Ja Rule performs at The Shrine Auditorium on September 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Harmony Gerber/Getty Images
Get ready for a whole lot more Ja Rule.
The Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist, who served a 28-month prison sentence for tax evasion beginning in 2011, is making up for time out of the public eye with a new MTV series, a double album — and a tour and film project with Ashanti.
“There comes a time when we’ve all got to grow up. For me that was prison,” Ja Rule tells Billboard. “I realized the things I had worked so hard for were slipping away. I had a lot of time to reflect on the things I was doing to contribute to the problems I was having. You can make excuses all day but at the end of the day you have to take a look at the person in the mirror.”
That person is now head of a household that includes his wife Aisha, their three kids, Rule’s mother and his mother-in-law. Rule says his teenage children know little of “daddy’s earlier wild lifestyle.” Snappy-titled reality series Follow the Rules, which is produced by Queen Latifah and debuts on MTV on Oct. 26 at 10 p.m., will focus instead on home life. It’s the latest in a string of shows starring rappers-gone-domestic that includes Snoop Dogg, Coolio and DMX.
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How does Rule expect his longtime fans to react? “You can’t be mad at a man for raising his kids and taking care of his family. There’s something wrong with you if you have a problem with that.”
He also has no delusions about his return to the music scene with what now looks like a double album. “I’ve been in the music business for a long time… so it’s tough for me to just come out with the excitement of a new artist. My new music is not new to anybody. People look at me and say, ‘He’s old.’ That’s the crazy thing about hip-hop. The genre is still so young that at 39 I’m one of the elder statesmen. It is what it is. I enjoy it, I take it and wear it very well.”
The new music, in the works for more than a year, is more therapy than anything else. “What I realized when I was away is I may go crazy if I don’t make music. It’s very therapeutic for me. So even if I never put out another record ever, I have to make it to keep myself sane. But I am going to put out this double album. With some records you listen and say, ‘That brings me right back’ and some records you say, ‘Hmmm… that’s different but I like it.’ This is a few records on one album.”
He’s shopping a label deal, though says commercial success is not priority one. “I just want to put it out and let fans enjoy it, but my partners and friends and advisers are like, ‘No Ja. We need the machine a little bit.’ But I don’t really care at this point. I just want to connect with my fans.”
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His connections are poised to cross other media boundaries. “Me and Ashanti are about to go on a big world tour… and we’re putting together a music and film project with our whole Natural Born Killers tour and EP. It’s kind-of like a Streets is Watching type of film,” says Rule, referring to Jay Z’s self-styled 1998 film. “So yeah, we’re doing something kind of cool and fun. It’s been a long time in the making.”
Rule says the plot is a cross between Barbra Streisand-starring A Star Is Born and Oliver Stone’s 1994 serial killer tirade Natural Born Killers. “It’s fictional. It has a musical feel to it, and it also has a street edge. It’s going to be fun and sexy,” says Rule, who ‘s working both on camera (he had a small role in the original The Fast and the Furious) and behind the scenes.
So how does a family guy square domesticity with the Natural Born Killers film and tour banner? “I know it’s a bad time to call ourselves Natural Born Killers with all the shit going on and all the murders… but fuck it,” Rule says with a signature grin. “We’re doing it anyway. It’s entertainment. We don’t want to kill anybody.”