What has stopped you from putting out albums the past seven years?
It was a series of things. I feel, first and foremost, I didn’t have a home. Murder Inc., when the federal shit came down on us, we were tossed out of the building.
It took us a while to get next to another company that wanted to fund us.
You guys were frozen out?
Yeah, we were frozen out. It was a tough period for me, too. People I thought that I could lean on wasn’t there for me. But it was to be understood. This is the music industry. People really aren’t your friends in the music business. When you’re hot, “Nigga, yo, holla at me!” It’s funny. I learned something real crazy from Madonna. She said, “If you can’t be used in this business, you’re useless.” That’s the realest thing. Take being used and use it to your advantage.
How have you been making money with no album in seven years?
We good. I got a lot of different avenues I explore. Royalties, shows. I do a shitload of shows. Films. I still get my money. I used to tell Gotti my main goal is to become a big star. I said, “Once I become a big star, you can always make money. Somebody is always going to want you for something.” I tour all year long. Close to 100 [shows a year]… I’m gigging for the next two weeks. Paris, Belgium, Dakar! I come over here, people have tattoos that say “Pain Is Love” on their body. That’s not just making a hit record. I did something else in their lives that, I don’t know, touched them in a special way… It’s crazy. They appreciate the music. They’re not wrapped up in the bullshit, the antics. They appreciate the art. When I’m overseas, they address me as “the icon, the legend.” My body of work says that for them. When I’m over here in the States, people are like, “Fuck Ja Rule. Bum-ass nigga!” [Laughs]
And yet here you are, 2 a.m.—at a time when a lot of people on their way to jail would be home with their family—in the studio, recording to make this deadline.
This bugs me out every day I think about it. I should be fucked up, mad, sad, whatever you want to say about me going to prison. But my mind is thinking
about the people. Every day. There’s not a day that goes by that I haven’t thought to myself, I can’t go in without leaving the people something. I had to think to myself, look at myself like, What the fuck is wrong with you? I haven’t gotten nothing outta the people for the past five years. They’ve been giving me their middle finger. And in my heart and my soul, all I can think about is, I can’t go to jail without leaving the people something. I wanna sit in that cell for these 16 or 18 months and know I gave them quality music.
When this issue of XXL hits the newsstands, you’ll be in jail. That doesn’t even sound right to say. How does a 35-year-old rap artist get sent to prison?
I [wish I] could explain it in depth. I’m not allowed to, because I already pleaded guilty to the charge. Anything outside of me saying, “My gun, my car,” they may possibly wanna pull my plea off the table. So, you know, it is what it is. Gun laws are not as harsh in other cities or other states. New York is pretty strict on that shit. I didn’t think it was that serious. I’m a fuckin’ rapper. Even if it was my gun, I don’t think I have malicious intent. I’m not gonna rob a 7-11, not in my Maybach. Obviously, it’s for my own safety, my own protection—if that was the case. Not saying anything. Guns are not cool. Kids shouldn’t tote guns. Even in my hood, the gun violence is crazy. But a person in a position [such as mine] is not looking to go pop homie on the corner. So, of course, I think the punishment is a little harsh.