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Ja Rule – 7 Series Sampler: Pain Is Love

Ja Rule
7 Series Sampler: Pain Is Love
May 20, 2003
Murder Inc. RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
065/100
Ja Rule - 7 Series Sampler
1. Always On Time (feat. Ashanti) // 2.  Down Ass Bitch (feat. Charlie Baltimore) // 3. Never Again // 4. Lost Little Girl // 5. Pain Is Love // 6.  I’m Real [Murder Remix] (feat. Jennifer Lopez) // 7.  Livin’ It Up (feat. Case)

Back in 2003 internet music bootlegging was just starting to become a thing (anyone remember Napster or Limewire?) and so, in an effort to seduce people who would otherwise steal music from the web, Def Jam Recordings came with a radical solution: the EP.

A little more thought was put into it than that, by re-releasing an album without all the filler they could sell it for cheaper and because  it contained mostly the hits no skipping was required by the listener (The first generation of iPods had just come out, so not everyone knew how to make a playlist yet.)

Ja Rule was still a popular artist by then, so he was an obvious candidate, and because Def Jam didn’t want the EP to eat away the sales of Jeffrey’s latest album The Last Temptation they decided to go for the album he had released before that one; Pain Is Love, which had sold millions of copies and had completely fulfilled its chart-potential by then anyway, it was a no pain, no gain thing.

So they trimmed Ja Rule’s Pain Is Love from most of it’s non-singles until only seven tracks were left in such a way they didn’t have to cut Caddilac Tah, Black Child, Boo & Gotti, Jodie Mack, Missy Elliott and 2pac any aditional cheques, added nothing, rearranged them and put the resulting disc in record stores worldwide.

This would seem like some typical record company bullshit, which off course it was. But it just so happens that Pain Is Love had about six tracks on it that could either be considered a good song or a hit single (with about two of them being both). So with that in mind one has to give Def Jam kudo’s for including not only the the radio hits (although the person in charge of compiling this disc would have had to have been pretty fucking stupid to fail to do that right.) but also the best non-single, the existentialist mental breakdown that is Never Again.

It has to be said though that may have been a fortunate accident in selection, because this EP also contains the two very worst songs of the original album.

Nobody ever wanted to hear Jeffrey do social commentary, even those that did buy his self-absorbed sensitive thug persona (and all of his albums) back in the early naughties, so what the hell is Lost Little Girl doing here?
Pain Is Love‘s faux-philosophical pity me, martyr-lyrics and a typically unfortunately brassy hook and glossy beat go a long way in showing why these days Ja Rule is mostly a punchline.

As for the hits; Always on Time is still classic pop-thug/ R&B genius, Livin’ It Up is still jiggy, wide-eyed dancefloor fun, I’m Real [Remix] still has Jenny from da Block coming off as real a Barbie doll and it still has Jeffrey coming across as a jackass hollering at sluts with a bottle of K-Y, but I’m pretty sure that said sluts still like this song, so that’s a thing. And Down Ass Bitch still has some singing on it so bad it makes you wish they used autotune as freely back then, as they do now.

Also it would’ve been very sympathetic if Def Jam would’ve included the hit version of Ja’s Put It On Me featuring Lil’ Mo off the soundtrack to the Fast and the Furious, considering there is no Ja album, studio or compilation, that has the version that anyone gives a shit about on it.

Still this is probably the most Jeffrey any casual listener will ever need, so if you absolutely must have a legal hard copy of Always On Time this is the way to go.

Best tracks
Always on Time
Livin’ It Up
Never Again

Recommendations
Since you can probably pick this up for the price of a second hand single, because this probably has the least shitty songs of any of his abums, bar his debut Venni Vetti Vecci, and because this has arguably the two best songs of his career you can pick this up. Just don’t expect miracles from a Ja Rule album.

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Ja Rule – Pain Is Love

Ja Rule
Pain Is Love
October 2, 2001
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
060/100
Ja Rule - Pain Is Love

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. (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 VecciIrv 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.

Best tracks
Always On Time, Livin´ It Up, Never Again

Recommendations
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.


Ja Rule – Venni Vetti Vecci

Ja Rule
Venni Vetti Vecci
June 1, 1999
Murder Inc. RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
070/100

1. The March [Prelude] // 2. We Here Now (feat. Black Child) // 3. World’s Most Dangerous (feat. Nemesis) // 4. Let’s Ride //5. Holla Holla //6. Kill ‘Em All (feat. Jay-Z) // 7. I Hate Nigguz [Skit] // 8.Nigguz Theme (feat. Black Child & Case) // 9. Suicide Freestyle (feat. Case) //10. Story To Tell //11.Chris Black [Skit] //12. Count On Your Nigga //13. It’s Murda (feat. DMX & Jay-Z) // 14. E-Dub & Ja (feat. Eric Sermon) // 15. 187 Baptiss Church [Skit] // 16. Murda 4 Life (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 17. Daddy’s Little Baby (feat. Ronald Isley) // 18. Race Against Time // 19. Only Begotten Son // 20. The Murderers (feat. Black Child & Tah Murder)

