EXCLUSIVE: Ja Rule explains why he's ready to move on from music after his next album

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By: Gibson Johns

Ja Rule is almost ready to put his music career to rest. The iconic rapper revealed earlier this year that his next album, Coup de Grâce -- which literally means "final blow" -- will be his last.

Though his musical output has slowed over the last decade or so, the Queens native's announcement still came as a shock to the hip-hop community. After all, this is a man who had scored three No. 1 records and five other Top 10 singles on the Hot 100, in addition to two No. 1 albums. His collaborations with Ashanti ("Mesmerize," "Always On Time") and J.Lo (the Murder Remixes of "I'm Real" and "Ain't It Funny"), which mixed his signature rasp with their smooth vocals, are bonafide classics.

So, what gives? Is Ja Rule really about to ride off into the sunset at the age of 40 and call it quits? Not quite.

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When I caught up with Ja Rule exclusively on the set of his commercial for Foot Locker's annual Week of Greatness campaign, he was clear to point out that his career itself is nowhere near being done -- he's just channeling his creative energy in directions other than music. Once he realized that other artists had taken his spot as radio's go-to rapper, Ja Rule made a major realization that changed how he thought about himself and the potential of his career.

Similarly to Jay-Z and Diddy, instead of simply making music, Ja Rule wants to "push the culture [of hip-hop] forward" in ways that go beyond just beats and rhymes: He wants to invent and invest and "change the world." That, he says, is how you solidify your legacy.

In his spot for Foot Locker, Ja Rule references "sustained greatness" and says that "one minute you're on top of the world, and the next it's all gone." And, though he's hit a few bumps in the road, Ja Rule is making his way back to the top of the world. He should know -- he's already been there.

I talked to Ja Rule in between takes of his commercial shoot to talk about his nearly two-decade career, his eighth and final album, his Week of Greatness campaign, and what he has planned outside of music in the future.

Check out the premiere of Ja Rule's Foot Locker commercial and my full conversation with Ja Rule below:

See photos of Ja Rule throughout his career:

