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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
10/10/2004 9:02:48 PM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Ja Rule.

Lawlessness is pretty much down everywhere except one place -- the hip-hop charts.

The statistics are clear. During the past decade, across America, the murder rate is down. The violent crime rate is down. Overall crime? Also down.

In the past two years, gangsta rap's popularity soared to levels it hadn't seen since N.W.A. helped invent the genre 15 years ago, but are the streets where today's hip-hoppers grow up really that much more dangerous than the rest of the country?

Not exactly. It's really more about the Benjamins.

'If an artist makes more money talking about being a thug and his realness in the street, then he's going to do more of that because that's where the success is," said MC Serch, best known from the group 3rd Bass and now a radio DJ in Detroit. "They will do what sells."

What is selling these days, as the multiplatinum success of 50 Cent shows, is gangsta rap, hard-hitting songs laced with often- brutal images. Always looking to cash in on a trend, record companies couldn't get enough of the stuff.

However, it is harder and harder to find talented rappers who have struggled through crime-filled lives. To meet the demand, more and more aspiring rappers are tailoring their songs to fit the gangsta mold, whether they lived that life or not.

"A man who is starving will say anything and do anything to get on," explained MC Serch. "It's a new twist in hip-hop's long-running relationship with violence. And it's given birth to the most potent of put-downs -- "the wanksta."

No one knows the consequences of this trend better than Ja Rule, who only two years ago sat atop the music world. He had a string of Top 5 hits, four platinum albums and booming businesses as a songwriter and producer on the side.

That year, he once held the top two singles in the country -- a feat that only eight artists, including Elvis Presley and the Beatles, can claim.

The Hollis native's success came by forging a middle ground in hip-hop, which he summarized in a recent interview by singing one of his signature lines, "Every thug needs a lady."

"Flossin' or thuggin'

"When I came out, there were two styles of rappers: You were flossin' or you were thuggin'," he said. "I merged the two."

Not only did Ja Rule take the wealth-obsessed concerns of the flossin' rappers and place them in the tougher, gangsta context of the thuggin' ones, his albums ran the gamut from street anthems to crossover pop hits.

Ja Rule, like LL Cool J before him, tapped into that movie- star combo -- being tough enough to be admired by guys and sweet enough to be loved by ladies. That worked well. At least until 50 Cent came along.

When 50 Cent, also from Hollis, arrived on the scene in the fall of 2002, with mentor Eminem at his side, he began a meticulous character assassination of Ja Rule that was worthy of a presidential campaign.

Both 50 and Eminem harped on Ja's pop crossovers in a seemingly endless parade of songs, painting him as soft on crime -- because, well, he didn't commit enough of them -- while 50's history as a teenage drug dealer who had been shot nine times was drummed into fans' heads as much as his hit "In Da Club."

Though Ja and his labelmates from The Inc. tried to fight back, 50's battle strategy worked -- not because his verbal attacks were sharper, though most hip-hop observers say that helped, but because his attacks were aimed at Ja's fans, too.

In songs such as "Wanksta" and "Back Down," he not only portrayed Ja as weak, but he made it sound like anyone who liked Ja was effeminate -- a sure sign of weakness in hip-hop.

Within months, 50 Cent's debut, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," was well on its way to becoming 2003's biggest-selling album, and Ja Rule's popularity was in free-fall. His album "Blood in My Eye," featuring harsh attacks on 50 Cent, became his fi

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