This morning, many longtime rap fans wondered if they’d somehow woken up in 2005, the height of the dispute between G-Unit, 50 Cent’s record label and rap crew, and Murder Inc., the former label of Fyre Festival co-founder Ja Rule. Of course, it is still 2018, otherwise, how would the continuation of a 20-year-old rap beef be taking place on Twitter, the most public of public spheres?
In fact, it would appear to still be going, at least from one side. Ja’s been taking shots at 50 for years, but his latest rant has lived on beyond his initial early morning tirade. Long after 50 Cent responded and seemingly immediately lost interest, Ja Rule has kept sending digs via his Twitter at his onetime — and apparently, current — rival. “Y’all really think @50cent is tuff??? Lmao this n—-a is trash 1 good album lol” he sniped, hours after the initial tirade that convinced Twitter users they’d accidentally fallen into a time warp.
“And to all you journalist, bloggers, radio personalities DONT BE SCARED TO ASK @50cent why did he get an order of protection,” he continued, “Or did I whoop him out at the studio or did he talk to the feds…” While many fans wondered why Ja is upset, others were left wondering why the guy from Power and the butt of one of Dave Chappelle’s most popular bits were so upset with one another to begin with.
The question highlights just how far hip-hop’s come, to so completely divorce many of its stars’ most humble beginnings (indeed, even their musical successes) from their present-day, respectable personas. But the answer illustrates the truism that money doesn’t change you — it just makes you more of what you already are.
Much of the fan response was directed toward Ja as fans believed that he was salty about having his career “ended” by 50 due to their spat. In truth, the reality is much more complicated than implied by that oversimplification. As Ja pointed out during a 2010 interview with Vibe:
I’m starting to now see people that may have hated on me in the beginning are now rooting for me and want to see me win. That to me is big. The best part about it is I’m humbled by it all. I feel like everybody deserves a second chance to do whatever. Really, I feel that my situation was an unfair situation. A very unique, very odd situation. Nobody ever seen anything like that in hip-hop, you know?
I laugh when I see people say shit like, “Yo, [50 Cent] kilt Rule, but he didn’t kill Ross.” No disrespect to Ross, but he did 180-something [first week sales of Teflon Don]. I went platinum with R.U.L.E. after I made Blood In My Eye. I look at shit like that and… I don’t know, take it how you want to take it. I was a much bigger selling artist than just platinum so I guess that’s why people felt I took a hit. But the music industry was taking a hit at that time, too.
As the Queens-born rapper notes, during the height of the beef between the two prominent New York rap crews, 50 Cent songs like “I Smell Pussy,” “Back Down,” and “Hail Mary” were credited with slowing Ja’s popularity and resonance with rap fans as they elevated 50’s profile in the mainstream. However, that fails to note that rap as a whole was becoming less commercially successful, but more popular, in the mainstream culture — as was the rest of the music industry.
The advent of downloads and pirating had sent the recording business into a tailspin, and Ja Rule was just one victim of the confusion. his post-feud album, R.U.L.E., went platinum, as he said, but to date, his prior albums, Pain Is Love and Rule 3:36, had gone platinum three times each. Also, fans were tiring of his pop-orienting approach by the time The Last Tempation released in 2002, criticizing singles for their sing-song choruses and glitzy production styles just as 50’s grittier Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ was gaining momentum (never mind the fact that 50 spent as much time on the album crafting sing-along hooks and jacking Tupac’s image as Rule had done to that point).
The perfect storm of coincidences — including Murder Inc. getting shuttered due to a federal investigation to the label’s alleged drug ties to the “Supreme Team” organization — combined to convince fans that Ja Rule’s run on top of the game had been erased by 50 Cent’s mid-decade dominance, as opposed to the normal five-year cycle of rap popularity. Unfortunately, Ja Rule was never able to bounce back due to losing access to the label-oriented infrastructure of Murder Inc., and would not be able to tap into the accessible format of streaming for nearly a decade.
To be fair, the same industry tides eventually also washed away 50 Cent’s rap relevance as he experienced diminishing returns on each of his post-Massacre albums himself. By then, of course, 50 had transitioned into films as both an actor and producer and had already had tremendous business success with investments including a partnership with Vitamin Water and ventures into video games, energy drinks, and clothing. Ja Rule’s most significant investment since the mid-’00s involves FEMA tents, a multi-million dollar Instagram advertisement scandal, and the threat of (more) prison time for the already beleaguered one-time rap star.
Facing all that and with 50’s latest movie, Den Of Thieves opening in theaters nationwide after an 11th-hour barrage of promotion that took over television, radio, and the internet within the last week, it’s no wonder Ja Rule has a crab stuck in his craw. Unfortunately for him, taking potshots at his former foe probably won’t resurrect his career or elevate his profile much — except to provide fodder for the latest round of hilarious internet memes and jokes. Whether or not Ja Rule has another decent album in him (and odds are, he probably doesn’t, to judge from late-career efforts from other, similarly-washed ex-rappers), he’d probably be better served to move on. 50 Cent already has: