Born in Queens, New York, in 1976, Ja Rule made his way onto the rap scene in 1999 with his debut album, Venni Vetti Vecci. The album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and launched the career of the rugged rapper with a grizzly voice. Ja Rule followed that success with several hit singles, including "Always on Time" featuring Ashanti and "Put It On Me." He has also faced legal troubles throughout his career, having received prison sentences for gun and tax-evasion charges.
Musician and actor Ja Rule was born Jeffrey Atkins on February 26, 1976, in Queens, New York. Ja Rule was raised the only child of his mother, Debra Atkins, after his sister died from breathing complications when he was 5 years old. Because of the two jobs that Debra Atkins—a health-care worker—held, which occupied a large majority of her time, Ja Rule credits his upbringing to the streets of Hollis, Queens, and his grandparents.
Early Rap Career
Ja Rule began his journey as a rapper in 1993. He got his rap name by partially by using his initials—Jeffrey Atkins—and by taking on the name "Rule" that his friend gave him. Through joining the group Cash Money Click in 1994, an 18-year-old Ja Rule expected to make it as a star. Unfortunately, after signing his first contract as a rapper, he lost the publishing rights to his album, which was never released, and waited several years before striking a deal with another record company.
After four years of waiting, Ja Rule was signed to Def Jam Records in 1998, and made his radio debut as a featured artist on Jay-Z's single "Can I Get A...," during the same year. The heavily promoted single started to gather a buzz around the raspy-voiced rapper. The following year, Ja Rule released his debut album, Venni Vetti Vecci, with Murder Inc. Records, a label started by Irv Gotti under Def Jam Records. Venni Vetti Vecci was also the first album released under the newly founded label.
The album, while not domiating the charts, still made an impressive showing for the debut artist. Ja Rule's album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling more than 184,000 copies in its first week. His ranking proved even more impressive when compared to other popular artists that released their debut albums on the same day, including Jennifer Lopez and Blink-182, who debuted at No. 8 and No. 9, respectively.
The success of his debut album was only the start of Ja Rule's ascension in the music industry. From his debut in 1999 to 2004, Ja Rule released a new album every year—Rule 3:36 (2000), Pain Is Love (2001), The Last Temptation (2002), Blood in My Eye (2003) and R.U.L.E. (2004). Each album found moderate success, and his singles featuring pop/R&B artists such as Ashanti and Jennifer Lopez were particularly popular. Ja Rule's second single from Pain is Love, "Always on Time," featured R&B singer Ashanti, and was the rapper's first No. 1 single on the Billboard Top 100.
After finding success as a rapper, Ja Rule tried his luck as an actor. He made his film debut in 2000 in Turn It Up. The following year, he made an enormous leap in his acting career by appearing the popular film The Fast and the Furious. Though his part in the film was minor, it allowed him to branch out into more noticeable film roles, including in Scary Movie 3 (2003) and Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), in which he co-starred with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne.
Despite his fame and fortune, in recent years, Ja Rule has found himself in trouble with the law on several occasions. In 2004, the rapper pleaded guilty to assault charges. He faced a $1,200 fine for punching someone in La Rouge Nightclub in Toronto; he had been shooting a film there at the time.
In 2007, Ja Rule and Lil Wayne were arrested in Manhattan for the criminal possession of weapons. Ja Rule was found with a loadedand unregistered .40-caliber pistol in his vehicle following a concert featuring both artists. Ja Rule turned himself in and pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to two years in prison in late 2010. He began serving his sentence in June 2011.
Just one month later, in July 2011, Ja Rule was charged with income-tax evasion. In March 2011, the rapper pleaded guilty to the charges, revealing that he hadn't paid taxes on more than $3 million of income from 2004 to 2006. He received a 28-month federal sentence.
In May 2013, after serving 20 months of his two-year sentence, Ja Rule was released from a prison in upstate New York, permitted to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement—and to leave his home to fulfill his responsibilities as a performer, under the supervision of authorites.
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