To get where he is at, Ja Rule has suffered many false starts, disappointing even his biggest fans. There was a time when every move Ja Rule made was tracked, the way it is now for Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. In a matter of months, his years of dominance were over. Ja Rule faced one of the biggest backlashes ever and worked hard to win fans back over, with only mixed reviews.
It was when Ja Rule stopped caring that things came together for him. Following the disappointment of his planned 2007 comeback and the subsequent delays in 2008 and 2009, Ja Rule had much to prove. With his back against the wall, Ja Rule tuned the world out and made things happen for himself. Working without Murder Inc., Ja secured his own distribution deal and began recording PIL 2 (Pain is Love).
While the album is named after his highly-successful 2001 album, Ja Rule has clearly changed over the past eleven years. Eight years since the retail release of his last studio album, Ja Rule is back as if he never missed a step, creating music no one would expect from him. The album starts off with “Fuck Fame,” a futuristic instrumental, which samples a bit of the intro of the original Pain is Love and then the album drops into the emotional “Real Life Fantasy.” For the first time in his career, Ja Rule appears to finally have the 50 Cent feud behind him, taking time to reflect on his lead single, “Real Life Fantasy.”
The industry has gone through many changes and Murder Inc.’s run at the top is the last thing on the mind of fans who follow the movements of Young Money and Maybach Music. Ja Rule reflects on his part in the Murder Inc. run, a dream of his come true, and then the downfall, his nightmare. On PIL 2, Ja Rule is displaying a new, futuristic, style, but Ja Rule is not Ja Rule without having a female R&B sidekick. As he prepares the third act of his career, Ja Rule has a new songstress riding with him in the form of Leah Siegal, but their style is much different than his styles with Lil’ Mo and Ashanti.
Ja Rule shines on “Parachute,” as he displays a bit of lyrical prowess and the typical Ja Rule emotion bleeds through the spacy track. It is a sharp change in what many would expect from Ja Rule, yet he does not come off as trying too hard, as he did on the previous tracks intended for his comeback album. With many ready to put a fork in him, some critics considering Ja Rule a retired rapper who now commentates on the industry, much like how NBA players do, Ja Rule showed them there is much life left in him, even though he is not as young as he used to be.
Five tracks into PIL 2, Ja Rule is still delivering solid content and the album enters the rock-influenced “Superstar” track, one of the gems of the album. On the track, Ja Rule explains the ups-and-downs of superstardom. In a game where originality is praised, Ja Rule delivers enough of this on “Superstar.” If anyone knows about the ups-and-downs of superstardom, it should be Ja Rule. There are many changes in Ja Rule’s style, as previously stated, but his strong references of religion remain the same, as he often calls on God on the “Superstar” track.
Another standout track of Pain is Love 2 is “Black Vodka,” a remnant of his Murder Inc. days. The song is obviously aimed at the radio, with a smooth summer melody. When the song was leaked to the internet, a few weeks ago, “Black Vodka” sent the internet buzzing, as it was met with positive reviews on nearly every hip hop website. Even the sites known for making light of Ja Rule, even his legal situations, had to give credit where it was due, when it came to “Black Vodka.” R&B remains a heavy influence for Ja Rule’s music, as the “Drown” track includes an R&B beat and is laced with auto-tune, of circa 2008-2009 fame.
Those who have doubted Ja Rule over the past few years will be stuck eating their words, after hearing PIL 2. Ja Rule owns up to the own part he played in his past demise and is now focused on the future. But, throughout the album, the only question is exactly what the future holds for Ja Rule. The lingering criticism against Ja Rule has been his near-obsession in proving he is “tougher” than 50 Cent and his frequent mentions of their beef. While not addressing the feud directly, Ja Rule is still inspired by it, as it played the most-pivotal part of his downfall.
It is easy to forget how talented Ja Rule is, when you look at all he faced, with the Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit feud. But, with all of those crews barely relevant and mostly past the feud, the timing was right for a Ja Rule comeback. On “Never Had Time,” Ja Rule proves he can continue to make the love songs for the ladies, but he can do so in a different manner. The biggest difference between PIL 2 and the previous Ja Rule albums is the lack of Irv Gotti production. Ja Rule recruited a number of new producers and has music, which sounds nothing like the current music out.
At a time when hip hop is transitioning, with artists of all different styles finding success, and with Ja Rule having nothing to lose, the timing was right for him to come out with something different. Unlike his last albums, and his attempted last albums, Ja Rule was also facing the end of his freedom. As he did when he addressed the feuds, Ja Rule owns up to his prison sentence, blaming himself and admitting regret, as he will miss two years of his life, as his children are getting older. Strangely enough, Ja Rule delivers his comeback opus, as he is sitting behind bars. But, being in prison has not stopped his music from being good.
Years ago, the stage was set for an epic Ja Rule comeback. Most-likely, if he had released his comeback album in 2007, or 2009, for that matter, the hip hop world would have embraced him with open arms. However, as both albums were shelved and 2010 was filled with promises of a new album, yet no new album, fans simply grew angry. Fortunately for Rule, there is nothing the world loves better than a good comeback. Many artists have delivered solid comeback albums, but only a few have actually been down for the count and was doubted by everyone. Eminem is praised for his comeback, but he chose to leave, Ja Rule was virtually forced.
Having worked with 7 Aurelius for years, Ja Rule had the luxury of completing an entire album with his complete production. Many of the biggest Ja Rule hits came on beats produced by 7 Aurelius, there should be no question why his latest album is filled with hit records. A decade after the bottom fell out and the hip hop world shunned Ja Rule, he finally delivered an album in which the listener hears him overcoming all of the adversity, track-by-track. Early in the year, hip hop fans do not expect to hear anything better than “good” albums being dropped, as the premier artists wait until the end of the year to release albums.
With Ja Rule being stuck on square one for so long, in many ways he was a new artist on PIL 2. Regardless of who Ja Rule is, how long it has been since he released an album, and who he feuded with, he has come back with the best album of the time. Lyrically, Ja Rule has stepped his game up. From a talent standpoint, Ja Rule has proved he is a certified hitmaker. Even before his feud with 50 Cent became public, fans were beginning to tune out from Rule, deeming him one-dimensional. It was a style, which worked for Ja Rule, but he has proven he has many different styles on this new album and he completely side-stepped the “gangsta” persona, he once adopted.
On PIL 2 (Pain is Love), Ja Rule has proven he deserves a spot in the conversation when discussing talented hip hop artists. Most importantly, Ja Rule has made himself relevant once again. However, the album sales will likely not reflect the gem in which this album is. Easily, Pain is Love 2 is the best album of Ja Rule’s discography and is the best album of 2012, so far.
Hip Hop Vibe’s Rating: 9/10