After his auspicious start on "Can I Get A...", Ja wasted little time preparing and releasing his debut album, Venni, Vitti, Vicci, in 1999. It spawned the singles "Holla Holla" and "Daddy's Little Baby", which only achieved minor success compared to his later singles. The same year, he released the "How Many Wanna" single off of a movie soundtrack. He later started his own record label, with friend Irv Gotti, called Murda Inc.
In late 2000, Rule released his sophomore album, Rule 3:36, which spawned the huge hits "Between Me And You", featuring young newcomer Christina Milian on vocals, and "Put It On Me", featuring his label-mates Vita and Lil Mo. The album's third single, "I Cry", also featured singing from Lil Mo, but the song failed to blow up as the two prior singles had, even despite getting respectable video play on MTV2.
In the fall of 2001, after "I Cry" had run its course, Ja Rule released "Livin' It Up", the first single from his third album, Pain Is Love. The song, which featured guest vocals by R&B singer Case, went on to become another smash hit for the rapper thanks in part to its familiar sample of Stevie Wonder's "Do I Do". The followup single and video, "Always On Time", was released in December of that same year and was even bigger than "Livin' It Up", becoming Ja Rule's biggest pop radio hit to that point. The song and video were also notable because they provided MTV viewers and listeners of mainstream radio the first introduction to singer Ashanti, who was the featured singer on the single's chorus.
Just days before the tragedy of September 11th, around the same time that "Livin' It Up" was breaking big, the American supergroup lineup known as the "Allstar Tribute" was recording a cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On", in order to raise international AIDS awareness as well as money to combat the disease. It was to be released in December. After 9/11, however, the song was rush-released to radio and to MTV; its video having been hastily thrown together "home-movie" clips from the very recent studio recording of the song. The song went on to become associated with the terrorist attacks and the subsequent war in Afghanistan more so than with AIDS. However, in December, the song was rereleased as planned, with several new versions/remixes of both the song and the video, in order to benefit AIDS charities as originally planned. Ja Rule had a memorable part in the song. He, along with Nelly, Eve, and Fred Durst, added their own original rap lyrics about the disease to the song. Christina Aguilera, NSYNC, Britney Spears, Destiny's Child, Jennifer Lopez, and Gaye's own daughter, Nona, among others, sang the original lyrics to Gaye's song.
Ja's popularity in the hip-hop industry was cemented even further in the summer of 2001, thanks to a hugely popular duet with Jennifer Lopez. Lopez had enlisted the help of Ja Rule and Irv Gotti in the production of an urban remix for her unsuccessful, pop-sounding song "I'm Real". The "Murda Remix" of "I'm Real" contained vocals by both Lopez and Rule and went on to become one of 2001's biggest hits. In early 2002, the formula was repeated with Lopez' next single, "Ain't It Funny". Both remixes featured vocals and rap verses from Ja Rule and both far outperformed the song's original versions, in mainstream radio, urban radio, and music video channels, in America and Europe alike. The only exception to this was American VH1 which played the original pop versions of the music videos rather than the hip-hop versions.
Looking to capitalize on the same type of strategy, Mary J. Blige invited Ja Rule to record a song with her, called "Rainy Dayz", which was added to a 2002 rerelease of her most recent album, 2001's No More Drama. "Rainy Dayz" became yet another successful song in which a female vocalist's singing complimented Rule's own unique style of rapping.
In spring of 2002, the third single from Pain Is Love, "Down Ass Chick", was far less successful at pop radio than its two predecessors had been. The song heralded the return of Charli Baltimore--who was a "featured" rapper on the track--to the music industry after a five year absence. The remix of "Down Ass Chick", called "Down 4 U", fared slightly better at mainstream radio, thanks once again to a chorus sung by Ashanti, in addition to raps from Baltimore, Rule, and Vita. The "Down 4 U" video was a hit at MTV in the summer of 2002 because of its beach setting and its party theme. Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston had cameos in the video and speculation soon arose that one or both of them had been signed to Murda Inc and was preparing to released a long-awaited comeback album. Some dismissed the claims as rumors, since it seemed that everybody in the industry wanted to be affiliated with Ja and Murda Inc at the time. There was even talk that Michael Jackson had enlisted the help of Irv Gotti and Ja Rule and was in the process of signing a contract with Murda Inc.
