Interview: Ja Rule Talks Prison, Beef, Alan Hevesi & Trayvon Martin

Read Ja Rule's first post-prison interview.

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Few artists have seen higher highs and lower lows than Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins. He started as the standout member of Queens undergrounders Cash Money Click, and collaborated frequently with Jay Z and DMX in their pre-fame days. When he signed as a solo artist with Def Jam in 1998, he tried to follow Jay and DMX but didn’t really hit his stride until the 2000s when he rebranded himself as a thug-lovin’ ladies’ man and took off with astounding speed.

His early-century run of chart-topping hits—mostly consisting of romantic, half-sung duets with female R&B and pop divas—is one of the most successful the rap game has ever seen: "Between Me and You" with Christina Milian, "I'm Real (Murder Remix)" with Jennifer Lopez, "Always on Time" and “Mesmerize,” both with his then Murder Inc. label mate Ashanti, are just some of the highlights.

But it all came crumbling down almost as quickly as it began. What seemed to start as a local squabble with fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent, who was then unsigned, turned into an all-out rap war, with physical confrontations, stabbings, and a ever-widening bevy of diss tracks that eventually sucked in Eminem, Dr. Dre, Benzino, Busta Rhymes and others. When the dust settled, the tables were turned: 50 was music’s biggest star, while Ja Rule never came close to his former hitmaking prowess.

Around the same time, in 2005, Ja Rule’s contract with Def Jam expired, and The Inc., the label run by Ja Rule’s friend, producer and mentor, Irv Gotti, was the target of a taxing federal investigation due to its alleged ties with notorious Queens drug kingpin Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff. But Ja Rule’s long fall from grace wasn’t over yet. He was arrested for weapons possession in 2007, and then, one month into his two-year bid, was also convicted of failure to pay federal taxes in 2011.

Now, finally, Ja is ready to put his run of troubles behind him. In May, after serving nearly two years in federal and state facilities in New York, he was released to house arrest. It ended just last Friday, July 26, and he’s hitting the ground running, with a starring role in I’m in Love With a Church Girl, a faith-based film about a former drug dealer looking to move beyond his criminal past that hits theaters in October.

After a long hiatus from the public eye, Ja is looking for real-life redemption as well. Earlier this week, just days after his house arrest ended, he sat down with Complex in a back-room bar at Manhattan’s Hudson Hotel with his wife Aisha (the mother to his daughter and two sons) for a lengthy conversation. Sporting a bulked-up jail physique, black-frame glasses, and a remarkable air of calm, Ja candidly spoke on second chances, his time behind bars, rap beefs and everything in-between in his first post-prison interview. 

Interview by Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)

You’re a free man. Congratulations. It’s like a fresh start for you.
I got some great opportunities coming my way, so hopefully everything works out. It’s been a blessing since I’ve been home from prison. Everything has just been kind of going in the right direction, going the way I kind of planned it to go since coming home. Right now I’m really looking forward to doing more film and television stuff. But I’ll definitely drop some music before the movie comes out too.

What was the first thing that you did with your newfound freedom?
I got out on Friday, like four days ago. I was kind of laid-back, you know? Me and the wife went out, grabbed a bite to eat, went over to [Manhattan nightclub] STK. Nothing crazy.

What did you spend most of your time doing when you were on home confinement?
Just relaxing with the kids, family, that’s about it. And recording and stuff—I got a little studio in the house. And work out.

We can tell.
[Laughs.] I didn’t do much. I couldn’t do much. I had to be back in by 5, 6 o’clock so wasn’t really much I could do, you know? I’d work out, go record, or just relax with the wife and kids and take it easy.

I was in prison with [former Tyco International CEO] Dennis Kozlowski, [former New York state comptroller] Alan Hevesi, Larry Salander, the art tycoon. They were all good guys. Alan, he’s a Knicks fan like me, so we watched a lot of Knicks together, never missed a game.

How often did you get to see them when you were locked up?
Wifey came every week to see me. She brought the kids often. I seen them just about every week. I was upstate, near Utica, at Mid-State [Correctional Facility], for most of my time. I was there for about two years, and then when I got out of there the Feds took me and I was in Brooklyn [at Metropolitan Detention Center] for a little and they sent me all the way to [Federal Correctional Institute] Ray Brook, which was like an hour outside of Canada. I was far. They try to punish you as much as they can.

