History is written by the winners, the old saying goes. Perhaps that’s why folks act like they never liked Ja Rule after his infamous clash with 50 Cent left his career mortally wounded. But don’t front—you had your Ja Rule moment. Everyone did. For most folks, it was during Ja’s dominating run of saccharine chart-topping hits were he teamed up with the likes of Ashanti, Christina Milian, Lil Mo, and Jennifer Lopez. Hey, those millions of records weren’t buying themselves.

For the older underground heads, it might have been during the mid-’90s, when he emerged as the standout member of Queens crew Cash Money Click and rhymed alongside Mic Geronimo. Or maybe Ja won you over during his repeated street-oriented collaborations with Jay Z and DMX. At one point, the three even planned to form a supergroup called Murder Inc. (Ja Rule’s right-hand man and go-to producer, Irv Gotti, instead ending up using the name for his record label.)

Either way, Ja Rule has been around for nearly 20 years now, and he’s got the hits—along with the battle scars—to prove it. He came off of house arrest just last month, after serving two years in state and federal prisons for weapons possession and tax charges. Yes, he already gave us a remarkably candid interview about prison, 50 Cent and more a few weeks ago, but he’s got a lot more to say.

Here, he breaks down his 25 of his most essential songs over his two-decade career. Along the way, we learn about the woman who inspired his biggest hits; the reason he, Jay and DMX will never reunite; and, most importantly, J-Lo’s booty.

As told to Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)

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