1999 solo debut album, Venni, Vetti, Vecci, launched the hit single "Holla Holla" and made the 23-year-old a hot new icon of "thug rap" style. Born Jeffrey Atkins, he grew up in the tough, drug-riddled Hollis neighborhood of Queens, dropped out of high school and began building a music career under the nom de rhyme. His second album, Rule 3:36 (2000), included the hit duets "Between Me and You" (with Christina Milian) and "I Cry" (with Lil' Mo); Pain Is Love (2001) included the hit "Always on Time," a duet with his protege Ashanti. As Ja Rule racked up hit after hit, he became the poster artist for Murder, Inc., the music label overseen by controversial producer Irv Gotti. (Murder, Inc., a sub-label of DefJam Records, was later renamed as simply "Inc.") Ja Rule also stayed in the news thanks to his violent verbal feuds with rappers DMX and 50 Cent. In 2003 Ja Rule released his fourth album, Pain is Love. Onscreen he has appeared with Vin Diesel in the summer hotrod flick The Fast and the Furious (2001)
As the flagship artist for producer Irv Gotti's Def Jam-affiliated Murder Inc. label, Ja Rule became the rap industry's most commercially successful artist during the early 2000s, working closely with the hitmaker and his stable of talent. Ja initially won over a sizable following with Venni Vetti Vecci (1999), his rather hardcore debut album modeled largely after the style of rugged thug rap then popularized by DMX and the Ruff Ryder collective. In particular, "Holla Holla" became a breakout hit, but in retrospect it was a minor success relative to what Ja accomplished a year later with his follow-up album, Rule 3:36 (2000). On this album, Gotti juxtaposed the rapper's thuggish style with a trio of radio-friendly vixens -- Christina Milian, Lil' Mo, and Vita -- and produced three enormous hit singles: "Between Me and You," "I Cry," and "Put It on Me." These duets established the template for Ja's following album, Pain Is Love (2001), which featured yet more chorus-singing divas, this time Jennifer Lopez ("I'm Real") and Ashanti ("Always on Time"), as well as a similarly styled interpolation of Stevie Wonder's "Do I Do" ("Livin' It Up") featuring Case on the hook. By 2002, Ja alone had brought Gotti's Murder Inc. label into the national spotlight and helped break successive artists from the label, most notably Ashanti, who collaborated with him on "Down 4 U," yet another chart-topping hit. Roughly around this same time, Ja used his fame to launch a minor acting career for himself, beginning with The Fast and the Furious (2001), and he began to attract attention from his peers, uniting with Nas on the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards and squabbling with DMX in the press. Later that year he released The Last Temptation (2003), which again paired him with urban vocalists for a few singles, this time with Bobby Brown ("Thug Lovin'") and Ashanti ("Mesmerize"). A backlash mounted around this time, as upstart rapper 50 Cent began hurling numerous disses at Ja. Increasingly susceptible to the criticism, he returned with as much vengeance as he could muster on 2003's Blood in My Eye and the following year's R.U.L.E. Exodus, a best-of with a couple new tracks, was released in late 2005.