What do you do when the game's hottest rapper is your enemy? When the Feds want to put you out of business? If you're Irv Gotti and Ja Rule you sit down with XXL and hope that the people are still listening.

Words: Elliott Wilson
Photos: Clay Patrick McBride

It’s been a hectic year for Irving “Irv Gotti” Lorenzo and Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins. At the beginning of the new century, Gotti’s Def Jam-distributed company, Murder Inc., rose to prominence on the strength of consecutive triple-platinum Ja Rule albums and the launch of double-platinum R&B rookie, Ashanti. Lately, though, things have gotten real complicated. Foremost on everybody’s mind is the conflict between Ja and the newest rap phenomenon (the Don Dada) 50 Cent. The two have already exchanged real-life knuckle sandwiches twice (Late 1999, in Atlanta. Early 2000, at New York’s Hit Factory studios). The beef first went public back in 1999, when 50 released “Your Life’s On The Line,” with its taunting refrain, “Murder/I don’t believe you.” Last year, when Eminem and Dr. Dre signed 50 to their team, lines were drawn. Played out through mixtapes, radio stations and publications (XXL included), the ill feelings have only escalated. With blood thirsty rap-world hype at an all-time high, the tension doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon.

Unfortunately for Murder Inc., 50, Em and Dre aren’t the only ones calling them out. The FBI itself is all up in their business due to Irv Gotti’s relationship with ’80s drug kingpin Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff. Did McGriff (who was recently jailed on a weapons charge) provide the seed money for the birth of Murder Inc.? Or, as 50 Cent has claimed, has McGriff been extorting the label from its beginnings? Or is Irv just helping his old Jamaica, Queens friend make an honest living in the entertainment business? Shortly after the release of Ja’s controversial new video “Murder Reigns”(which recreated the Feds’ sweep of their offices) the Inc. were kindly asked to vacate the 825 Worldwide Plaza premises that house Def Jam Records. An article in a recent Rolling Stone magazine raises the possibility of a connection between McGriff, Murder Inc. and the 2002 slaying of 50 Cent’s mentor, Jam Master Jay. While no formal charges have been filed, the government was still investigating at press time.

In the court of public opinion, the verdict seems to be already in. Murder Inc.’s appeal has vastly diminished in a short time. The self-proclaimed “World’s Most Talented Label” has become the most criticized. From BET brats hating on the Inc.’s videos, to the anti-Ashanti petition that circulated around the Internet, to DMX’s claims that Ja bit his style, to Nas’ abrupt about-face after a one-song-long pledge of allegiance, it seems like everybody in the rap community is putting their eggs in a different basket.

Now with passion and venom, Irv Gotti and Ja Rule tell their side of the story. In two separate, exclusive sit-downs, the Murder Inc. main men discuss their friends and enemies, their triumphs and troubles. Ain’t no off-the-record shit here. Just real talk. Gotti held court at an LA studio, where he’s finishing up tracks for Mya’s upcoming album, while Ja sat at the new Murder Inc. offices in the Rotten Apple.

Speaking, for the most part, in restrained vocal tones but prone to volatile outbursts, they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—as they see it. Are they full of shit? Can they still make hits? Have a read and then decide.