What was your daily routine when you were behind bars?
It’s doing time, you know? There’s really not much to do in prison, but work out, read, watch TV. I had a job so I had to get up in the morning and do that. They had me working in the warden’s office, so I was doing little odd jobs, sweeping, mopping, watering plants, shit like that. [Laughs]

It must been a trip for people in prison, like “This is Ja Rule!”
I got along with everybody. I knew quite a few guys that was up there, so it wasn’t a hard situation at all. Being away from your family, and your friends, and your kids, that’s the hardest part about being in prison. And the little things; a nice toothbrush, good toilet paper.

The food wasn’t great. I wanted lasagna. I wanted [my wife] to make lasagna when I came home because I hadn’t had lasagna in so long. My wife brought me packages when I was in Midstate so I was able to have spaghetti and meatballs and stuff that we made. I ate the best you can for being in that situation.

When I came home I just wanted to have a little bit of lasagna. I wanted to get a good steak. And a cheeseburger. I think that was the first thing I ate when I got out. I went to TGIFridays, just stopped on the road and grabbed something real quick. Shit like that gets to you when you’re locked up, but it’s all doable. If you got to do it, you man up and do it.

Reports said you had friends up there—other celebrities that were in PC with you.
Absolutely. I was there with [former Tyco International CEO]Dennis Kozlowski, [former New York state comptroller]Alan Hevesi, Larry Salander, the art tycoon. They were all good guys. Me and Alan, he’s a Knicks fan like me, so we watched a lot of Knicks together, never missed a game. We talked politics. The election was going on while I was locked up, Obama and Romney so we would talk a lot about that. Hevesi is a Democrat so we were on the same side [Laughs].

Dennis, me and him spoke once in awhile; he didn’t really interact too much with a lot of inmates, but me and him spoke. Larry, he was really a great guy, painted a couple of pictures of me and stuff. We all in a situation and we really have no choice about the matter, so you make the best of your time. You get to know one another, you become somewhat friendly with the guys. You just do your time.

In the state [prison] I was in I was in PC, but when I got to the Feds I was in population. So you get to interact a lot more with a lot of guys that you may know. Spigg Nice from Lost Boyz was in Ray Brook. He was there, he’s doing like 30 years[for a bank-robbery spree]. We kicked it; we ain’t seen each other in a really long time. We had a lot of old stories to talk about. It was cool to see him and some of the other dudes I know from Queens. But I know guys from everywhere. Dudes I knew from Boston, dudes I knew from Chicago, there was dudes I knew from Detroit, just from me traveling.

It’s kind of high school. You go in, you got your A crowd, you got your B crowd, you got your nerds, you got your jocks. It’s kind of the same way, and as soon as I walked into the joint I was a part of the A crowd. Shoutout to everybody in Ray Brook, Midstate.

Had you ever served time before this?

What were your expectations going into it? Were you scared?
I’ve had a lot of friends that have been in and out of prison so I kind of had an idea of what it might be like, but you never really understand what it’s like until you’re there. Everyone’s experience is different. I was going into prison Ja Rule, so everybody knows me. Every facility that I went to, they knew I was coming there before I knew I was going there. They were expecting me, so I was definitely received with a lot of love, a lot of admiration. A lot of guys were definitely fans of my music and respected me and my team. But it wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t know if I was going to go in and have to be fighting everyday and getting into beefs with dudes over stupid shit, but I was prepared for whatever. It’s just I guess how my DNA is. I was prepared for the worst going in, but it turned out to be a different situation than that. There was a lot of love.

So you didn’t have any beefs?
Not really at all, which was surprising. I thought, there’s always at least one out of every group, there’s always one bad seed or one dude that wants to try to be whatever. But it wasn’t like that. It’s kind of high school. You go in, you got your A crowd, you got your B crowd, you got your nerds, you got your jocks. It’s kind of the same way, and as soon as I walked into the joint I was a part of the A crowd. Shoutout to everybody in Ray Brook, Midstate.

What was your worst memory from your bid?
I guess I’d have to say those nights you’re just locked in your cell, by yourself, and you’re missing out on what’s going on outside. I would call home and I’d be missing birthdays or anniversaries. I’d speak to my homies and they’d be out and about, doing what they doing. You kind of say, “Damn, I’m really locked up, I can’t enjoy the things that are meaningful in my life, I can’t enjoy the small things in life.” You in a situation that you can’t control.

Then there were situations like [Superstorm] Sandy and [Hurricane] Irene, where we was getting heavy storms at the house and all the lights and things are down, trees and power lines are down. My family had to pick up and go to a hotel. Those are the situations that I handle when I’m home and my wife had to step up to the plate, play father and mother during those situations. She’s a soldier, so she made it happen, but I’m sure she wishes that I was there. You’re helpless in those situations.

