EXCLUSIVE: Ja Rule explains why he's ready to move on from music after his next album
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.
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:
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.
More from AOL.com:
Kristen Doute talks season 5 of 'Vanderpump Rules': 'This is definitely my favorite season'
Anthony Anderson talks about how Julia Child inspired his love for cooking
Bill Rancic talks about writing his first novel, his marriage with Giuliana and the advice he got from Donald Trump