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.



XXL: Let’s talk about all the hate in the air. Why do you think it seems like everyone has turned against Murder Inc.?
Irv: I think that we’ve been going for four years strong, and the people wanna see someone else do it now. That’s hip-hop. Everyone talks about Ja singing, but yet it’s still [sings Snoop’s hook] “Beautifuuul”—shooting a video in Rio where Ja did. Jay with [singing Jigga’s hook] “Excuse me miss, what’s your name?” And I love the Snoop record, I love Jay’s record. But why is everybody coming down just on Murder Inc. and Ja when the whole game is doing it? Kay Slay, this nigga is the street nigga, right? He drops the album and he got Amerie singing. And I’m not mad at that. I want that very clear, and please in this interview try… You see how I’m coming across? Put it like that, because I’m not mad at any of these niggas.

What’s the message you’re trying to get across with the video for “Murder Reigns?”
That was our last cry for peace. When you look at that video—I kill Ja, all of the shit with the Feds—it’s like we’re a time bomb ticking, and it was our last try to maybe shock people and try to get people to go, “Whoa, we need to stop. Maybe we need to stop before something happens.” It was my last cry for everybody—radio stations, publications, everybody—to try and fall back and put a different spin. Like, “Maybe you guys need to come together.” But it’s almost like they want us to kill each other. It’s almost like they want some violence. It’ll be entertaining to them to see Irv Gotti dead, or Ja Rule or 50 Cent or Eminem. It’s gonna be entertaining to them to watch one of us die.

You can’t blame the media for creating the beef between 50 and Ja.
I think the media helped fuel it. And I think 50 fueled it. Like, I don’t like talking about the 50 shit no more, because it’s like no one’s hearing me. It’s falling on deaf ears, because they want the beef to win so much. They want this problem, so I feel like it’s falling on deaf ears. I hate this drama shit. But you know what? If it is what it is, I’ll deal with it. You understand? But if you ask me if I like it, I hate it. Who the fuck wants to go through this shit? He openly looked at Murder Inc. and said, “They’re doing it, I’m going after them.” In the beginning of this whole 50 and Ja thing, 50 was managed by a good dude, Chaz [a.k.a. Slim], who was a good friend of mine, and a good friend to ’Preme, and a good friend of Ja. This is when 50 began running off at the mouth. We don’t know who this guy is. Slim reaches to dude, “I wanna squash all this shit. I’m with the guy [50], and I’m trying to do things with him.” And I respect Slim, and Slim gets respect in my crew. So Slim tries to put together a meeting with me, Ja, 50 and a whole bunch of dudes—just to squash the beef early on. We met at Slim’s studio right off of Jamaica Ave. Everyone came to the meeting: me, Ja, ’Preme and everyone is at the meeting. And 50 never showed. But you understand, it was a movement towards peace. Now, I wasn’t in Atlanta, but shortly after that meeting didn’t take place, Ja had a show in Atlanta and I think that’s when he seen 50.


You’ve had two altercations with 50. Let’s start from the beginning.
Ja: A promoter put us on the same bill in Atlanta. He didn’t know. I didn’t know either. I’m outside in Atlanta, I had one of them little Louisville slugger bats—like the little ones—around my neck. So they pull up. We have a mutual friend involved. He says, “Yo, Ja, you know he’s sorry about the record [‘Your Life’s On the Line’]. Will you talk to the nigga?” Aight, I’ll talk to the nigga, fuck it. He’s like, “You know the record’s already out there, I can’t pull the record back.” And being who I am, I’m like, You know what, I don’t give a fuck. I don’t like you, ’cause you think you that nigga. You making “How to Rob,” then you make a record about me. I’m like, I don’t like you, nigga. And I don’t think you’re talented. And I’ll fuckin’ crush you. And however you want to do it is whatever. So he fuckin’ snuffed me—boom. So as soon as he snuffed me, I went back, boom.

