, New York.
Born in Hollis, Queens, he debuted in 1999 with Venni Vetti Vecci and its single "Holla Holla". From 1999 to 2005, Ja Rule had several hits that made the top 20 of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, including "Between Me and You" with Christina Milian, "I'm Real (Murder Remix)" and Ain't It Funny with Jennifer Lopez, which both topped the US Billboard Hot 100, the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Always on Time" with Ashanti, "Mesmerize" also with Ashanti, and "Wonderful" with R. Kelly and Ashanti. During the 2000s, Ja Rule was signed to The Inc. Records, which was formerly known as Murder Inc. and was led by Irv Gotti. Due to his hits with his collaborators, Ja Rule has earned four Grammy nominations, and has earned six top-ten albums, two of which Rule 3:36 (2000) and Pain Is Love (2001), topped the US Billboard 200.
Early life and education
Atkins was born in the Queens borough of New York City. He was raised as a Jehovah's Witness by his mother, health care worker Debra Atkins, and grandparents. Atkins attended Public School 134 in Hollis, a school he has described as having a predominantly black student body. He said he got into many fights at the school because of his small size, so his mother transferred him to Middle School 172 in Glen Oaks, which he described as a "white school". Atkins earned his GED in February 2012.
Atkins began his rap career in 1993 with his hip hop group Cash Money Click. He told Curtis Waller of MTV News that his stage name "Ja Rule" came from a friend who addressed him by that name; other friends called him "Ja". In 1995, he made his first appearance on Mic Geronimo's "Time to Build", which featured Jay-Z and DMX, who were also in their early stages of their careers. In 1998 he had signed with Irv Gotti's The Inc. Records (at the time named Murder Inc. Records) which was an imprint label under Def Jam, and along with Amil, he was featured on Jay-Z's hit single "Can I Get A...", for which Ja Rule wrote the hook. It was going to be a Ja Rule solo song, until Jay-Z heard the track.
Venni Vetti Vecci (1999)
Ja Rule's debut album Venni Vetti Vecci was released in 1999, peaking at number 3 on the Billboard 200 with 184,000 copies sold in its first week. It eventually reached platinum status in the US due to the popularity of the hit single, "Holla Holla", which reached #35 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Rule 3:36 (2000)
Ja Rule returned in 2000 with his new single "Between Me and You", which featured Christina Milian. "Between Me and You" would end up getting Top 40 airplay and reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single "Put It on Me" featuring Vita and Lil' Mo reached number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video for "Put It on Me" also topped the MTV Video Countdown for a week.
The second album, Rule 3:36, was released on October 10, 2000. It debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 with 276,000 copies in its first week, making it Ja Rule's first number one album. The album would be certified triple platinum by the RIAA.
Pain Is Love (2001)
Ja Rule released his third studio album, Pain Is Love on October 2, 2001. The album spawned three top 10 singles, two of them reaching number 1. The first single, "Livin' It Up", featuring Case, reached number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single "Always on Time", which featured Ashanti, ended up being Ja Rule's first number 1 hit to top the Billboard Hot 100. The remix of Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Real" which features Ja Rule, also topped the Billboard Hot 100. Like its predecessor, Pain Is Love topped the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 361,000 copies and was certified triple platinum by the RIAA. The album would also receive a Grammy nomination in 2002 for Best Rap Album. By 2007, 3.6 million copies of Pain Is Love had been sold.
The Last Temptation (2002)
The Last Temptation, Ja Rule's fourth album, was released on November 19, 2002. It featured two hit singles; "Thug Lovin'" (peaked at number 42 on the Billboard Hot 100), and "Mesmerize" another duet with Ashanti (peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100). The Last Temptation debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 237,000 copies and was certified Platinum by the RIAA in December 2002.
