1. Pain Is Love [Skit] // 2. Dial M for Murder // 3. Livin’ It Up (feat. Case) // 4. The INC. (feat. Caddilac Tah, Black Child & Ashanti) // 5. Always On Time (feat. Ashanti) // 6. Down Ass Bitch (feat. Charlie Baltimore) // 7. Never Again // 8. Worldwide Gangsta (feat. Caddilac Tah, Black Child, Boo & Gotti) // 9. Leo [Skit] // 10. I’m Real [Murder Remix] (feat. Jennifer Lopez) // 11. Smokin’ & Ridin’ (feat. Jodie Mack & 0-1) // 12. X (feat. Missy Elliot & Tweet) // 13. Big Remo [Skit] // 14. Lost Little Girl // 15. So Much Pain (feat. 2Pac) // 16. Pain Is Love
Ja Rule’s debut wasn’t so much good or promising as it was well-produced. His sophomore album sucked so much forcing people to listen to it could be a decent alternative to waterboarding. The Murderers album was even worse and the Fast and the Furious soundtrack was pretty goddamn underwhelming. Despite these minor quality complaints each and every one of them got gold to multi-platinum sales, thereby granting Jeffrey Atkins the chance to record a third solo album and also in the process giving Murder Inc. a large stack of plaques to hang onto the Crackhouse (the Murder Inc. recording studios) walls. It also lead to Ja becoming hottest MC in the game whose gravelly falsetto popped up on every second song on the radio, not limited to hiphop songs. Ja was pretty much 2001’s equivalent to Lil’ Wayne.
In the mean time the Murder Inc. sound, in a rather succesful attempt to become relevant evolved from something aching to DMX and his Ruff Ryders posse (Venni Vetti Vecci, Irv Gotti Presents… the Murderers) to an album that was split in the middle between that sound and something that sounded a lot like Sisqó with a severe laryngitis (Rule 3:36) to Pain Is Love.
Pain continues the evolution set in motion by songs like Between Me and You and Put It On Me and this album, like 3:36 is certainly made with both the streets and the pop charts in mind. The difference this time around however is that the line between the songs for the gangstas and the songs for the hoes is blurred. This is mostly due to new Inc. associate 7Aurelius, who co-produced most of Pain Is Love with label boss Irv Gotti and finally brought an identifiable production sound to the Murder Inc. label and Ja Rule the rapper, effectively making Ja his own man, owing little to DMX.
The flipside to this mostly positive development is that instead of being the DMX-clone he had been percieved as when his debut came out, he became a gangsta posturing 2001 approximation of Barry White, who even though he couldn’t rob an old lady if he were backed by the whole US army, nevertheless included horribly a blasphemous word-for-word cover of an obscure 2pac song about ghetto hardship on his album with one verse by the Thug Life inventor himself thrown in for good measure. Not the best idea, that. This, as well as similarities between Jeffrey and Tupac, both vocally and appearance-wise, coincidental or not, would make the man a fish in a barrel when that 50 Cent character Ja had beef with would someday rise to prominence. But no-one could see that shit coming in 2001. And for a year or two Ja was the king of crossover thugs, sipping bubbly and rocking minks and Burberry hats like it was going out of fashion. (It was.)
Although lyrically he hadn’t evolved jack shit since his debut the new song-format and new producer, as well as the signing of R&B singer Ashanti, do give Ja the ability to pull some new tricks. Always on Time may be R&B to the point that it makes one wonder how Pain is Love ever ended up in the Hiphop department of your record store, but it is R&B par excellence and this tale of rugged romance is even well enough performed Jeffrey, whose gruff voice clashes wonderfully with 7’s sultry instrumental, that it is wholly derserving of its monster hit status. Ashanti’s syren call-esque hook is just icing on the cake. Her significance becomes clear when Ja gets to belt out his own hook, such as on the horrible pseudo futuristically produced, half-assed attempt at social commentary Lost Little Girl.
Another highlight is the Stevie Wonder sampling Livin’ It Up. This track was originally supposed to have appeared on 3:36 but Stevie wouldn’t clear the sample unless Murder Inc. would clear it of all its profanity, which they couldn’t do before the deadline. They decided to put the new, squeaky clean version on Pain is Love in stead. Although this censorship renders the song’s lyrics gibberish one would say that Jeffrey was never about lyrics and this in no way takes away from its effectiveness as a piece of wide-eyed, bouncy club fluff-fun.
Down Ass Bitch and I’m Real [Murder Remix] are pushing it. The former suffers from anther horrible Ja-the-singing-cookie-monster hook and a general Always on Time-redux sound. The latter has a Ja, who may or may not have had a couple too many Bacardi Breezers, get all cuddly, lovey-dovey with J-Lo, who makes everything even more awkward by dropping the N-word, even though she’s about as Afro-American as George W. Bush. The song works as a time travelling machine to the barely pre-9/11 time of this album’s release, but not so much as an actual song. X, featuring Missy Elliott who proves once again she sounds fine dueting anyone over any sort of beat, has that same cotton candy sound. But rightfully so, since the song is about the drug Ecstasy.
7Aurelius’ talent becomes even more apparent when on the posse cuts The INC., Worldwide Gangstas and Smokin’ and Ridin’ he makes even Jeffrey’s poppers and ecstasy carriers, who are too marginal to name individually, sound not like total shit.
Never Again has 7 and Irv flipping their slight pop sound to something just a little darker and Jeffrey even spits some not-entirely-inane lyrics on his experience of several existential problems, so that’s nice. It’s easily the best non-single off here.
Listening to Pain Is Love today one can easily see why it was such a hit with pop audiences worldwide. With a couple of unstoppable party singles, some even guiltier pleasures and a lot of rather bearable, inoffensive filler it makes for the perfect music to play in the background of a party. The big surprise is that except for I’m Real it hasn’t even aged as bad as one would think. It also made its creator the perfect stepping stone for Curtis Jackson, when he finally got to release an album, since by 2003 hiphop was getting pretty sick of him. Oh well.
Always On Time, Livin´ It Up, Never Again
You could go either way with this one. You could pick this up, but if you do you must make sure there’s no-one in the record store who could recognise you. Also make sure you tell the sales clerk that it’s an ironic gift or that it’s for a 2001-styled hipster theme party, or something. Then again your life will be just as much worth living if you never get to hear Lost Little Girl, so you could leave it wherever you found it without ever looking back, that’s fine too. With three million sold in the USA alone Pain is Love hardly needs your pity.