For millennials like me, Ja Rule was no doubt one of the most entertaining, hit-making rappers of the early 2000s. For a large chunk of his career, he mastered the recipe of making catchy mainstream singles that some of his rap counterparts could only dream of.
So in celebration of his 40th birthday today (Feb. 29), as well as the announcement of his purported final solo album Coup De Grace, I decided to rank the Queens-bred artist’s best collaborations since his 1999 debut into the music game. While it was a fairly tough list to make (trust me, as a Bronx native it was painful to cut his 2004 “New York” single with Fat Joe and Jadakiss), it just goes to show how timeless—yes, give him his deserved credit, please—Ja Rule’s music truly is.
Kicking off this list is a song that immediately brings me back to fun-filled summer BBQs in the city. Fun fact: “Down 4 U” is actually a remix sequel to Rule’s "Down Ass Bitch" collaboration with Charli Baltimore that was released just two months prior. An underrated Murder INC. charmer, the song has beach vibes written all over it—from Ashanti’s lilting vocals to Vita’s rugged rhymes. Also, the cameos from then-couple Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston in the official video make it all the more historic. Oh, a peak position at No. 6 on the Hot 100 didn’t hurt either.
The Charli Baltimore-assisted “Down Ass Bitch,” off the rapper’s third studio album Pain Is Love, represented the true definition of a ride-or-die relationship way before Beyonce and Jay Z came around. Listening to this smooth downtempo track a few times will make you feel better about playing wifey to a no-good thug.
What do you get when you combine a legendary R&B singer with two of the biggest urban acts of the mid-2000s? The answer is “Wonderful,” the lead single off Ja Rule’s sixth studio album R.U.L.E. (which was also his last project on a major label thus far) that also featured R. Kelly and music right-hand woman Ashanti. Naturally, all three artists had yet another Top 10 in their back pocket.
When you sample a classic R&B jam that was loved by black mothers everywhere in a single, you can’t go wrong! This is why “Livin’ It Up” became one of Ja Rule’s many Top 10 smashes. Featuring Case, who sung the Stevie Wonder “Do I Do” sample in the chorus, the sparkling tune had feel-good vibes written all over it. Trust me, spin this at a club and people will instantly start grooving.
Yes, we know—“Can I Get A…” is technically Jay Z’s single. But it deserves a place on this list as it was the first time that many of us was introduced to Ja Rule. His brief but immediately memorable featured verse towards the end of the tune—which was on the Rush Hour soundtrack—is filled with unapologetically raw and explicit lyrics that you wouldn’t dare recite around family members! “Can I Get A…" went on to become one of Jay Z’s most successful singles, giving Ja Rule his initial taste of mainstream triumph.
Before Ashanti dominated her Ja Rule features, it was a curly-haired Christina Milian who snagged a collaboration with the Queens rapper. The then-rising singer’s cheeky yet sweet hook on Rule 3:36’s “Between Me and You” was a perfect foil to Rule’s eyebrow-raising lyrics about his sexual escapades. Again, don’t play this one at family get-togethers!
Back in your high school days (and my elementary days—don’t judge!), Ashanti and Ja Rule were the ultimate R&B/Rap pairing. Every collaboration the Murder INC. label mates rolled out had zero issue attaining chart success. Take “Mesmerize” for example, which peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and No 2. on the UK Singles. Despite its raunchy lyrics, the song is undeniably catchy due to its melodic production and relatable themes of young, risky love.
This next tune is in my top three list, not only because it marks Rule’s first top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (it peaked at No. 8), but because it brings me back to blissful childhood days when R&B music completely dominated the mainstream scene—a feat that is hard to reach nowadays. What made “Put It On Me” so damn great is that the rapper had no problem with pouring his heart out on a track, even though he was marked as a tough rapper. His gritty vocals go head-to-head with Lil’ Mo’s soulful compassion, which makes for a vulnerable rap track that has yet to find its expiration date.
“R-U-L-E!” was the chant you exclaimed as soon as this iconic song dropped in the club, your uncle’s backyard party, the school lunchroom, the hair salon…you name it! The remix to Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real” is the epitome of peak greatness of R&B in the early 2000s. The charts didn’t lie, either: the remix managed to sit at the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 for five non-consecutive weeks in a row. The contrast between Rule’s thuggish appeal with Lopez’s saccharine sweetheart vibes was on point and a moment in pop history that was unforgettable. And can we just take a moment to appreciate J. Lo’s bubblegum-pink velour sweatsuit? She is still the only person alive who could pull that off!
Yep, you knew this one was coming! It would be a sin for the forever-catchy, starry-eyed “Always On Time” not to top a Ja Rule list. The song introduced us to a then-unknown Ashanti, who released her debut self-titled album almost seven months later. It was a hit of course, and a chart-topper that became Rule’s second No. 1 single and Ashanti’s first. Not bad for a young girl from Long Island who was just stepping her feet into the music game! “Always On Time” is still an undefeated song that will get the party jumping every time.