Blood in My Eye (2003)
Ja Rule's fifth album Blood in My Eye, was released on November 4, 2003 under the "Murder Inc." label, which renamed itself "The Inc." several days after the album release. The material was intended simply as a mixtape, but was released as an album to fulfill Ja Rule's contractual commitment to Murder Inc. to release one annually. The album was described as a "hate" album, directed at various rappers including 50 Cent, G-Unit, Eminem, Dr. Dre and others. It spawned one hit single, "Clap Back" which reached number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 and had won him a Source Award for "Fat Tape" song of the year. It peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling 139,000 copies in its first week of release, and had sold over 468,000 copies in the U.S. by 2008. In October 2003, Ja Rule met with Minister Louis Farrakhan, who wanted to intervene and prevent escalating violence in the feud between Ja Rule and 50 Cent.
Ja Rule's sixth studio album R.U.L.E. was released in November 2004 debuting at number 7 selling 166,000 copies in its first week of release. Its lead single "Wonderful" featuring R. Kelly and Ashanti peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was followed by the street anthem "New York" featuring Fat Joe and Jadakiss which charted at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. The third single was the love song "Caught Up" featuring Lloyd which had failed to make an impact on the Billboard Hot 100. The RIAA certified R.U.L.E. Gold on January 14, 2005, and by October 2007, the album had sold 658,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Hiatus, departure from Def Jam, decline of The Inc. Records (2005–09)
On December 6, 2005, The Inc. released Exodus, a greatest hits album whose only new tracks were the song "Me" and intro and outro tracks. Exodus was the last album on Ja Rule's contract with The Inc. After the release of this compilation, Ja Rule took a hiatus from recording music.
Meanwhile, in 2005, The Inc. Records had come under investigation because of drug trades by Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, who was associated with Irv Gotti, after the label's offices were raided by FBI agents and NYPD officers a couple years earlier. This led to Def Jam Recordings refusing to renew The Inc.'s contract. From 2005 to 2006, Gotti searched for other labels, until finally reaching a deal with Universal Records (part of the same company as Def Jam). However a few years later it was announced by Gotti that The Inc. had left Universal Records due to business issues and failure to secure funds for music projects.
Departure from The Inc. Records, The Mirror and Mpire Music Group (2009)
After leaving Murder Inc. Records in 2009, Ja Rule founded his own independent label, Mpire Music Group and recruited new artists while still maintaining friendship with Irv Gotti. The Mirror was to be Ja Rule's seventh album and set for a 2007 release date. However, due to poor reception to singles (partly believed to be due to his beef with 50 Cent), it was pushed back. Tracks from the album leaked online, leading Ja Rule to re-record the album. He eventually decided to release it as a free download in 2009.
Pain Is Love 2 and prison (2011–12)
In February 2011, it was announced that Ja Rule had started working on another album called Pain Is Love 2, naming it after the original 2001 triple platinum album (Pain Is Love), to be produced by the producers of the original Pain Is Love album to "recreate magic". Most of the production was to be done by 7 Aurelius (who co-produced "Down Ass Bitch"), while Irv Gotti was to be the executive producer of the album. Ja Rule had planned on releasing it June 7 but later decided to delay the release date in order to allow more time to perfect the "level and quality of the records" and to avoid "doing an injustice to [his] fans". A revised release date of October 11, 2011, was also deferred. During the delay, Ja Rule released a new track called "Falling to Pieces" which was produced by 7 Aurelius, a song which samples The Script's "Breakeven". On October 2, 2011, another track, called "Spun a Web", was released, which was also produced by 7 Aurelius and samples Coldplay's "Trouble". The following day a teaser music video premiered on YouTube. The official music video was released on October 11. Pain Is Love 2 was finally released on February 28, 2012, by which time Ja Rule was serving a two-year sentence in prison for gun possession and tax evasion.
Ja Rule planned Renaissance Project which was to be a follow-up album to Pain Is Love 2, for which recording sessions took place primarily at Mpire Studios in NYC Studio from 2008 to 2011. Production was handled by Rule and several others, including Benzino, 7 Aurelius and Buck 3000 but the album was never completed and most of the tracks were incorporated into Pain Is Love 2.