Especially when the phone is out because of the storm and you can’t reach anybody. We were all in there flipping out, bugging out, like, “Did you get a hold of anybody?” You worry, but you have no control over it. There’s nothing you can do. [I was] helpless, and that’s not me. I’m usually the one that takes care of everything. So for me not be able to do anything in those moments was tough on me.

How did your mindset evolve while you were behind bars?
When I went in I was a little bitter because I felt I was wrongfully imprisoned, you know? You dealing with a situation that’s a touchy situation in our country, in society: You dealing with firearms. We have the right to bear arms in this country. Don’t get me wrong: I had an illegal weapon, I take full responsibility for that, I did my time for that.

But when I really rewind and look back on everything, it kind of hurts me because society wants to take artists and make an example out of them for others to look at and say, “Damn, they locked up Lil Wayne, they locked up Ja Rule, they locked up T.I., they locked up Plaxico Burress. We better not do what they did.’”

I think we would be a greater service to society if we were allowed to speak on our wrongs versus being away for two years. It wasn’t like I was on my way to knock over the 7-Eleven up the block, you know? If you think about it rationally and with common sense—he’s a hip-hop artist. It’s probably for my protection from other people who want to do harm, who want to try to rob celebrities or whatever the case may be.

It’s scary, because it’s like, what do I tell my two sons? Their father gets locked up for a pistol that I didn’t brandish, I didn’t fire, and I did two years? And this man [George Zimmerman] murders a young black man and is free. How do I explain why daddy went to jail and now this guy doesn’t get to go to jail?

And you did have some violent conflicts with other artists.
Yeah, but not even that. I’m not worried about anything like that because those are situations that are—I don’t want to say not real—but those are not the real issue in why we move the way we move. The real issue is the real goons that are out there who want to bring harm to you or your family. I feel as though there should be lighter sentences based upon that, knowing that I didn’t have intentions to do anything wrong with that weapon.

That had me thinking a lot about the society we live in and how the pictures get painted when it comes to hip-hop artists. Then I look at a situation like what happened with Trayvon Martin and it really hurts my heart, because it’s like a message is being sent that if you carry a firearm and you’re young and you’re black and successful, we’ll put you in jail. But if you’re a young black man you can be murdered, and then the laws can work in this person’s favor.

Am I mad at people having firearms? Not really, because it is our right to bear arms. But am I mad at a law like Stand Your Ground? Yeah, I think that’s a little excessive. I just feel that as a society we really need to come together and figure out where to draw the line between these type of issues, what’s right and what’s wrong, and I think we’re sending the wrong message to our youth.

It’s scary, because it’s like, what do I tell my two sons? Their father gets locked up for a pistol that I didn’t brandish, I didn’t fire, and I did two years? And this man murders a young black man and is free. How do I explain why daddy went to jail and now this guy doesn’t get to go to jail?

There was other tragedies that happened while I was locked up: The shooting at the theater [in Aurora, Colorado], all the kids that got killed at that school [in Sandy Hook, Connecticut]. Those issues we need to look at as a society and maybe we should do deeper background checks on who gets to have firearms or how many rounds in assault rifles, and all these things that they sell that are very easy to obtain. The scales aren’t balanced.

You’ve been tweeting a lot about Trayvon. Is your music going to take a political, socially conscious turn?
Well, it’s funny because what we do is entertainment, but we’re not allowed to entertain. Because everything we say or do gets looked at literally. So if I scream, “It’s murda,” am I really saying I’m gonna murder somebody? I can use it metaphorically, say I want to murder the music scene, I want to murder the game, whatever.

It gets taken so literally when we say it versus anybody else. I don’t think heavy metal artists or no other artists get looked upon the way hip-hop does. You got a society where kids are infatuated with video games that promote all kinds of violence. We’re looked upon as idols or whatever, and the kids look up to us, so at some point I do feel that we have a responsibility to be more conscious of what we say and what we do in our music.

One of the things that strikes me is a lot of artists spoke out about the whole Trayvon Martin thing. I like that, I appreciate that our people were able to march calmly and rally safely. But there’s young black men being murdered every day in our neighborhoods. You can’t just take one incident and decide to get behind that just because there’s heavy media behind it and it looks good on you as an artist. What about justice for all of our black youth that are getting killed everyday in the hood by other black men? I think that’s an issue we need to start marching for and rallying for as well.