I pulled the shirt over his head, dropped the bat and started catchin’ him. My man O picked up the bat and started crackin’ him. He had people with him. Not my fault they didn’t jump in. Our mutual friend breaks it up. 50’s chain popped, my chain popped. Our mutual friends was picking up our jewelry. They going inside, so I pick up the little garbage can—with the little sand top that be in front of the hotels—picked up one of those and chased him inside the hotel and threw the shit as the niggas was going inside the elevator. So now the police don’t know nobody but Ja Rule. ’Cause 50’s nobody now. So when the hotel calls the police, of course they callin’ the police on Ja Rule. So I’m like, alright we need to get the fuck outta here.

So we leave the hotel and we go to another hotel before the police can come. We had the show that night, 50 didn’t come. I went and did the show, he never showed up. We leave, go back the next day to New York. Awhile later, I get a call like, “Yo, he’s in the Hit Factory.” I happened to be in the Hit Factory, recording myself. He’s upstairs. My man was on crutches at the time, you know I took one of his crutches. And I said, I’m gonna go up and see the nigga. Open the door. The room was mad small. I got the crutch in my hand, he’s right there. I said, Yeah nigga. I heard you was talking shit about me, right? So then the nigga—word to mother—look like he seen a fuckin’ ghost. The nigga was like, “Yo, let’s talk.” I was like, Talk? I heard you was talking already... Whap! And kept hitting the nigga with the shit. This is real shit. Like, nigga I ain’t hitting you with no phantom stories. So, boom, I cracks him with the shit. We all into the room, we all start getting busy. He really couldn’t get as hurt as much as we wanted to hurt him, you understand, because he was curled up in the corner by the speakers. So we was throwing speakers on him. I’m in there trying to hit him with the crutch. I’m going wild with the crutch. I’m even hitting some of the niggas I’m with with the muthafuckin’ crutch. So he runs down the block bleeding, leaking, to Made Men and Benzino. They’re right up the block at Sony. He goes and takes refuge with them in there. Now, Benzino’s my man. The nigga Benzino said he put 50 in the car and sent him on his way, sent him to the hospital.

You and 50 haven’t crossed paths since?
We’ve been in the same city, same spot, supposed to be in the same places—have not seen him. Grammy Awards, no 50. Number-one album in the country, hottest album, hottest rapper right now in the country, and you’re not at the Grammy awards? Your man’s performing, takes an award, and you’re not there? You don’t come and take your seat, Em? You never sat down at the awards. You stay in the back the whole fuckin’ time. I wasn’t supposed to do nothing but slap you nigga, you should’ve took your seat. It wasn’t gonna be nothing. You can take a slap. If you would’ve went any further, than I would’ve whooped your ass, nigga. But a slap? You can take a slap. I was waiting. Confrontation, nigga—show your face. Talk about it, be about it. And when I get my fuckin’ hands on 50 again, I’ma wear his ass out. Him, Em, Dre, any one of these niggas, I’m gonna wear they ass out on top of the raps.

But you didn’t have a problem with Eminem until he signed 50 Cent. Weren’t you guys cool?
I’ve met him before. It was always like, “What’s up?” I mean, we played pool together one time. It was a while ago, when his first album was out or whatever. Some social shit, never nothing special. But it’s incredible that this kid wants to involve himself. Let me tell you something, I like Eminem. But fuck him, because he’s riding with this dude over here. And you don’t have to, Em. You’re not a tough dude. You’re not from the hood, you’re not from the streets. So now you think you’re a street dude? You think you can fuckin’ talk street shit ’cause of this clown? This dude 50 is not a street dude. He’s peddled drugs on the streets, but he’s not a street dude. You can tell by his fuckin’ code of ethics. He gets in magazines and screams out gangsters’ names. I blame Eminem for really sparking this whole shit up. The whole divide-and-conquer thing. Why not? Why not let these two fuckin’ niggas kill each other? Why not?

