Interview: Ja Rule, Author Of 'Unruly: The Highs And Lows Of Becoming A Man' Ahead of a new memoir, the rapper talks "real world" parenting, systemic racism, rhyming along to Mary J. Blige and being a celebrity in prison.
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Ja Rule: 'I Took It Upon Myself To Become A Man'

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Ja Rule: 'I Took It Upon Myself To Become A Man'

Ja Rule: 'I Took It Upon Myself To Become A Man'

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

If you're just tuning in, it is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath

RATH: Jeffrey Atkins was raised by a single mother as a Jehovah's Witness. But he dropped out of high school and became another young drug dealer on the streets of Hollis Queens, in a landscape of poverty, crime and violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORY TO TELL")

JA RULE: Listen up I got a story to tell. On the streets we got guns and drugs for sale. 'Cause you hos know the game that we play is real. Keep your mind on the money and your weapons concealed.

RATH: Before his teens were out he'd become Ja Rule. His first solo album sold almost 200,000 copies in the first week alone. From there came one platinum record after another.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MESMERIZE")

JA RULE: (Singing) Girl your stare, those eyes I

ASHANTI: (Singing) Love it when you look at me baby.

RATH: But as VH1 has taught us, what goes up in the world of pop music often comes crashing down. Ja's image was marred by violence, a gun conviction, a trip to prison and the public feud with rapper 50 Cent that culminated in a bizarre TV interview with Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MINISTER LOUIS FARRAKHAN: You said, I don't like 50 and 50 said I don't like Ja. So here's a battle now but it's going from words to the gun and that we have to stop.

RATH: It's all laid out in Ja Rule's new memoir called "Unruly." I started by asking him about why he kept up that beef with 50 Cent for so long.

JA RULE: You got to understand where we come from, you know the hood is kind - it's kind of crazy. But nobody wants to see you do better than them and as long as you are all in the same barrel and nobody's climbing out that barrel, doing better than the other, it's all good. But once one makes it out and is doing better than the other, it becomes an issue, it becomes a problem. You know, and that's just how we're bred in the ghettos of America. We're bred not to love one another, we - I don't know why, you know, maybe it goes as far back as slavery days, you know, where the light-skinned black was pit against the dark skinned black. And you know, things of that nature where we just taught to hate. I think it has a lot to do with the makeup of who we are as black people and also our living conditions. People just don't want to see other people doing better than them. But a lot of these feuds and a lot of these things come from that. It derives from a hatred, it derives from a jealousy, you know, a real dark place. And sometimes it subconscious, you know, you don't even know you're doing it sometimes. People think they giving constructive criticism when they're really just, you know, hatin on a person because they have more than them.

RATH: I want to talk to about violence which has been a theme in your life and in your work. There's a story - incident you describe in the book. You're with your father. When he's still in the picture and you're at a restaurant.

JA RULE: Yeah. Actually he was still home living with us at the time. And we went out, leisurely day and we end up at this pizza spot right here on Parsons in Jamaica and the pizza comes. And there was another guy in the pizza store and he reached over my pizza to get like the garlic or, you know, the oregano or whatever it was and my father asked him, what are you doing reaching over my son's food like that? And the dude said something that my father didn't like, like oh man it is what it is, you know, whatever. And my father commenced to whopping his [bleep]. And I guess, you know, that was an early sign for me that was how you deal with situations. If a person is doing something that you disagree with, this is how you deal with it - violence. Then that person will act in the way that you need him to act. You know, that's just how my father dealt with problems. And I think that became my way of resolving problems as well.

RATH: Do you think that's worked for you?

JA RULE: I would say in the immediate act of it, yes it works but the long-term, no. You know because it creates more problems.

RATH: You are a father yourself now, what lesson would you give your children about...

JA RULE: You know, I try to teach them a little better than that. I try to teach them, you know, that there are different ways to handle your problems. But I also teach them that don't be weak either. If there's a problem and somebody puts their hands on you, you better defend yourself. You better do what you got to do. They're very different from me and I have to give myself a little bit of credit and my wife a little bit of credit for kind of steering them in the right direction in that way. But they also didn't grow up like me. You know, you grow up in the hood and you got to kind of be tough. You're going to get into situations where you're going to have to defend yourself. And that's just what it is, you know, so they didn't grow up like me, so some of those same rules don't apply to them.

RATH: Looking over a lot of your music and I know this is a question I'm sure you've had people put this to you before. There's violence, there's crime, there's a way that women are talked about. At the same time though you're obviously - you're an intelligent man, a thoughtful man and you're a proud father and husband. Do you worry about what that gets across to people, like your own kids?

JA RULE: You know, I think at the end of the day people have to kind of learn how to draw the line between what's real and what's entertainment. If I did the nightly news and I tell you about all of the horror stories that go on throughout the country daily. Well, I'm just the messenger.

RATH: At the same time though - just to push back on it a little bit, it's not just your music though. You have very prominently, you know, you've had these feuds, you've had incidents involving violence both with people, you know, you're associates. So there's more to it there.

JA RULE: I mean, that's real life, that's a person living their life as well. You know, it's unfortunate that I live my life under a microscope. So like if you go out to a bar and get into a bar fight, it may not be news tomorrow. But if Ja Rule goes to a bar and gets into a bar fight, it's news. But as I've grown to know, you know, there are ways to get around certain things. You know, maybe I shouldn't have been in that type of bar. Maybe I shouldn't have been in this type of area, where these things are more prominent to happen. You know, those things you learn as you grow older as you grow up. That's a very tough thing for a young man at 20, 22 or 23- years-old. Even at 30, 35 or 40-years-old, it's a - it's just a tough thing to have to go through. And I don't think a lot of people understand it. In some people’s eyes I'm not just a normal person, but in my eyes I'm human like everybody else. I make my mistakes, I have my faults, you know, I have my vices. You may have made mistakes in your life and, you know, been able to grow from them and learn from them but you didn't have to do it in the eyes of the people and which made it a growing process that was kind of under the table versus out in public view. You know and that's the difference of being a celebrity and having to grow in front of the world watching, you know.

RATH: That the musician and writer, Ja Rule. His new memoir called "Unruly" is out on Tuesday. Ja Thanks, it's been a pleasure speaking with you.

JA RULE: Thanks a lot man.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUT IT ON ME")

JA RULE: (Singing) Where would I be without my baby? The thought alone might break me. And I don't want to go crazy.

RATH: And for Sunday that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West, I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast; look for weekends and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. I'm going be away from the show for July but I'll be staying on weekends on NPR. I'll be filling in for Rachel Martin on Weekend Edition Sunday. But back here in August. Kelly McEvers will be here next Sunday - next Saturday. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week.

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