It was his distinctive raspy rhymes that got rapper Ja Rule out of the tough streets of Hollis, Queens. But as he also points out to me on this week’s “Renaissance Man,” it also was the love of some extraordinary women.
The first was his daughter, Brittany, who was born in 1995. At the time, Ja had one foot in the music world and one still in the bad choices he had made.
“After I had my daughter, you know, everything kind of hit me all at once,” he said. “I caught a gun case and drug case at that time … and it was like a wake-up call. It was like, you know, ‘What are you really going to do? What are you making of your life at this moment?’”
He gave himself 100% to music, and the rest was history — particularly his work with female singers. He produced two massive hits with J.Lo, “I’m Real” and “Ain’t It Funny.”
And Ashanti, “We got so many dope records together. It’s not just a one-off with me, and we got, like five hits together. … that’s special.”
Then there’s Mary J. Blige.
“‘Rainy Dayz,’ one of my most favorite records that I ever wrote,” Ja Rule says. “And I love Mary. Mary is one of my favorite soulful singers of my era. You know what I’m saying?”
Ja credits the success with this trio of superstars to “the yin-yang” of the songs.
“My voice is gravelly … so when you put it with the melodic voices of the ladies, it has a good blend,” he said.
Ja also credits the giants of Hollis for inspiring him to get into music: Run-DMC. “Those guys were so influential on my career, my life, everything, you know,” he said. “It was a beautiful thing, a blessing for me as a young child, a young kid to not only, you know, see that part of success, you know, street success, but also have these go young brothers, young black brothers doing something very positive, but also had the swag and the coolness, you know, to make me want to go that route as well.”
“To me, that’s one of the most important things. You know, if we have success as young black men, we’ve got to pay it forward, you know, to those young black men and women coming after us,” he said. “And so for me to be able to do that . . . it was dope. Education is one of the key components to our success in our community.
“We can have the money, but if uneducated, the money will go fast,” he said. “And I want our black children to be proud to go to these HBCU. So I’m you know, I know the donations were tremendous for me. This is the spark. This is the start of.”
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.