We have a lot of issues outside of the prisons that we need to fix, but also inside the prison too. I would love to start a scholarship fund for prisoners. I’m hoping to get Michael Vick involved, and T.I. and Wayne, and guys who’ve been behind the wall. I would like us to start it. I haven’t reached out to them yet, but if any of them read this, this is an open invitation to get aboard with what I’m trying to do. Because when I was behind the wall, one thing I did see was a lot of guys that want to do something positive, want to do something better with they lives, but don’t have the means to do it.

You can go get your GED while you’re in prison, which I did, but then it takes money to take college courses and further your education. I seen a lot of guys that actually wanted to do it, they just didn’t have the money to do it. When they get out of prison they don’t have anything to go back to and they don’t have anything to look forward to try to come home and live a better life and be a productive member of society.

I think if we started a program like what I’m talking about that can help these guys get a better education, it can go a long way. Not for nothing, but in prison there’s a lot of alpha males, there’s a lot of guys with great leadership skills. They just chose to lead in the wrong field. [Laughs.]

Tell me about getting your GED. What motivated you to do that?
I wanted to get my GED for my kids’ sake I don’t ever want them to have [me] as an excuse to not strive for the best, to not be the best that they can be. I think that speaks volumes when I’m talking to my kids because they understand that it’s important to have a good education—not so much the diploma, but the education.

You also seem to have gotten your body in as good shape as your mind.
I wanted to get in good shape for a number of reasons. First of all, to kind of keep my mind off of everything that’s going on on the outside. They say a strong body makes a strong mind. When you feel good you think good thoughts. It kept me sane a lot of days.

We talked about the gun charge, but what about the tax charge? How do you feel about that now?
We all make mistakes. I was young and making a lot of money. I want to make it clear, I wasn’t charged with tax evasion; I was charged with failure to file, which is a little bit different.

Just like Lauryn Hill.
Yeah, and Fat Joe’s case is the same thing: Failure to file—which is not the same as tax evasion. But like I said I was young, making a lot of money, and coming from where I come from, not really knowing how to deal with money, it can cause issues for you.

I come from a poor background. Nobody in my family could teach me about stocks or bonds, or how to invest your money, or anything like that, so I’m learning on the fly. And I’m 20, 22-years-old, a young kid. There’s no structure in hip-hop. It’s not like you a ball player and you have the NBA as your structure. They take these young kids that may be rough around the edges, may not be educated on what to do with their money and teach them what to do.

But that’s the one thing about prison: You have a chance to be one with yourself, look at yourself from the outside looking in, and understand the mistakes you’ve made and people you’ve hurt and really reflect on how you’re gonna go forward and make it better.

It’s not like that in hip-hop. You make a million dollars, you on your own, have fun. Nobody’s telling you to put it here, put it there. And everybody’s a leech, everybody’s trying to steal, everybody’s trying to get a piece. Nobody has you in their best interest. Dealing with show money and things of that nature, getting a lot of cash, there’s a lot of things you may not understand about how you supposed to handle your money. I had to learn a lot of those things the hard way.

I try to tell my kids all the time, “A wise man learns from other peoples’ mistakes, a stupid man learns the hard way.” But that’s the one thing about prison: You have a chance to be one with yourself, look at yourself from the outside looking in, and understand the mistakes you’ve made and people you’ve hurt and really reflect on how you’re gonna go forward and make it better. If you don’t take nothing from it and learn nothing from it then you’re an asshole. Because there’s so much knowledge behind those walls.

There’s a lot of guys in there that came in as young men, young and stupid, and are in there now as old, wise men. And they’re guys you can learn a lot from. I was a sponge when I was in prison. I listened to the OGs when they talked and ironically they listened a lot to me as well. We were learning from each other. A person worth talking to is a person worth listening to.

You had an incredible run of hits, but it all ended pretty abruptly. How do you reflect back on your music career now?
I’m incredibly blessed, man. When I first started doing music I could’ve never imagined to have the success that I’ve had. I was from Hollis, Queens, man. I just wanted to make records that me and my homies was gonna think was dope. I would’ve never thought I’d be the artist I’ve become. I’m very appreciative of it all.

That’s another thing prison will do to you: It’ll definitely humble you. I’m very blessed to have such a beautiful family, a great career, and to still be going. [It’s almost] 20 years that I’ve been in this business, and I’ve got a lot of things going on right now for my future that are beautiful. I’m very happy to still be in this business, still look young, still excited about getting into the studio and making records, excited about being on the movie set, excited about doing interviews.