Now you sound like Benzino. Why can’t shit just get squashed? All the shit talking…
Where else does it go? This is what I’m saying. When I first made a statement, before I made a statement. Yo, if you don’t have real serious beef with a person, like you want to physically harm me, then leave it alone. Leave it alone, because this is what it’s gonna lead to. I’m reading the other day in the papers: Jay-Z and Nas are two of the most hated New Yorkers. And do you know why it said they were two of the most hated people in New York? Because they beef didn’t lead to anything. At the end of the article it said, “If it was a publicity stunt, lame. If it was real, even lamer.” So even to the common eye, even to an idiot, the war of words leads to something. What happens when you get into a room together? You don’t think there’s gonna be some type of confrontation?



I heard you’re upset about the 50 Cent Rolling Stone article.
That upset me because I love Jam Master Jay. Why would 50, on the cover of Rolling Stone, in his feature article, have a sidebar that implicates me in the murder of Jay, when that couldn’t be further from the truth? Jay is a loved dude. I’m from Hollis, Queens. I don’t want my name near his in association with his death, because I love that guy. I’m from Hollis, this nigga influenced my life. Niggas is running they mouth and saying that I had something to do, or Murder Inc. had something to do, with that. That’s crazy. “Jay never wanted me around Murder Inc. He said leave them guys alone.” Who’s saying that, yo? It’s a dry snitch. And I’ma tell you, this is a guy that lost his mother. This is a guy that got shot. He’s a motherless child. “Fuck the world...” See what I’m saying? The mentality. Look at the songs, his whole image. I don’t give a fuck what the hood thinks, fuck them. Everyone trying to say he’s the new ’Pac. Nah. You not the new ’Pac, dog. ’Cause ’Pac had morals and honor. He was about something. This nigga ain’t about nothing. He’s stirring up bullshit beef. ’Pac was about something. He was about uplifting his people, about doing something for Black people. He was a Black hero. No one is ’Pac. Ja ain’t ’Pac. 50 ain’t ’Pac. Nobody will ever be ’Pac.

Many people believe Ja wants to be 2Pac.
Listen, Ja ain’t never want to be 2Pac. Ja cannot change his physical appearance. The guy doesn’t work out or nothing, yet he’s still cut up. Everybody wears bandanas, it’s a hip-hop thing. We love and respect ’Pac just like everyone else. I’ma openly say: I sampled ’Pac’s music because of my love for the nigga. And when I sample his shit, his mama gets paid. I love ’Pac. I love that nigga with a passion, ’cause his music ran through me. But the nigga wasn’t just about beef, the nigga was deep. That beef shit, that wasn’t what ’Pac was about. He was about Black people. His moms was a Panther. He was about Black people. Listen to his records, man!

What are your feelings on Eminem’s success? Do you subscribe to the Benzino theory that Eminem’s success—as a White person—is bad for hip-hop?
No. I think anytime that somebody is rhyming and sells that many records, it’s good for hip-hop because it exposes it to a wider, broader audience that may not have listened to hip-hop before. But because he sells so many records, there’s a lot of dick-riding of Eminem, in my opinion. I’ma pose a question: I didn’t see 8 Mile in the movies, because it was sold out everywhere. But I seen it when I flew overseas. They was talking “Oscar-worthy.” When I look at 8 Mile, I think it’s Krush Groove. It’s a story of a guy coming up and trying to get on in hip-hop music. That’s what Krush Groove was about. Why didn’t Run get “Oscar-worthy” nominations when he did Krush Groove? But Eminem does? It’s definitely a racist thing. The cracker got it good, because when I hear “Lose Yourself,” it sounds like backpack rap.

You really don’t see dude’s talent? He’s probably the best rapper in the game.
That’s bullshit! I can’t ride with that at all. I mean, he’s clever with his shit, but... Maybe it’s reverse racism that I’m doing right now. Maybe I can’t personally feel him, ’cause I’m a nigga. And the shit that I’m going through is because I’m a nigga. I may go to jail because I’m a nigga and I won’t turn my back on my niggas. So if you want to talk about Eminem, I don’t give a fuck about the little cracker, because he can’t feel my pain. And one word of advice I’ma give him is: Dog, this isn’t ’NSync. When you talking about the Inc., you talking about a lot of niggas that came home from jail, doing 10, 15 years that pledge Murder Inc. This ain’t ’NSync, dog. As I say that—and it’s a very serious thing—I don’t want no problems.


