Ja Rule's swift downfall continues with R.U.L.E., an album that is designed to be a comeback but, alas, ends up affirming the many criticisms that had been increasingly leveled against the once chart-topping rapper. Plain and simple, R.U.L.E. doesn't have much favorable going for it, even for fans. The sole noteworthy songs are the outsourced ones: the album's lead single, "Wonderful," an R. Kelly showcase that also boasts an Ashanti feature; the album's street single, "New York," a Cool & Dre production with a hardcore edge and strong raps from Fat Joe and Jadakiss; and lastly, "Life Goes On," a 2Pac-style ballad highlighted by features for Trick Daddy and Inc in-house producer Chink Santana. The album's remaining 60 minutes consist of standard-issue Ja Rule album filler: dreary pseudo-autobiographical raps that paint a conflicted portrait of Ja Rule, the paranoid pop-rap gangsta who believes himself to be a street martyr. In general, all of this filler is produced by either Santana or Jimi Kendrix, both of whom are in-house producers, and most of this filler comes with an in-house guest feature (Black Child, Lloyd, Caddillac Tah -- take your pick) or, at least, some faceless overdubbed R&B vocals for the hook. The tone of the album is forever dreary (take for instance this opening rap from the nearly nine-minute album finale, "Passion": "Nobody loves me/Sometimes the world can seem so cold/Looking through the windows of my soul/I see the truth and now I know"), and the only joy on display here revolves around sex, drugs, violence, and power, as the recurring interludes confirm. In a way, the overriding themes at work here are incredibly cynical. After all, when the token "feel-good" song (i.e., "Wonderful") is about how tragic it is to be rich and famous (or, to quote the likewise conflicted and embattled R. Kelly, to be "at top of the world," where life is "a pussy buffet"), you know there's little joy in Ja Rule's emotionally embattled world. The thing is, Ja Rule is so self-consciously trying to be gangsta here that all his posturing gets in the way of what he does best -- that is, make pop-rap duets tailor-made for R&B crossover radio. With each passing album, his gangsta has become less and less credible, so as he continues to frame himself as a gangsta yet does so within the context of pop-rap songs, as he does here throughout R.U.L.E., it all seems terribly inauthentic. It's probably appropriate, then, that the only wonderful moment here is an R. Kelly duet. The two make a good couple: self-appointed martyrs, deeply troubled, with their fateful personal insecurities undermining their musical careers. And so the downfall goes -- tragic, indeed, or not, depending on how affecting you find the pathos at work.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
feat: Black Child
feat: Claudette Ortiz
feat: Black Child