Double Crossed By Religion

Ja Rule's new album 'Rule 3:36' asks a harder question about 'What If God Were One of Us?'

Two crosses bang together around Ja Rule’s neck as he jumps to his feet. Shouting cheerfully to the group of interviewers scheduled before me, he charms them with profanity-laced bravado about an upcoming concert he is headlining and a TV show he will be playing. As the door closes, he calms down considerably. He knows I am from someplace called Beliefnet. For a moment, his demeanor reminds me of a kid in Sunday school. But while he stares out the window, not looking at me, he is obviously intensely interested in my questions and his answers (or admitted lack of them) about God, religion, and the reality of violence and desperation of life on earth.

Jeff Atkins, a.k.a. Ja Rule, grew up the only child in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Queens, N.Y. After years of learning the difficulties of the music industry (and a few arrests for small weapons and drug charges) with the New York-based rhyme crew Cash Money Click, things finally fell into place for him. In 1998, he wrote the hook for fellow rapper Jay-Z’s club hit "Can I Get A," which was the breakthrough that led to his debut last year, "Venni, Vetti, Vecci." The album went platinum nearly immediately, carried by the single “Holla Holla.”

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On the cover of "Venni, Vetti, Vecci," Ja Rule stands before the gigantic Christ in Rio de Janiero, his head back, hands folded in prayer. The album starts with a call and response prayer:

Lord, can we get a break? (Lord, can we get a break?)
We ain't really happy here (We ain't really happy here)
Take a look into our eyes! (Take a look into our eyes!)
And see pain without fear (And see pain without fear)

But those looking for Ja Rule in Christian hip-hop are in the wrong section. Part of a group of rappers called Murder Inc, along with Jay-Z and DMX, Ja Rule articulates the harshness of street life, using the strong religious imagery instilled in his youth. Despite his signature cry, "Murder!" on his back is tattooed the name of his sister who died as an infant, complete with a halo and angel’s wings.

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