The kids on 106 & Park were hating on your new video. Did that surprise you?
The kids are naive. They don’t really understand. They’re caught up in the whole beef thing. And it’s kinda sad that people don’t give an artist a chance to elevate. As soon as Jay got to a certain point, they’re like, “He’s not like Reasonable Doubt anymore.” When I came out, X had just came out, so I got the whole “He’s trying to be like X” thing. I looked around at what else was going on in the industry. Jay—he’s doing the flossy thing. I can’t come out and be Mr. Flossy. They’re gonna say, “Oh, he’s trying to be Jay.” So I carved my own lane. I go and I made records that I feel were very much needed in the industry at the time. Records that nobody had the balls to make. Realistically. Nobody wanted to step up and talk about a relationship, or how much they could care for their woman or whatever. Nobody wanted to talk about that, because you wouldn’t be a “player” then. So while everybody’s doing the flossy player pimp shit, and everybody’s being too gangster to love their woman, I stood there and took a very daring, risky move and said, “Put It On Me.” And it worked. The women embraced it and the niggas couldn’t front on it.

But even back then people were getting at you for singing so much...
I didn’t care. I felt I was making good records. And not only was I making good records, but you have to look at the content of the records that I made. When you hear me on muthafuckin’ “Ain’t It Funny”—how many rappers do you know that would’ve gotten on a record with Jennifer Lopez—one of the biggest stars in the world—and said, “It must be the ass!” They wouldn’t have did it. A lot of niggas wouldn’t have did it. A lot of niggas wouldn’t have wrote the N-word for Jennifer Lopez to say on fuckin “I’m Real.” Niggas ain’t risk-takers in this game. The industry is full of followers. They curled up under this nigga 50 and rode his nuts. That’s what kills me about the backlash. Muthafuckas wasn’t even man enough—or woman enough, or whatever—to stand up and say, “You know what? I’m tired of Murder Inc. Fuck Ja.” They crawled up under 50 and said, “I’m with him.” There’s no loyalty. You see it all the time: a nigga come up with a nigga and then he leaves the nigga. Look at how long I’ve been with Gotti. That’s what the fuck I’m talking about. You think me and Gotti haven’t had our differences over the years? Yeah, but we real niggas. I love that nigga and he love me and we’ve been together for a conception of this shit. And nigga, we gonna die together with this shit—together.

You and Gotti have made millions together. And your wife’s about to have your third child. Why risk your life over some rap beef?
I mean, it’s life. I see things very different. I see life for what it is. God got a big plan for everybody on this Earth. Mines, I don’t know what it is. But I know he points me in the direction that I need to go. And it’s like, this is the field I have to walk through right now. This is the field of fire. So what. I’ve walked through a whole lot of other paths and I’ve been down this path before. I’m a nigga to the heart. And I’m gonna struggle ’til I die, no matter how much money I got. That’s the struggle of Black people. I got other businesses, I got artists. There’s a lot of other things I could do besides wanting to slap Eminem and punch 50 in the face. There’s a million other things I could do. But that’s not my path, my path is this. I have to walk down this path.


Besides 50 Cent, Murder Inc.’s other big beef is with DMX. What’s the status of that?
I read that interview that he did, and I hate beefing with X. I hate that shit, because whenever I see X, I see myself. I’m a part of X, and X is a part of me. I don’t want to beef with my brother. I think he’s wrong. And this is Gotti speaking that: “You’re wrong.” This isn’t no writer. This isn’t someone who don’t know you. I’ve known you since 1988. I know the dog, and he’s wrong. Would DMX ever make “Put It On Me?” Would DMX make “I’m Real?” Would DMX ever make “Always On Time?” Ja created his own thing. X, what are you talking about? ’Cause this nigga’s voice is deep? God gave him that. I hate beefing with X. I hate it in my fuckin’ stomach. Like, I know his son. I know his wife. His wife is very good friends with my wife and everything. His kids and my kids play, and their daddies are beefing? That’s stupid. Because you think Ja sounds like you? No he doesn’t. And like, if I’m your nigga and I’m sitting here telling you, no he doesn’t—leave it alone. I would say out of respect—for me and our friendship—leave it alone. I hear you, I hear what you’re saying. But it’s not the case.