A lot of artists grew up listening to Ja Rule too. Don’t get it f****d up that they didn’t want to have No. 1 records like I did or sell all the records that I was selling or be doing all these songs with all these hot chicks in the business. Don’t think that guys wasn’t watching.

Of course, a lot of people will always associate you with your beefs: 50 Cent, Eminem. How do you look at those conflicts now?
Man, that just goes back to me being young, full of energy, and not giving a fuck about nothing. That fuck-the-world attitude. I’m just happy that I’ve grown past that. Those things are not even a thought to me anymore. It was so long ago, almost 10 years ago. I hope young artists look at those things [like] it’s part of hip-hop history. Enjoy, man. Enjoy what hip-hop is about: It’s always been about the battles, the beefs, artists going back and forth.

For me, it’s not a thing where you take sides. I had a lot of guys in jail come up to me and they’d be like “Yo, Rule I fucks with you, man. Fuck homeboy, I ain’t never like him anyway.” I’d look at him like, “It don’t got to be that. You can like him and like me too, it’s fine.” It’s not a “I’m on this side or I’m on that side” thing. If you like his music too that’s fine. I even dance to some of his records when they come on in the club.

I don’t have no malice towards anybody. I really don’t care anymore. I’m more about family and my kids and things that really matter in life. So I don’t even talk about those issues in interviews anymore. It was a period in time and we move on.

So is everything squashed between you, 50 and Em?
For me it is. I know for those guys, it is too in some ways. I don’t think any of us really think about it anymore. We have a bigger responsibility to the kids that are coming up behind us to be role models for them, and I think that’s more where everybody is now. I think we’re all adults and we’re grown.

People often say 50 killed your career—that’s the popular narrative. Do you think that’s true? Is that what happened to your music career?
Of course not. It’s so many things that went into that that people don’t understand. I’m writing a book, so I guess you can go get my book and get the full story of how things unfolded. The hip-hop fans are not privy to a lot of backdoor conversations.

There’s three sides to every story: There’s my side, his side, and the truth. I know in my heart, I’ve always been a real dude. Throughout my career I’ve done a great job of being me. As much as people want to say, “When he came out he sounded like Pac,” I laugh at that because of course I love Pac; everybody loves Pac. I may have took a page out of Pac’s book as far as being passionate about what I do and being a hard worker in my music, but a lot of artists do that.

But on the flipside people say a lot of artists are like Ja Rule, so which is it? Am I an imitation or was I original in what I did? I think as artists we all borrow, we all take pages out of each other’s books and make it our own. Throughout my whole career I was very happy people would even look at me and put my name in the same breath as Tupac. That alone let me know that I’m in good company. I got the plaques and record sales to put behind it and say, “I definitely put in my own work.”

A lot of the things you were criticized for—singing, making love songs, making pop songs, showing a sensitive side—are pretty standard in hip-hop nowadays. People don’t really bat an eye at stuff like that anymore.
I think I was one of the artists to open a lot of doors for that area. I wasn’t scared to push the envelope because I’m confident in who I am. Some artists may have identity issues; they really didn’t know who they wanted to be. I knew what was going to be Ja Rule’s niche.

When I came out, you had Jay on one hand, you had X on the other hand, and you had Rule. And X was grimy, street to the core. Jay was flossy, real shiny. Ja had to carve his own lane because dirty was X’s lane, shiny was Jay’s lane. So for me, I had that appeal to the women, and nobody was in that lane; I took that lane and made it mine. I made those records for the women. I made those records for the guys to enjoy with their women, and I don’t think anyone tackled that lane. LL [Cool J] made “I Need Love,” but that was it.

The lane I created was not so much singing, because artists sang and did that type of style before. I’m not going to be like, “I created singing.” I think what I did create was the hip-hop duet, where it’s not just a hip-hop artist putting a 16 on a R&B song or a R&B artist singing on a rap song. I fused the two.

You get a record like “I’m Real” with me and J. Lo, which is a record I wrote, I wrote myself into the record. I made it for us. It was a duet: Her on the hook, me answering on the hook, us going back and forth on the verses. I don’t think that’s ever been done in that way.

I think that’s the lane that I created that a lot of guys are doing and it’s all love. I love those records. I get so many people that tell me, “Yo man, you got me through high school—you got me a lot of pussy.” [Laughs.] A lot of artists grew up listening to Ja Rule too. Don’t get it fucked up that they didn’t want to have No. 1 records like I did or sell all the records that I was selling or be doing all these songs with all these hot chicks in the business. Don’t think that guys wasn’t watching. I did it in a way where everybody can enjoy it. It wasn’t corny to be in love; it wasn’t corny to make that type of record, it was cool. Because at the same time I’m making these big beautiful records for females, I’m screaming, “It’s murda,” and making thugged-out shit too.

