It was his distinctive, raspy rhymes that pulled rapper Ja Rule out of the rough streets of Hollis, Queens. But as he also tells me to this week’s “Renaissance Man,” it was also the love of some extraordinary women.
The first was his daughter Brittany, who was born in 1995. At that time, Ja had one foot in the music world and the other in the bad decisions he had made.
“After I had my daughter, everything hit me at once,” he said. “I caught a gun case and a drug case back then… and it was like a wake-up call. It was like, you know, ‘What are you really going to do? What are you doing with your life right now?’”
He gave himself 100% to the music, the rest was history – especially his work with female singers. He produced two big hits with J.Lo, “I’m Real” and “Ain’t It Funny”.
And Ashanti: “We have so many great records together. It’s not just a one off thing with me and we got like five hits together. … this is something special.”
Then there is Mary J Blige.
“‘Rainy Dayz’ is one of my favorite records I’ve ever written,” says Ja Rule. “And I love Mary. Mary is one of my favorite soulful singers of my time. You know what I mean?”
Ja credits the “yin-yang” of the songs for success with this trio of superstars.
“My voice is raspy…so when you combine it with the melodious voices of the ladies, it has a good blend,” he said.
Ja also credits the giants of Hollis with inspiring him to music: Run-DMC. “These guys have had so much impact on my career, my life, everything, you know,” he said. “It was a beautiful thing, a blessing to me as a little kid, a little kid, not just to see that part of success, you know, street success, but to have these young brothers, young black brothers, do something very positive, but also had the swag and coolness, you know, to make me want to go down that path too.”
Now at the top of his game, Ja returns. He has sponsored a number of black artist NFTs and donates the proceeds to five historically black colleges and universities.
“For me, that’s one of the most important things. You know, if we succeed as young Black men, we have to pass it on to the young Black men and women who come after us,” he said. “And so that I can do that . . . it was stupid. Education is one of the key components to our success in our community.
“We can have the money, but if we’re uneducated, the money will go by quickly,” he said. “And I want our black kids to be proud to go to these HBCU. So you know, I know the donations have been tremendous for me. That’s the spark. This is the beginning of.”
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five that shook up the college hoop world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before blossoming into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for NBA Countdown and Get Up and co-hosts Jalen & Jacoby. He was executive producer of The Fab Five for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, author of the bestselling book Got To Give the People What They Want, a fashion tastemaker, and co-founder of Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter public school in his Hometown.