What happened with Nas?
I don’t want this to come across like any Nas hate. That’s my brother, I got love for him. But I’ma say this: He cried out when he did that thing with Hot 97. He cried out for help and for people to support him. He cried out for being a part of a family. He cried out for it openly, like, “Yeah, Yo—Murder Inc. This is as big as ’Pac joining Tha Row!” All the conversations we had. And then he just… I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know. He just disappeared. We did “The Pledge” joint, and that was it. He just disappeared. It was almost like he got what he got from it, and then just disappeared. He’s a strange guy, but I guess he’s happy with who he is.

Did you have any idea the FBI was coming after you before they raided your offices?
Totally caught me off guard. They came to my house. They came to my brother’s house, my accountant’s house, the office. They went back and raided my office another time or two, it hasn’t been reported. They kept that on the low. There’s nothing there. So I always say to everybody, I’m not doing nothing wrong, and if I was I’d be in jail right now. But I do feel like they gonna put me in jail. I just see they got a hard-on for me, because I won’t denounce my niggas.

Suge went back to jail because of his street-dude associations. Are you saying this is a similar situation?
That’s what I feel partially this is. They probably view me as a legitimate guy, and they don’t want me near what they deem as the so-called “criminal guys.” But these guys is my brothers, and I ain’t never gonna denounce them, never. I’ma ride with them ’til the end. The kind of nigga that I am, if I turned my back on my niggas, I’m gonna fuckin’ wither away.

So the only business you’ve done with Supreme is legitimate?
He tried to make a movie, and I got him a deal with Def Jam for the soundtrack. It was not an illegal thing. See, the thing with ’Preme that people don’t understand is that this guy is a legend. This is a guy from the ’80s that was doing his thing in the ’80s. This guy is a legend. The guy was running the operation. He was a myth to most. You didn’t even know who Supreme was, and he’s this little, green-eyed muthafucka. And you thinking Supreme is gonna be this big 6’6” muthafucka that’ll smack a nigga, and he was just this little nigga. But he put an organization together. He don’t do no illegal shit like that now. They locked him up because he’s trying to do good, and they don’t want someone who they perceive as “got away” from the ’80s, one of the “big ones that got away” and is free. You can’t be legit. A part of the investigation of me is because I hired so many niggas on parole. I probably got like 20, 25 niggas that’s on parole, that fuck with me and they my brothers. I think from a federal standpoint, they may look at it like, “This nigga is assembling an army of criminals.” But I’m not, I’m changing lives.

How’s your family dealing with everything?
My boys called me on the phone, “You want us to beat up the bad guy?” I said, If those ain’t my little niggas... But they know daddy. Anyone who knows me and knows who I am, it’s not even an issue. They don’t even talk about it, they know it’s bullshit. Fuckin’ extortion? Niggas will die before we fuckin’ get extorted. Seed money? Def Jam gave me seed money. I fuckin’ helped them make 250 million dollars. They gave me fuckin’ three million dollars, and they gave me like another six. I make hit records, I make a lot of fuckin’ money. [The Feds] don’t understand that, yeah, ’Preme is my man, and he is just that: my man.

You feel like you’ve gotten everything off your chest?
You know, some of it. Maybe I’m ignorant, but I just feel like the people don’t really care. They don’t really care. They don’t really give a fuck. They don’t really give a fuck about anything except who’s making good music. That and what story is the hot story at the time. It doesn’t matter, though. Nobody cares. In another 40 years, I’ll be sitting on about a hundred million. Once I get that hundred million, niggas may never see me again. Me owning 50 percent on a buyout, it’s a realistic thing. In another four years, I can get a check for a hundred million dollars. Real talk, that’s all that I’m focused on.

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