Even when people talk about me and 50’s beef—he made a gangofrecords like that. He was watching, too. At the end of the day, I’m glad that I was able to inspire. Because that’s what music is about. I’m glad that I was able to do that—even if motherfuckers won’t admit it.

What’s next for you musically?
I’m very happy with where I am in my career and where my career is going. I’m ecstatic. There are a lot of great things to come, whether it be music or film or TV or books or a fitness line, whatever the fuck I choose to do. I did a record with N.O.R.E. that’s real hot. It’s me, N.O.R.E., Weezy, Baby—it’ll be out soon. I also just did another record with Fat Joe; he came out to the house to see me. I had an idea to do a record called “Trading Places”: I’m coming home, he’s going in. We played with that concept a little bit and made a hot record. It’s all about being creative.

Are you fielding label offers? Are you trying to get signed again?
I can do anything I want. If I want to do another album, I’m gonna do that. For me it’s not about the money; it never was. Rap albums, or albums period, aren’t selling the way they used to be. I want to put out another record, I want to do a new project called Fuck Fame, but I’m not in a rush. I may put out 10 singles before I put out the actual album because that’s what I want to do, you know what I mean?

I feel I’ve put myself in that space to do what I want to do as an artist, to be true to what it is I do and not force anything. I want to make great contributions in entertainment, period. I have a film company, Focus Vision. I’m gonna take my time and create something really special, something to inspire a generation to say, “Ja killed it in the music game, Ja killed it in film and TV, Ja was a bad motherfucker.” And I’m doing a memoir—that will be my first book. My second book is a relationship type of book. It’ll be called Rules of Engagement. I’m also doing a fitness book.

You have a new movie, I Fell In Love With a Church Girl, coming out in October. How did that come about?
I actually shot it before I went in. Right before I went in, we put that in the can. And then I went to the can. [Laughs.]

I just did another record with Fat Joe; he came out to the house to see me. I had an idea to do a record called “Trading Places”: I’m coming home, he’s going in.

The movie is about a former drug dealer who tries to find redemption. Is the plot’s similarity with your own journey intentional?
Nah, it’s actually a true story, about the guy who wrote the film, Galley Molina. He was one of the biggest drug traffickers in San Jose. He got caught with something like 20 pounds of coke or some shit like that. While he was in prison he used his time wisely, he wrote a lot of screenplays.

It felt natural for me to do the film and play this character because I felt I lived this image. His character Miles, he’s going through a lot. He’s got one foot here, one foot there. He’s trying to do the right thing with his life, he met a church girl and she kind of got him into the church. He’s trying to find his way in that world, but he still has his friends that are in this world, and I can relate to that a lot because I’m trying to do right for myself, trying to feed my family, living a different lifestyle, meeting a lot of new people.

But on this end, I still got my homies that’s in the hood, that’s selling drugs and that’s still close to me. So it’s that feeling where you have one foot in, one foot out, and you try to balance them both and it just doesn’t work. You got to pick one. So I related to the role a lot. And I think we made a good film. It’s a faith-based film so it’s a little different. It’s targeted towards that genre, towards a faith-based audience, but it’s not corny. It has its edge to it. It’s not preachy.

It’s really showing you both sides of the spectrum, and I think that’s a real good thing for what they’re trying to do in their ministry, to pull in people like myself. Sometimes it’s hard to do that when you don’t speak their language, but Ja Rule absolutely speaks their language. I’m actually going to be going to mega-churches to talk to the congregations and play the trailer. I hope the building don’t burn down when I walk in and shit. [Laughs.]

There’s been religious themes throughout your music. The name of your second album is Rule 3:36, like a Bible verse.
I’m spiritual. I wouldn’t call myself religious per se. I don’t practice any religion, but growing up my family was Jehovah’s Witnesses. And like any other kid, I had to go to church on Sunday. My grandparents tried to instill that in me, but like we do as young curious kids in the hood, we find our way outside of that and we start doing our own thing and living our own lives.

Religion had a real big impact on my family in a negative way. So that made me not want to deal with the middleman as far as religion goes. But I believe in a higher power all day. I believe there’s a God and I prayed every night when I was in prison. And I really feel that a lot of my prayers were answered.

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