Key Song: Ja Rule f/ 2Pac "So Much Pain"
One controversial omission from our Best Rapper Alive lists last week was Ja Rule, whose exclusion, some critics have argued, was a rewriting of history. While it's true that Ja Rule was one of hip-hop's most successful rappers at one time, he was never considered one of its best MCs. Early on, in fact, he was accused of biting two of hip-hop's most celebrated rappers of the 1990s: 2Pac and DMX. He definitely seemed heavily influenced by Pac's fashion sense (see his use of bandanas and general shirtlessness). And his more heart-on-his-sleeve rap style, particularly on his remix of Pac's "Pain," had a definite precedent in 2Pac's, even if he couldn't convey the same gravity or passion.
And then there were the more superficial imitations, like the references to "thug life" that peppered his lyrics. Ultimately, the accusations became the basis of 50 Cent's "Realest Killas," which called Rule out for his more blatant imitative moves, and "Hail Mary 2003," which found 50, Eminem and Busta mocking Ja's 2Pac infatuation: "If Pac was still here now, he would never ride with Ja/na na na na, na na na na."
Similarly, noise that Ja's gruff delivery was bitten from his former collaborator DMX had dogged (pun unintended) the former rapper for awhile before DMX released "Do You" in 2000, which was widely taken as shots at Ja. Ja Rule had heavy 2Pac and DMX influences, but he also did something else with them. His career is more defined by a series of chart-topping hip-hop ballads than it is the specifics of his rap style. Ultimately, Ja Rule did sound like himself, and that wasn't nearly as seismic of an impact as his two primary influences. But it made for some nice songs. —David Drake