Release from prison (2013–present)
Atkins was released from prison on May 7, 2013. He was featured on the remix of the track "She Tried" which features Lil Wayne and Birdman, which appeared on the N.O.R.E album Student of the Game. On September 18, 2013, Ja Rule released a track titled "Fresh Out Da Pen". The track had first premiered on Hot 97. A few days later he released "Everything". Both tracks were produced by Visionary producers, Reefa and Myles William. On September 27, 2013, both of those tracks were released on iTunes for digital download. In September 2013, it was confirmed that Ja Rule and Irv Gotti have relaunched Murder Inc Records. In 2014, Ja Rule had released a memoir titled Unruly: The Highs and Lows of Becoming a Man, in which he reflected on his past struggles with a difficult adolescence in New York City and everything that followed, from breakout success and destructive rivalries to fatherhood and a two-year prison sentence. In July 2014, Ja Rule announced his eighth studio album which was eventually pushed back for a 2016 release. Also in 2014, it was announced by MTV that Ja Rule alongside his family will star in the upcoming reality show Follow the Rules which was co-produced by Queen Latifah. A sneak peek trailer of the show surfaced on the internet in September 2014 and the show premiered on October 26, 2015. In October 2015, Rule announced that he and Irv Gotti had partnered with Paramount Pictures to work on a TV drama series based on the history of Murder Inc., set to premiere in 2016. In February 2016, Ja Rule announced on his Twitter account that the title of his upcoming eighth studio album would be Coup De Grâce. He had also announced that it would be his last album. In December 2016, he was featured on The Hamilton Mixtape, rapping Hamilton's verse in Ashanti's performance of "Helpless", referencing Lin-Manuel Miranda's impression of him in the last line of that verse.
Aside from rapping, Ja Rule has established a career as an actor. His first film was a buddy movie with Pras, Turn It Up; he appeared in a minor role in The Fast and the Furious. he appeared in several movies including Back in the Day with Ving Rhames and Pam Grier and Half Past Dead as Steven Seagal's co-star. He also starred in the movies The Cookout with Queen Latifah and Assault on Precinct 13. In 2013, he starred in I'm in Love with a Church Girl.
In 2004, Ja Rule teamed up with Irv Gotti launching an urban clothing line called ErvinGeoffrey. In 2006, Ja Rule launched a liquor company called The Mojito.
In May 2015, Ja Rule partnered with Billy McFarland, the CEO of Magnises, a credit card service company to become the creative head and spokesman of that company In August 2015, Ja Rule collaborated with footwear businessman Steve Madden on a new line of Men's sneakers called Maven x Madden which were released for sale by Fall 2015.
In 2016, Ja Rule co-founded Fyre Media, Inc., a talent booking agency, with Billy McFadden. In April 2017, the venture touted its Fyre Festival in Hamilton, Bahamas, as a luxury event though it was widely reported to be a logistical failure disappointing hundreds of ticket-buyers and for which both he and McFadden faced a US$100 million class action suit.
In April 2001, Ja Rule married Aisha Murray. The couple have three children; Brittany (born 1995), Jeffrey Jr. (born 2000), and Jordan (born 2005).
Ja Rule is a Christian. Ja Rule became a Christian in 2013 when he was promoting the movie I'm in Love with a Church Girl. Ja Rule has spoken about his faith saying, "I want to make sure I'm doing the right thing. I don't want people to misconstrue what I'm doing here. I'm taking baby steps, and I want to get closer to God. I feel it's something you should do in life."
In 2003, he allegedly punched a man in Toronto, who later sued. The issue was settled out of court.
In 2004, police investigated whether a feud involving The Inc. led to a fatal shooting outside a nightclub party hosted by Ja Rule and Leon Richardson where they thought he shot Proof of D12.
On July 1, 2004, Ja Rule was arrested with Don Rhys for driving with a suspended license and possessing marijuana.
In July 2007, Ja Rule was arrested for gun and drug possession charges along with Lil Wayne, and Don Rhys who served eight months in prison during 2010 for attempted possession of a weapon stemming from the arrest. The court rejected Ja Rule's argument that the gun was illegally obtained evidence. On December 13, 2010, Ja Rule received a two-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to attempted possession of a weapon after the aforementioned 2007 concert. On March 8, 2011, Ja Rule's surrender date for his two-year prison sentence was set for June 8. His publicist said that Ja Rule will turn himself in to authorities. He went to Rikers Island first, then he was sent to a state facility in Upstate New York.
