Ja Rule's self-proclaimed return to the streets isn't that rough compared to most hardcore rap; after all, Irv Gotti, Chink Santana, and the rest of Murder Inc. have a formula that's worked well in the past, and they're not about to desert it with artists like Ja and Ashanti hitting the charts every time they release a single. The first up, "Thug Lovin'," sets it off in style, with Ja Rule turning in one of his best raps yet and guest Bobby Brown adding flair to a pop-heavy production. Ashanti shines on the first of her two tracks, "Mesmerize," a smooth and sexed-up duet with a polished, honey-smooth production framing Ja Rule's gravelly hip-hop soul. Her other feature, a remix of "The Pledge" (the latter originally on Irv Gotti Presents: The Inc.), boasts great mic features from Nas and Ja Rule, plus a few odd, disembodied lines heard from 2Pac before the fade-out. Stepping in for Ashanti elsewhere with solid vamps are Charli Baltimore ("Last Temptation") and Alexi ("Murder Me"), though Ja does fit in a few real hardcore tracks too: "Pop N****s" and "The Warning." The Last Temptation isn't going to surprise anyone familiar with what Murder Inc. is all about, but their trademarked balance of the rough (Ja Rule) and smooth (Irv Gotti) has rarely sounded better than it does here.
AllMusic Review by John Bush
feat: Crooked I