47 PHOTOS
Ja Rule through the years
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Ja Rule through the years
Ja Rule during 'Shaft' - New York Premiere Party at Centro Fly at Ziegfeld Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Ja RULE (Photo by Andrew Lepley/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2000: Photo of Ja RULE (Photo by Christina Radish/Redferns)
Ja Rule during The 6th Annual Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Ja Rule during BET Celebrates Its New Harlem Theaters And Fall 2000 Season at Apollo Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Photo of Ja RULE; On his mobile phone (Photo by David Corio/Redferns)
Ja Rule (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Carmen Electra and Ja Rule backstage during MTV's Spring Break 2001 in Cancun, Mexico, which airs March 23-25. 3/14/01 Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect.***Exclusive***
Ja Rule during The Fast And The Furious Premiere at Mann Village Theater in Westwood, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Ja Rule during 2001 MTV Video Music Awards - Show Rehearsal at The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Ja Rule during 2001 MTV Video Music Awards - Arrivals at The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
Jennifer Lopez & Ja Rule (Photo by Kevin Kane/WireImage)
Gwen Stefani and Ja Rule during Super Bowl XXXVI - CBS's Friday Night Super Bowl Bash - Backstage at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Ja Rule arrives at the 29th Annual American Music Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles Wednesdsay, January 9, 2002. Photo by Frank Micelotta/ABC/ImageDirect
Ja Rule (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Ja Rule & Ashanti during World Music Awards 2002 - Ja Rule & Ashanti Press Conference at Hotel de Paris in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Tony Barson/WireImage)
Backstage At Party In The Park, Hyde Park, London, Britain - 07 Jul 2002, Ja Rule (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
Ja Rule at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
NEW YORK - APRIL 8: Music stars Ashanti poses with Ja Rule at the 2004 'Do Something' Brick Awards on April 8, 2004 at the Metropolitan Pavillion, in New York City. (Photo by Scott Eells/Getty Images)
Aisha Atkins and Ja Rule during The Day After Tomorrow New York Premiere - Arrivals at American Museum of Natural History in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK - JULY 1: Rapper Ja Rule leaves the Criminal Courthouse after being released on bail after getting arrested early this morning in possession of marijuana and driving on a suspended license on July 1, 2004 in New York City. (Photo Thos Robinson/Getty Images)
Ja Rule, Ashanti and Irv Gotti during 40/40 Club Celebrates One Year Anniversary at 40/40 Club in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Carley Margolis/FilmMagic)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 23: Ashanti is flanked by Ja Rule and Kenny Chesny before their concert at Crobar, on W. 28th St. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 09: Rapper Ja Rule attends the Launch of Patricia Field for the House of Rocawear party during Olympus Fashion Week February 9, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images)
Ja Rule with son and Paris Hilton during Celebrities Attend Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks Game - February 9, 2005 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
Ja Rule during Olympus Fashion Week Fall 2005 - Sweetface by Jennifer Lopez and Andy Hilfiger - After Party at Ruby Falls in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic)
SYDNEY, NSW - MARCH 3: Rapper Ja Rule performs on stage at the inaugural MTV Australia Video Music Awards at Luna Park on March 3, 2005 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, NSW - MARCH 3: Rappers Nitty and Ja Rule on stage at the inaugural MTV Australia Video Music Awards at Luna Park on March 3, 2005 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, NSW - MARCH 03: Ja Rule arrives at the after party for the inaugural MTV Australia Video Music Awards at Luna Park on March 3, 2005 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 11 : Ja Rule attends the Market America Leadership Conference at the American Airlines Arena on February 11, 2006 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Ralph Notaro/Getty Images)
Ja Rule during 6th Annual BMI Urban Awards - Arrivals at Roseland Ballroom in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Robin Platzer/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23: Ja Rule and Ashanti on stage at the 2009 VH1 Hip Hop Honors at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on September 23, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Ja Rule on location for his Father Forgive Me video shoot at the Unite Presbyterian Church on October 14, 2009 in Ridgewood, New York. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
(L-R) Ja Rule and Mike Keyser attend Bottles And Strikes at Chelsea Piers on October 6, 2010 in New York City.
Ja Rule films on location for 'Goat' on the streets of Garfield on October 19, 2010 in Garfield City, New Jersey.
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 23: Ja Rule performs on stage during the Summerbeatz Music Festival at the Burswood Entertainment Complex on November 23, 2010 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Matt Jelonek/Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - JUNE 04: Jennifer Lopez and Ja Rule perform onstage during her first ever hometown concert to launch State Farm Neighborhood Sessions on June 4, 2014 in Bronx, New York. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: JA Rule Performs at the Def Jam Recordings 30th Anniversary Concert Barclays Center of Brooklyn on October 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mychal Watts/WireImage)
CULVER CITY, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Recording artist Ja Rule (R) and wife Aisha Atkins attend the 2015 Baby2Baby Gala presented by MarulaOil & Kayne Capital Advisors Foundation honoring Kerry Washington at 3LABS on November 14, 2015 in Culver City, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Porsha Williams and Ja Rule -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 18: Ja Rule attends the 2015 WEEN Awards at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on November 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 21: Recording artist Ja Rule attends the after party for 'JENNIFER LOPEZ: ALL I HAVE' and the grand opening of Mr. Chow at Caesars Palace on January 21, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - MARCH 08: Rapper Ja Rule attends the 12th Annual Desert Smash Benefitting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital presented by Tequila Herradura on March 8, 2016 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tequila Herradura)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 14: Rapper Ja Rule attends the Sports Illustrated & KIZZANG Bracket Challenge Party at Slate on March 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 09: Rapper Ja Rule performs in concert at Buckhead Theatre on September 9, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - OCTOBER 14: JaRule performs at 2016 REVOLT Music Conference - Apple Yacht Party at Eden Roc Hotel on October 14, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for Revolt Music Conference)
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You're on a break from filming your commercial for Foot Locker in which you sort of poke fun at yourself. What did you think of the spot's concept when they first approached you about it?

When it came to the idea, I went over the script and thought it was brilliant. People are scared to tackle and touch these kinds of commercials sometimes, because it's poking fun of yourself. But if you can't make fun of yourself then what's the point? I really enjoyed the script and said I would definitely be part of it.

The commercial is promoting Foot Locker's Week of Greatness, an annual shopping initiative. What does the Week of Greatness mean to you?

My take on it is that it's about being great and sustaining greatness over a long period of time, which is very tough to do. In this business you go through ups and downs, heartaches and whatever, but it's all about -- as they say in football when you're a running back -- you've got to keep your feet moving. So, when those roadblocks come, it's up to you as an individual to have tunnel vision and see past them and know how to navigate through them to get to that goal. For me, as an artist, that's been my challenge throughout my career: How do I reinvent myself, while keeping the greatness that I had when I started?