In July 2011, Ja Rule received an additional 28-month prison sentence for tax evasion, to run concurrently with his state term, failing to pay taxes on more than $3 million in earnings between 2004–2006. He was released from state prison on February 21, 2013, but was immediately taken into federal custody for the tax case, for which he had less than six months remaining on his sentence. Ja Rule was held in Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center and was set to be released on July 28, 2013. Ja Rule was released from prison early on May 7, 2013.
Before signing with Interscope Records, rapper 50 Cent engaged in a well-publicized feud with Ja Rule and his label Murder Inc. Records. 50 Cent claimed that the feud began in 1999 after Ja Rule spotted him with a man who robbed him of his jewelry and also because of Ja Rule "trying to be Tupac". However, Ja Rule claimed the conflict stemmed from a video shoot in Queens because 50 Cent did not like Ja Rule "getting so much love" from the neighborhood. A confrontation occurred in a New York studio where rapper Black Child, a Murder Inc. artist, stabbed 50 Cent, causing a wound requiring three stitches.
In his book, 50 Cent details how Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff tried to resolve the conflict between him and Ja Rule. Allegedly, McGriff asked 50 Cent to leave them alone because of the money involved. 50 Cent insinuated the conflict had something to do with the shooting where he was ambushed and shot.
Since then, Black Child and other Inc rappers such as Cadillac Tah publicly insulted 50 Cent with "There's a Snitch in the Club" by Cadillac Tah, and "You the Wanksta" by Black Child. In both songs, Black Child details violent actions directed toward 50 Cent. The exchange of insult tracks released from both parties culminated in Ja Rule's Blood in My Eye, which was an album that returned additional insults to 50 Cent. Because of the ongoing feud between the two, 50 Cent's labelmates Eminem, Dr. Dre, Obie Trice, D12, DMX, and Busta Rhymes also became involved and released tracks which insulted Ja Rule.
Ja Rule later released R.U.L.E. which included the successful single "New York", featuring Jadakiss and Fat Joe, in which Ja Rule obliquely attacked 50 Cent. This single prompted 50 Cent to enter a feud with the two featured artists, reflected in his response, "Piggy Bank".
Although it seemed that the feud was over, Ja Rule returned with a track entitled "21 Gunz". In response, Lloyd Banks and 50 Cent released the track "Return of Ja Fool" on Lloyd Banks' mixtape Mo Money in the Bank Pt. 4, Gang Green Season Starts Now. 50 Cent claimed in 2010 that Ja Rule's beef with him and Shady/Aftermath ruined Ja's career saying, "We just ripped the nigga apart and he hasn't and can't come back from it."
In an interview with MTV, Ja Rule stated, in reference to his album, The Mirror:
There was a lot of things I wanted to say, and I didn't want there to be any bitter records on the album. Because I'm not bitter about anything that happened [in the past few years].
In May 2011, it was confirmed that both Ja Rule and 50 Cent ended the feud. Ja Rule said, "I'm cool. We ain't beefing no more. We'll never collaborate. That's just what it is. You don't have to be at war with somebody, but it's also kind of like U.S. and another country that they may not get along with. We don't gotta go to war, but we're not friends either. But we can coincide inside of a world. He's doing him, and he's not thinking about me, and I'm doing me and I'm not thinking about him."
In September 2013, in an interview with Angie Martinez on The Angie Martinez show on HOT 97, both Rule and Gotti acknowledged 50 Cent not only took a toll on Ja Rule's prominence, but along with the federal indictment, damaged Murder, Inc., as a music label. They told Martinez their immediate reaction on hearing 50 Cent's single, In Da Club, on the radio was that it was "so dope" and that they had a problem with it. They also disclosed that they had been blackballed from various award shows where 50 Cent was to perform due to their feud. Notwithstanding seeing 50 Cent as a hustler, they liked his entrepreneurial mentality, 10 years on, no longer had a problem with him. Ja Rule indicated he had plans to write a book surrounding the whole experience.
The conflict started after 50 Cent signed to Shady Records and Aftermath in 2002. Ja Rule and Irv Gotti expressed dissatisfaction with Eminem and Dr. Dre for signing an artist with whom they were in conflict and threatened to take action against them if they released any 50 Cent tracks deprecatory of Murder, Inc.
