Label Politics, Claims of Song Stealing, Criticism of Selling Out…This Ja Rule Documentary Has It All (Video)

It’s been 15 years since Ja Rule released “Put It On Me,” his first top-ten hit and one of several charting scorchers on his sophomore album, Rule 3:36. The milestone has set the stage for a look back at the song and its role in shaping Ja Rule’s career, and despite what to many was a career-ending beef with 50 Cent, the song and the album it represents remain immensely popular, and rightfully so. Ja Rule became the poster boy for becoming a wildly successful Rap icon in the early ’00s, landing a slew of hit records and acting roles in major blockbuster films like Turn It Up and The Fast and the Furious. His 2001 album Pain is Love went triple-platinum, due in large part to the popularity of 3:36. In acknowledgement of the LP’s October 10, 2000 arrival, Complex devoted the latest episode of its “Magnum Opus” series to “Put It On Me,” but the story is much, much bigger.

In the mini-documentary, Ja Rule, Murder Inc. head honcho Irv Gotti, Def Jam executive Lyor Cohen, and others contribute their individual memories of the song but perhaps more importantly, the song’s role in laying the groundwork for a new template in the music industry, that of the superstar who navigates from a raw, unadulterated Rap image known to few outside of his current demographic to a mainstream, marketable artist whose songs topped more than just the Rap charts. Now, 15 years later, it’s clear to see how influential that blueprint became, as everyone from Drake, J. Cole and Wiz Khalifa followed similar formulas to bridge their bubbling notoriety with the mechanics of major-label magic to secure superstardom. For many, there is irony in Ja’s success creating that mold, as 50 Cent found even greater success with it only a couple of years later, releasing Pop-ready tracks with catchy hooks a la “Put It On Me” (it would be their beef which would seemingly be the cause for Ja Rule’s eventual commercial downfall). However, as is made evident in “Magnum Opus,” there is no room to doubt the role Ja Rule’s 3:36 played in defining the way Hip-Hop superstars are marketed.

From his role in writing the hook to Jay Z’s “Can I Get A…” to his current role as the star of the MTV reality series “Follow the Rules,” Ja Rule’s entire career trajectory is covered in the clip, but the main character is undoubtedly 3:36 and the label politics which it inspired. Following the relatively tepid response to his debut Venni Vetti Vicci and criticism that he was trying to be someone else, Ja decided to use his second album as an opportunity to “do something that nobody’s expecting, so I grew my hair out into a bigass afro, went and got corn rows…DMX and ‘Pac don’t look nothin’ like this. So I changed my look.” It would be the “friendly, female-driven” records that would set Ja apart from his competition, and as Gotti shared, he made a “concerted effort to make chick-friendly, radio friendly records.” But there was a fine line to be drawn, and he urged Ja not to be “soft on these records, lyrically,” a combination that obviously worked in the album’s favor.

The album didn’t come without its hiccups, however, and the differing perspectives shared in the video package are fascinating. As Ja shares, “I thought Rule 3:36 was a dope album,” but “we bring the album back…and it was, like, the biggest shock of my life.” Apparently, his feelings on the LP differed greatly from those of the label execs. “I played that album for Lyor and Kevin Liles, and they shitted on me,” Gotti says. According to him, Cohen called it “the softest album” and said he hated it, telling him to “scrap it.” In his response, Cohen argued that due to his being in charge at the label, he was not going to put out “music I didn’t like or that I didn’t feel was going to be good for the label.”  In a moment of brief hostility, Cohen responds to Gotti’s recollection of the deal, in which he says Cohen “set me up for failure.” “Did he look sane to you?” Cohen asks the producers when informed of Gotti’s words. “I don’t remember that,” he says. Regardless of the inner turmoil that may have surrounded the album’s release, it went on to become one of (if not the) first example of what Complex’s Noah Callahan-Bever calls an “an incredible rapper from an incredible Rap scene who just shot for the stars with total Pop aspirations and did it successfully.”

Also included in the homage to “Put It On Me” are the insights from producers involved in making the record and the opposing viewpoints about what really went down, production wise. In addition, Ja Rule poignantly speaks on his feelings about Jay Z using “Can I Get A…” and the lament he felt about it. Check out the episode in its entirety to hear all that and much more.

Related: Ja Rule & Irv Gotti Team With Paramount For Series About Murder Inc.