What a difference 10 years can make. In 2002, Ja Rule was arguably one of the most in demand rappers at the time. His signature brand of “thug lovin” raps dominated the airwaves, and kept the Murder Inc., flag waving high. Whether you loved him or hated him, you couldn’t help but pay attention to him at the time. Fast-forward a decade later and that whole period in time seems like a distant fantasy. Today the Queens rapper is looked at as more of a punch line than a Soundscan king. There were a lot of reasons why his fall from chart domination hit so hard. Between over saturation, lack of artistic growth, present day imprisonment, and a guy who goes by the name of 50 Cent, Ja’s career never stood a chance at longevity. Of course he hopes to change all that with his latest release, Pain Is Love 2, the sequel to his 2001 Pain Is Love album.
From the very beginning, Ja comes with an intensity that takes you back to his glory years. In fact you could make a case that he’s never been as impressive as he is on “Real Life Fantasy” and “Parachute”. With introspective rhymes that bring you into his current day struggles, Ja instantly captures your attention. Both tracks are synth heavy with a strong rock influence that feels organic when mixed with his vocals and their respective choruses. Ja has always had a formula of making records heavy on tough talk, but still radio friendly enough to impact pop charts.
What should be noted is that Ja decides to go for dolo on this effort. While the album is filled with several newcomers such as Leah Siegal and Anita Louise supplying soulful choruses, Ja is the only rapper present. In an era where most artists are always looking to fill a track with a list of the hottest rappers in the game, Ja should be applauded for carrying this project based on his own merit.
Of course while PIL2 comes off as a consistent play production wise, it tends to remind you why Ja’s career took a hit so suddenly. Lyrically he falters on “To The Top”, and “Black Vodka” sounds like it should have been left in 2002. Then, Ja really tests the listener’s patience by hopping on the auto tune wave 3 years too late to give us the travesty that is “Strange Days”. In fact, “Superstar” sounds like any given Ja Rule song that we’ve heard before, only not as good. “Pray 4 The Day” and “Spun a Web” are ok tracks, but they’ll be forgotten about the moment the album ends.
Will PIL2 bring Ja Rule back to commercial prominence? No. Does it match up to its predecessor? Not at all. Is it worth checking out? Yes, but only if your looking for a reason to embrace nostalgia. PIL2 is sonically a solid project that leaves much to be desired lyrically. Redundancy and lack of growth keeps the album from truly taking off, despite the great production that’s provided on it. Certainly not the worst album ever made, but over time could easily be one of the more forgettable ones, at least in Ja Rules discography.
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