Ja Rule enjoys the process of collaboration
By Steve Jones
After collaborations with Jennifer Lopez, Ashanti, Mary J. Blige and more, Ja Rule seemingly has started a new format at radio: "All Ja, all the time." So given a choice of virtually any duet partner in the musical universe, who did the rapper pick for his latest hit, "Thug Lovin?'"
Ja Rule was watching the 1996 film "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate" and was inspired by a scene in which the troubled '80s hitmaker dances to Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet." Ja Rule revised the lyrics, enlisted Brown and the song was born.
"I've known Bob for a long time, so it was a natural thing," says Ja Rule (Jeffrey Atkins), 26. "He was in the movie just wilding out, and I said, 'That's who I need right there to be on this joint with me.' "
Ja Rule first earned street respect three years ago for such hard-core street anthems as "Holla Holla." But songs such as "I'm Real" and "Ain't It Funny" with Lopez and "Always on Time" with Ashanti pushed him to greater heights.
That success has drawn criticism from hip-hop fans and colleagues who accuse him of going soft.
"When you reach a certain level," he says, "a lot of people start taking stabs at you. You find a lot of artists who start putting downward pressure on you. I just keep making hit records. You've got to make the people who go out and buy records happy."
But if he sticks to a vow to retire from rapping soon, there will be some unhappy record buyers out there, including those in Hawai'i who have pushed his new CD onto the local charts.
After his just-released album, "The Last Temptation," he's contractually obligated for one more album. Then he wants to devote his energies to movies.
He attracted attention in Vin Diesel's 2001 smash "The Fast & the Furious" and teamed with Steven Seagal in "Half Past Dead," which opened last weekend and made $8.2 million, ranking fifth.
"I'm really trying to get into the acting thing strong," says Ja Rule, who says he's writing scripts and may team with Diesel on a future project. "I'm looking to get out of the music business and go and do films. I feel I need to branch out and do different things."
He is not worried about taking a lead role right away. He turned down such an opportunity in the sequel to "The Fast & the Furious" once he found out that neither Diesel nor director Rob Cohen would be back.
Musically, his R&B-flavored songs have enabled him to expand his fan base beyond his original core of rap fans. At a recent BET tribute to Wonder, he was the only rapper at the star-studded musical extravaganza. His performance of "Livin' It Up," which sampled Wonder's "Do I Do," got one of the most enthusiastic responses of the night.
"It was a blessing to be a part of that whole thing, because it shows my versatility and that I can get on stage with whomever," he says. "You are supposed to be able to mix and match in music. It's hard for a lot of rappers, but I've found a way to really mesh with a lot of different artists and a lot of different sounds."