Ja Rule is never not working. Since screaming “Holla, Holla” in 1999, the Queens rapper who dressed like a young Tupac has since come into his own, leaving the bandanas, white muscle tanks and XL jeans in the past.
With the house Irv Gotti built, formerly known as Murder Inc., the street storyteller — real name Jeffrey Atkins — has not only learned the rules of the rap game, he’s created his own. Fans since his debut Venni Vetti Vecci have witnessed Rule go from rap star to actor (see: Fast & The Furious) and now, reality show personality. MTV’s Follow the Rules has pulled the curtain back on Ja’s family-man duties, revealing a wiser and softer side of the Hollis rep.
Billboard let Ja play psychologist for a therapeutic session focused on family bonding, mending rap beef and the biggest gem Madonna gave him. Spoiler alert: The Queen of Pop’s advice is applicable for any workplace.
As viewers have seen on Follow the Rules, you’re navigating fame while trying to be No. 1 dad. What is the biggest challenge about raising kids in the spotlight?
Probably that: raising them in the spotlight. It’s hard enough to raise kids, but then you add all the extra pressures of being a celebrity’s kids and it’s much harder. It takes them a little while longer to figure out who they are because for the most of their lives, they’re labeled as “Ja Rule’s son,” “Ja Rule’s daughter,” and that becomes their identity for a while instead of “Oh that’s Jeff, that’s Jordan, that’s Brittany.” And then as they get older, they choose which way they want to go. My daughter is very adamant on being Brittany and having her own name and people know her as Brittany. My older son kind of grew up being Ja Rule’s son and getting all the perks of being Ja Rule’s son, so it’s all on how they deal with it as they get older.
How do you ensure that your marriage is growing as well as your professional resume?
That’s tough, too. You just gotta try to make time for each other — separate time outside of what you do with work. ‘Cause we do work-cations and stuff like that, but sometimes you just have to separate it all. Like I tell people all the time, the most important thing I think to our relationship lasting and working is friendship. [My wife and I have been] friends for 34 years. Other things get old, get stale, but that friendship lasts a long time.
Does social media affect that relationship at all?
She wasn’t on social media for a long time. She wasn’t into it like that. She’s not like a techie type person, but I made her an Instagram [before the show] and lo and behold, she loves Instagram. I think social media gives you a reality — a twisted reality — of what’s going on in the world. It’s not the real world, but it’s your interpretation of the real world and I think it’s fun, but at times, it can be annoying too.
How do you combat the trolls?
I don’t. I don’t really read comments like I used to. Sometimes, I do. When I’m on the road, I read comments — when I can get around to it. Because I like to hear what the fans are thinking, good or bad. Sometimes you can distinguish if a comment is hateful or if it’s an honest opinion. I think that line has been crossed, too, of where it’s just my opinion and I don’t like it versus I don’t like it, being a hater. I can not like something and not be a hater.
The Internet has seen trending topics like #BlackLivesMatter become a powerful social movement. What’s your take on people who want to help support the cause but aren’t black?
I have no problem with that. I have no problem with Rachel Dolezal wanting to be black. Who cares? If that’s what you connect with more in your life, that’s who you feel more connected to. What’s the problem? There are some black people that feel like they’re more connected to white people. That’s what they grew up around. That’s what they know, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not about race or color. Really, what it all boils down to is rich or poor. Color really has no purpose here.
What makes you think that it’s a debate between rich and poor?
Because that’s just what it is. For me, that is the biggest problem that we have in America — rich and poor. You have a whole ton of people that are poor and a very small percentage of people that are rich so that causes a division. A problem that’s bigger to me than race is economic division.
What does it say about our country that Donald Trump is running for president?
I like Donald for some reasons and then I don’t like him in the race for some reasons. I like him in the race for reasons being that he’s keeping everybody honest. He’s not using the powers that be to fund his campaign and he’s from that side. He’s kind of the ying and yang, the x-factor, the elephant in the room because he knows both sides. That I like. What I don’t like is the fact that I really don’t think he wants to win. I don’t think he’s trying to win. I think he’s doing this, hedging his bet that this is gonna be better for his business. Which it will be. And for that, I say I don’t think it’s a good thing for our country, because other countries are wise and it kind of makes it look like a joke, our presidential candidates look like a joke. And [America is] supposedly the biggest, most powerful country in the world, so [it’s like] we can’t look like a joke to China.
People are too sensitive. People get butt hurt real quick, real easy these days over nothing. Like, “Oh he said this about….” Whatever happened to sticks and stones? I just think people are way too sensitive these days, even when I see the celebrity’s comment creeping over all these type of media outlets. Like for real? You actually took your time out of the day to answer this person that means really nothing in the grand scheme of things in your life? It’s crazy. But you can tell that those people are very sensitive people. They don’t have thick skin. They let things get to them. They get annoyed quickly and easily. You’re in the wrong business, ‘cause this is the business that we’re in. People are gonna take shots at you, people are gonna say negative things about you. People are gonna close doors in your face all day. This is the business that we’re in, so if you are not built for that, you’re gonna have a tough time in this business, especially ‘cause of social media.
What’s your advice for up-and-comers trying to navigate the music business?
It starts with you. It starts with the person in the mirror. Know yourself. Know what you want. Madonna gave me the best advice ever about this business. She said, “Anything in this business you want, just ask. The worst they can tell you is ‘No.'” And that stuck with me.
When did she tell you this?
When I did my first, first movie ever. Turn it Up. It was a Guy Ritchie production. I was this young guy in the business and coming from her, that meant a whole lot, that she would give me advice on the business, and I’ve kept that with me all along. You get a lot of people in this business that want to predict what’s gonna happen before it happens. I hate those people. I hate people that tell me, “Oh, Ja, they’ll never do that. Why would they do that for you, Ja?” I’m like, “Did you ask them if they would do that?” “No, but I just know they wouldn’t do that.” How do you know that? Do you work in their office?” I got some [people who think like that] in my circle. I had to retrain their thinking. Like, don’t ever let me hear you say to me, “We can’t” or “They’re not” or “That’s not gonna” before you ask. Go in there and find out.
I’m sure you tell your kids that all the time.
All the time, all the time. But see, now it’s backfired on me. Because they never ever think Dad’s gonna say, “No.” They’re like, “Gotta ask dad. Gotta ask him. See what he says!”