Ja Rule

R.U.L.E. (Def Jam/The Inc. Records)

The former Jeffrey Atkins has a well-documented chip on his shoulder. Although he's made his bones on the pop charts and has already gone Hollywood in flicks such as The Fast and the Furious, he longs to be recognized as a thug-life exemplar à la 50 Cent, one of many rappers who treat him like a punchline. To date, only Tupac Shakur has convincingly pulled off this hip-hop trifecta, and on Ja Rule's latest disc, his gamble fails to pay off again.

R.U.L.E. vacillates between the chest-thumping found throughout "Last of the Mohicans" and the sort of self-pity that reaches its apex on the concluding "Passion." (The latter tune begins with the puke-inducing line "Nobody loves me" and goes downhill from there.) "What's My Name," meanwhile, is a typical display of originality; it references Juvenile's "Back That Ass Up" and OutKast's "Hey Ya" in the first verse alone.

The Ruler would be better off sticking with his forte: setting his gruff vocalese against the sweeter tones of R&B chanteuses, as he does on "Wonderful," a current hit co-starring frequent partner Ashanti. Also on hand is R. Kelly, the only other performer on the current scene with a persecution complex as well-developed as Ja Rule's. Obviously, martyrs love company.

 
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