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.
You have a wife, three kids. How are they dealing with you having to leave them for so long?
They’ve been dealing with it for three years. So they were prepared that the outcome could be this or that. They weren’t completely shocked. You know what’s fucked up? Hip-hop kinda grooms our generation for this. Weezy going to jail and T.I. going to jail. Gucci. For my kids, it was kinda like, “Okay, daddy is getting locked up.” I think it will hit them harder when I go in.
You also have these other charges with taxes hanging over your head. What is it like knowing that, in addition to this 18 months for the gun, you may have to do more time for taxes?
You don’t even know. It’s all working in my mind: How the fuck did it come to all this crazy shit? But it’s life. That situation is being dealt with. The government just wants their money. I owe them a couple of dollars. I’m not really sure how that’s gonna work out. I really can’t talk about it. We still have to go in front of the judge. The criminal charges are not really tax evasion. It’s failure to file on one of my companies. So it’s not really as serious as everybody thinks it is.
There’s an iconic cover of XXL from 1998 featuring you, Jay-Z and DMX—with whom you recently reconciled after years of quarreling. Murder Inc., the supergroup. Do you ever wish that you three could have pulled off recording an album together?
That would have been a great project. I think we was all bringing something different to the table, and we could have given hip-hop something special. When you try to put something like that together, you’re dealing with egos and a lot of outsiders putting the bug in people’s ear… That’s what got the best of the situation, a lot of egos. Not me per se, because I was kinda new and just coming up. But X and Jay, they had exploded on the scene by that time, and it was a lot of egos in the way…
Really, to tell you the truth, I’m putting it in a nice way, but they didn’t fuck with each other at all. X and Jay didn’t fuck with each other at all. It was hard getting them in a room together.
We’ll never see you and 50 Cent sit down together. Does it bother you that your career—at least up to this point—is not just synonymous with hit records, but with one of the biggest beefs ever?
I don’t think it’s gonna define my career or my legacy. Not at all. It’s such a minimal thing to me. People may look at it and say this went on or that went on. But as time goes by, and I keep developing as a man and as a artist, keep bringing the people quality content, quality music, I think those things will lay dormant. You gotta think about old beefs from back in the days. There were big beefs back then, like Snoop and Luke. Those were big beefs to us back in the day, but now it’s like you don’t even remember Snoop and Luke had beef.
Yeah, people don’t even think about Snoop beefing with Luke. They don’t even ask Puff about the Bad Boy/Death Row feud anymore. But people are still fascinated about 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule. Why do you think that is?
It’s funny, because I think people are fascinated with the whole wave of what happened. The biting of my style. The fact that he shitted on me. Everybody turned on me, and he came right back and did the same style I’m doing. The whole aura of it. From the fight, the whole gamut of the beef, people are intrigued with. I can dig it. It’s definitely one of hip-hop’s biggest beefs. I laugh about it. I was part of it. I’m so past it now, though. Real talk—this is the last time I’m ever talking about this shit ever again. You my nigga, Sha, but I’m not gonna stop you. Anybody else, I would say, “I don’t wanna talk about that nigga.” He’s not important in my life… He’s not relevant. If I’m not relevant, neither is he right now. He hasn’t put out anything hot, either.
There are just a handful of artists that were popping 10 years ago that are still making noise in the game right now. Some names, such as Jay, Fabolous, Lil Wayne, come to mind. What do you think it takes to have that type of longevity in the game?
I think the artists that you named, we all have those two qualities I speak of: creativity and passion. That’s what keeps people coming back. People are so passionate about Ja Rule. It’s funny, because sometimes people don’t see hate as a passion. You can’t hate somebody and not be passionate about it. You don’t know that person; they don’t know you. I’m talking about me. You don’t know me. So for you to hate me, you’re taking time out of your day that doesn’t consume me at all. I’m not thinking about you. I don’t know you. That takes energy and passion. If you tweet me, “Fuck you, nigga, I hate you,” you took time out of your day to send me your personal feelings that I may not even read. Hate is a very passionate thing. People don’t see it as that, but it is.