Following all this, Murda Inc did shortly sign Bobby Brown. Ja then featured Brown, Murda Inc's newest artist, in his next single "Thug Lovin'" in the fall of 2002, as he had done previously with Baltimore, Lil Mo, and Ashanti when they were the newcomers. Despite "Thug Lovin'"'s being the first single from Ja's fourth album, The Last Temptation and Brown's "comeback" appearance on the song, it was relatively unsuccessful compared to many of Ja's previous singles. Brown's attempted return to mainstream music with the single did not succeed. Around the time of The Last Temptation's release, Ja Rule started saying that it would likely be either his last or second-to-last album, after which he would concentrate solely on other aspects of his life, such as his acting career and the managing of Murda Inc. Thus far, Rule seems to have changed his mind.
The second single from The Last Temptation, "Mesmerize", followed the pattern used in "Always On Time", hoping to repeat its success; it worked. "Mesmerze" featured Ashanti on vocals and was another smash pop and urban radio hit--and an enormous MTV and VH1 video hit--for the duo. In late 2002 and early 2003, as Ja Rule ruled mainstream radio with "Mesmerize", another single of his, which featured Ashanti and Nas, "The Pledge", was released to radio, but failed to gain pop support. The album's final single, "Murder Reigns" also failed to become a huge hit, especially at pop radio, most likely due to the controversial song title. MTV and other music video channels only played the video with the censored title of "The Reign", and with the word "murder" removed from the chorus' lyrics. The song also had received criticism for its sampling of Toto's "Africa", something that had just recently been done on another rapper's most recent album. The female vocalist who sang the chorus of "Murder Reigns" was not credited as a "featured" artist, though she appeared in its music video.
Lil Mo, Ja Rule's former friend, had a falling out with Ja shortly after they released the "I Cry" music video together, in 2001. With Ashanti's career on the rise, Mo felt that Ja and Irv Gotti were ignoring her and focussing unfair amounts of time and money on Ashanti. This led Mo to leave Murda Inc in 2001.
Despite culling a gangster image, Ja Rule's biggest hits have, to date, been hip-hop inspired ballads, all of which have contained at least one female singer on the chorus. "Always On Time" with Ashanti, "Put It On Me" with Lil Mo, and "Between Me And You" with Christina Milian are just three examples of such songs, which have married his thuggish image with more sensitive, relationship-minded topics.
In 2003, it was this very dichotomy which started a rap war between Ja Rule and fellow MC 50 Cent. Initiated by 50 Cent's labelling Ja Rule, among others, a "fake" gangster, or a "wanksta", because of their pop sensabilities, the two rappers exchanged insults and disses in a series of singles and underground mixtapes. The feud eventually escalated to such a level that Ja Rule mocked Eminem, Dr. Dre, Lil Mo, Truth Hurts, and Eminem's 6-year-old daughter, Hailie Jade, along with 50 Cent on a single track. He referred to Lil Mo as an ungrateful bitch who had never had a hit single without his help; alluded that Dr. Dre and Eminem were gay lovers; suggested Dre's newest female protege, Truth Hurts, might be a transsexual; and even claimed that Eminem's young daughter would end up a prostitute. It remains to be seen whether this 'dispute' will elevate to the level of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, though most in the rap community, including Lil Mo and several others of the afformentioned victims of Ja Rule's bashing, have expressed hope that all rappers could learn a lesson from what happened to Biggie and Tupac and stop serious feuds before someone ends up hurt.
Most recently, Ja Rule returned in November of 2003 with the new single "Clap Back". Arguably his grittiest single yet, it seemed intended to challenge 50 Cent's comments about him. The song's video, which was dark and simple and featured a bulked-up Ja Rule, contrasted deeply to the colorful, happier scenes in videos such as "Always On Time" and "Mesmerize". In 2004, Ja released a double CD entitled [R.U.L.E.