The conflict escalated when Ja Rule released "Loose Change" attacking 50 Cent, Eminem and Dr. Dre. The song also includes lyrics that insulted Eminem's family (most notably his then 7-year-old daughter Hailie Jade) and acquaintances. In response, Eminem, D12 and Obie Trice released the deprecatory track "Hailie's Revenge (Doe Rae Mi)" featuring vocals from Eminem's daughter. Subsequent tracks from both sides ensued, escalating the conflict.
Busta Rhymes joined the conflict when he was featured on the track "Hail Mary 2003" with Eminem and 50 Cent. The song, which is a remake of Tupac Shakur's song "Hail Mary", was done partially as a response to Ja Rule's remake of Tupac's song, "Pain" (re-titled "So Much Pain"). The rappers felt Ja Rule could not compare to Tupac, and so they made the track, mocking him for trying to "imitate" the deceased rap icon. Eminem prevented Ja Rule from appearing on any of the "new" Tupac songs he produced, including those on Loyal to the Game.
In October 2002, rapper Foxy Brown dismissed reports of recording a track with rivals Nas and Ja Rule that was "potentially" deprecatory of Jay-Z. During a Thanksgiving week in 2002, while on Doug Banks In the Morning, Ja Rule stated that he "[couldn't] stand Foxy Brown." Brown reportedly heard Ja Rule's comments via a radio while she was helping her mother clean her house. Going against her manager's wishes, during her own interview with Doug Banks, Brown informed Banks that she was "flabbergasted" by Rule's comments. Brown explained she was particularly angry at Rule's response, having never met him.
The incident provoked Brown to record the unreleased, "Get Off Me". In the record, Brown targeted Ja Rule and Eve with homophobic remarks. In 2005, Ja Rule and his two bodyguards were initial suspects in the killing of Willie "Willie Bang Bang" Clark, whom authorities linked as a "revenge" that stemmed back to a robbery case involving Foxy Brown's brother.
In January 2003, while co-hosting 106 & Park: Prime, singer Lil' Mo sent a shout-out to 50 Cent, just seconds after she premiered a Ja Rule video. Ja Rule and the Murda, Inc., clique were outraged. In response, Ja Rule released "Loose Change," a track deprecatory of Eminem, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Chris Lighty and Lil' Mo. Rule rechristened Mo a "bitch", and credited himself with causing her popularity. In May 2003, Mo released a freestyle track attacking Ja Rule, where she rapped, "Used to be my homie, used to be my ace, now I can't stand you, yeah I wanna slap the taste out your mouth."
In April 2003, Lil' Mo sparked additional controversy, complaining of receiving neither recognition nor payment for her contributions to Rule's records "I Cry" and "Put It on Me". Mo told MTV News, "Those two records ["I Cry", "Put It on Me"] ruled 2001. The whole world knows that [...] If I speak the truth, I can't apologize. I helped that brother sell 3 million records, and I don't have a plaque [for Rule 3:36]." By way of contrast, she highlighted Jay-Z's having given her recognition, a plaque, a thank you card and a bottle of Cristal for her work on his "Parking Lot Pimpin'". In 2005, Lil' Mo filed a lawsuit against Ja Rule, Murda Inc. and Def Jam Records for over $15 million. In 2010, the two reconciled. Lil' Mo stated that she ended the dispute as Ja Rule's career was in decline and noted that "life is too short [...] You just never know what people are going through." In 2011, the two reunited and recorded a track together titled, "U & Me".
DMX and Jay-Z guest-starred on the single "It's Murda" from Ja Rule's first album. By this time, the antagonism between Ja Rule and Busta Rhymes, Dr. Dre, Eminem and 50 Cent had subsided. DMX accused Ja Rule of copying DMX's signature "gruff style". DMX said that he wanted the dispute to end when he was released from jail in 2005: "Gotti came to me in jail and said I want to make peace with you and him. I was like, 'All right, Gotti, let's do it.'" DMX and Ja Rule finally ended their feud at VH1's 2009 Hip Hop Honors.