Nowadays Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins is considered by the general population as a total joke. Unlike his post 2Pac & Biggie contemporaries Jay-Z and DMX he isn’t ever brought up when the best rapper debate comes up, and his considerable string of big hits is considered too campy to ever become vintage. Perhaps the best indicator of his relevance today: his best viewed youtube video’s come mostly with a long ass string of comments about how 50 Cent trainwrecked Ja’s career, which is a bad thing, especially considering that nobody actually gives a fuck about mr. Cent himself in most other contexts anymore. In the years between 1999 and 2004 however Ja Rule was a bona fide superstar, releasing an album each year going platinum each and every time and hitting the charts more often with a smash hit single than you can shake a stick at. You don’t get that many people to hate you unless you get some serious exposure in the media, such is the way of the world people.

The way young Jeffrey got exposure in the first place was by aligning himself with producer Irv Gotti, who was instrumental in bringing both the previously mentioned DMX and Jay-Z to the general public. In 1998 Ja got his lucky break, being featured on the Gotti-produced Jay-Z hit single Can I Get a… When Irv got his on boutique label Murder Inc records, as a reward for his money making for Def jam during the previous couple of years, and needed a flagship artist to properly launch it with, the gravelly voiced whippersnapper was an obvious choice. And so the album Venni Vetti Vecci was born and released in the summer of ’99. The album was a commercial succes, selling a million copies in a month and a million more by 2002.

Critically however  Venni Vetti Vecci and Ja Rule himself were panned by everybody. It was said that Ja didn’t have a style of his own and was merely emulating the late 2Pac and his comrades DMX and Jay-Z with his gruff delivery and his nihilistic lyrics about thugs and life and thug life, his religious imagery (just take a look at that album cover) and his tales of existentialist fear and pimping (as well as other illicit manners of gathering currency).

While it is true that Jeffrey Atkins is not, was not and never will be a man of great original ideas, and does sound like a less lyrically gifted X a bit on his debut (they sound different enough for Ja not to be a biter in this reviewer’s expert opinion, but it’s easy to see where the comparison comes from.), he does outdo X here by giving the audiences a better debut album. The reason for that being possible is that X was handicapped by a serious case of the Swizz Beatz on his debut, while Ja’s beats are mostly provided by the capable hands of his label boss Irv Gotti, and a bunch of Murder Inc records lieutenants who all bring the heat here, and, unlike Swizz, are able to resist the urge of recording themselves jumping up and down on a Casio keyboard and passing those recordings off as beats. And with Ja being a competent, if unimaginative, MC the results are a very acceptable variation of the hard core New York sound of the late ‘90s. Those hiphop heads who are sceptical about the possibility of Ja having recorded a decently credible, high quality, album that doesn’t border on self-parody because of the mental image of him booty bumping with Jennifer Lopez in the video of one of their collabos, should keep in mind that the man hadn’t yet begun his transformation into his generation’s thugg’d-out Barry White.

Highlights include: the smash hit Holla Holla, where Ja rides the bubbling beat with a perfectly appropriate pogo-stick flow, creating a solid party jam for the ages, the speedy, high octane Let’s Ride, the ominous It’s Murda where our host gets ripped a new asshole twice by respectively the previously mentioned DMX and Jay-Z. The stupidly titled but catchy-as-fuck, organ infused Murda 4 Life, featuring the Roc-a-Fella Records’ second in command Memphis Bleek (a sparring parter Jeffrey can actually handle) the Isley Bother’s sampling and featuring Daddy’s Little Baby, which is a pretty genuine declaration of love aimed at his daughter, and Only Begotten Son which is a pretty genuine declaration of war aimed at his absentee father. (It is only on these latter two tracks that the 2Pac comparison starts to make sense.) But the rest of the album doesn’t lag far behind in quality.

If you, like most heads of my generation, are nostalgic for the ‘90s sound, but habitually won’t touch a Ja Rule album with a ten foot pole because of the glittery R&B songs, by all means give Venni Vetti Vecci a chance, there’s no Ashanti or J-Lo in sight. And chances are pretty fat you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. All the skits are ass (are they ever not?), the guest appearances by Ja’s Murder Inc labelmates Caddilac Tah and Black Child seriously detract from several otherwise good tracks, and you won’t find any relavations, insights or high quality poetry on here, but you will find something raw to bump in the ride and at the house party, plus your purchase of this album will help Jeffrey pay for his legal aid, so he may be able shorten the time in prison he is currently doing for not paying his taxes.

Best Tracks:
Holla Holla, It’s Murda, Murda 4 Life, Daddy’s Little Baby, Only Begotten Son

Recommendations:
Buy this album.