When I got the spot, I said, "This is perfect, because I have a lot of great things going on now, and this would be a perfect time to poke fun at my career."

And Foot Locker is known for these kind of light-hearted, self-referential commercials. It must be fun to be part of that legacy.

Absolutely. I'm doing this slot with these other two greats, [Tom Brady and Carmelo Anthony], as well. It's all fun.

You mentioned the ups and downs of your career, which have all been leading to your next album, which you've said is going to be your last. What's the status on that project?

I'm working on it, but I'm not in a rush. It's so funny: I invented something, and I want to do my whole album with my new invention to show the world how great this invention actually is. I'll have my invention in February, so I'm probably going to start start working on the album around then. I've got about three or four songs that I've done already.

The album is called Coup de Grâce. Anybody that knows me knows that I like having titles that are a little different, from Venni Vetti Vecci to Coup de Grâce. I think it's a full circle for me. The meaning of Coup de Grâce is "final blow," and this is my last album. Venni Vetti Vecci was "he came, he saw, he conquered," so that was kind of like my intro. That's the full circle.

Definitely, and that circle started in 1999 and into the early 2000s when you had this incredible string of hits from "Mesmerize" and "Always On Time" with Ashanti to the Murder Remixes of "I'm Real" and "Ain't It Funny" with Jennifer Lopez, as well as "Put It On Me," among others. What are some moments that really stick out to you from that time in your career?

You know, everyone always asks me that question, and I always tell them, you know, I forget some of the things I've done between the beginning and now. And I'm talking about the things that people think you could never forget: The accolades, which album or singles went No. 1. I forget that stuff! It's cool, because it shows that those things are not the most important to me. The most important thing about what I do as an artist, for me, is the creativity of it all. It's being able to take something that sparked in my brain and put it out into the world and seeing that fans share the same happiness that I did when I thought of it.

For them to also have a feeling, now, of nostalgia when they hear these records and for the songs to bring them back to a time when they were younger and having a good time, that's what it's all about. That's why we do what we do. For me, it's all about the journey: That's what you never forget.

You'll never forget those times when it was five of us sleeping in a hotel room with two beds and all of us in the studio that was no bigger than the front of this bus and rhyming over a microphone with a stocking over it. Those are things I never forget, because that's the journey. It's that hard work that makes it all worth it.

Me and [DMX] talk about this a lot: Artists came up behind us and didn't really have to go through that struggle with us -- though they probably went through their own struggles -- but when they got with us and our team, and we had already gone through our struggles and our things, it kind of felt like smooth sailing for other artists. They got their own rooms and five-star treatment straight out the gate. Again, I'm sure they had their own struggles that I just didn't get to witness. We all have our stories.

You've talked about that creative output continuing, but not necessarily in the direction of music. Why do you think your creative focus has shifted so much towards endeavors outside of music?

I'm more into creating things that are gonna further my legacy. I can't make records forever and be looked upon as one of the greatest artists in the game. People look at Jay and Diddy and they look at the contributions they've made to hip-hop: It's not just about the actual songs and the music -- which was also great -- but it's also about the contributions they've made to hip-hop that have continued to push the culture forward. I think those things are very important.

I'm in the midst of creating and bringing other exciting things to the world and to the culture, so that's fun for me now. I'm forty years old, and I enjoy sitting with a team of guys who are very smart and putting together different things that I feel are going to change the world.

It must be nice to have that option to go in whatever direction you choose. You've already built and sustained the platform, so now you have a choice of what to do with it at this point in your career.

It's cool. It doesn't hurt to be able to have that luxury to be able to go and do other things while still being able to feed your family. That was the one thing that made me say, "I want to do other things besides music."

This whole commercial is about exactly that: Sustaining greatness. Music is subjective: You don't have to like Ja Rule, you don't have to like Jay-Z, you don't have to like Beyonce. You do like them, but you don't have to. And when you think about tech or Instagram or Twitter, everybody uses them and they like them because they aren't things that you judge. They're useful to you so you use them. That intrigued me more, you know?

It's like the commercial says: One day you're on top of the world, and the next [Snaps fingers] just like that people are like, "Well, I don't like Ja Rule anymore!" You're like, "What the f-ck did I do?" I decided at that moment -- when that happened to me and people were not in favor of Ja Rule just because some a--hole says to not like me anymore -- I said, "You know what? As much as I love music, I can't base my livelihood and how I feed my family and my children on a business that is so subjective." So, I set out to do a couple of other things and invested in a few companies. I understand that this can't last forever.

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