Black Music Month: Ja Rule Talks Hip Hop’s Growth, New Wine Venture And What’s Next For His Legacy

Hip-hop music has been integral to the DNA of the Black American experience since The Sugar Hill Gang’s 1979 classic, “Rapper’s Delight.”

For those who’ve had the honor of growing alongside the culture, we’ve experienced the highs and the lows of the genre. We’ve had our share of summer smashes and countless number-one albums. We’ve opened the doors of the culture by way of the music the whole world finds it impossible to ignore. And we’ve seen hip hop create juggernauts out of corner boys and bosses alike. Oh, there have been rap megastars and then there’s Ja Rule. Where some of his counterparts exist in the margins of “you had to be there” nostalgia, Rule’s influence is heard in every catchy hook partnered with assassin-type bars indicative of the art form’s soul. 

In fact, from 1999 to 2005, a Ja Rule track was always present on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. He didn’t just conquer the hearts of hip-hop fans, Rule transcended the genre and ushered in new possibilities for natural-born lyricists. 

Of course, hip-hop’s talking heads will debate all-time greats and where Ja Rule falls among them is up to history to decide. But what’s true, now and always, is that hip-hop does not get the mass appeal it has without his presence. Today, as one of the genre’s seasoned veterans, 47-year-old Ja Rule is once again pioneering. With his music app ICONN Live, the New York-born emcee enters the live-entertainment arena, offering fans one-of-a-kind free live broadcasts and the ability to chat directly with their favorite artists. And with his VIBES concert series, he brings back the intimate and greatly missed experience of truly sitting with a full body of work. 

BLACK ENTERPRISE caught up with the icon to talk hip-hop’s past and present, his wine company, and what he wishes he knew when he first broke into the music industry.


BLACK ENTERPRISE: There have been a lot of attempts to define you over the years but we’re curious to know how you define yourself. Who is Ja Rule?

Ja Rule: A father, husband, a dedicated creative. I’m just me. My goal right now is to keep pushing the culture forward and keep doing dope s***. 

BE: Not only is it Black Music Month, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, a genre that introduced you to the masses. You’re almost the same age as hip-hop. 

Oh, man. Don’t remind me (laughs). 

BE: Do you think that the genre has aged gracefully and had the natural maturation of others?

We’re still a little too early to tell. You’re starting to see classic rap stations and “old school” rap programming. That’s the natural progression rock music went through. Fifty years is around the time when it starts to really have that maturity. The audience has had a chance to grow up with it. You have to think about the fact that some of the founders of hip-hop are only in their late 60s and early 70s. That trickles down. So, that maturation is happening, naturally, but it’s still young. 

BE: One would argue that you played a role in the marketability of hip-hop. It’s easy to forget that, at the heart, you’re a true lyricist. Do you consider yourself a rap purist?

Oh, for sure. 

BE: Do you think you have room to look at the art form in that way because of the role you played in making it more commercially successful?

I do, yeah. I don’t like to be put in a box. I’m not a one-trick pony. It’s fascinating to see artists push the envelope in a genre and try new sounds or collaborations. All of that matters and it’s the reason why hip hop is the number one genre in music. We can easily mesh with anything: rock, country, or pop. You can literally mix what we created with anything. That’s our superpower. And we do it well. It takes nothing away from that pure part of hip-hop, it only adds to it. 

BE: Well that brings us to your new venture, the ICONN Live app and the VIBES concert series. Why did you want to branch out into this market?

This is what you should be doing in music as a 47-year-old (laughs). Pushing the culture forward and creating new avenues for new artists to showcase their talents. That’s important as you get older. I just love being in a creative space with music and entertainment, period. With ICONN Live, I get to be creative in a whole different way. Creating original content like the VIBES concert series. I’m about to shoot my first Laughin’ It Up, which is my ode to Def Comedy Jam. You’ll see a lot of new comedians and hopefully, some new careers will take off under that umbrella. 

BE: You’ve already collaborated with KRS-One and Musiq Soulchild for the VIBES Concert series, anyone else we can expect to see?

VIBES is all about music legends performing their classic albums. There are so many artists who have those true classics that I want to bring on for this. The thought process behind it is truly “what do the people want?” What are those classic bodies of work that people don’t get to see their favorite artists perform usually. I’d love to get Lauryn Hill to do [The] Miseducation [of Lauryn Hill]. Or have Snoop do Doggy Style and have Nelly do Country Grammar. And that’s just hip-hop, we’re not even talking about the classic r&b albums. Like Mary [J.Blige] doing What’s the 411. That’s the goal. To have as many of those special moments in the future for the series. 

BE: Let’s talk about your other venture, Rose Vine Cellars. What sparked your interest in the wine industry?

Honestly, I love wine. I’m really a big white wine drinker and had been trying to find a red wine that I really like but was having a hard time. So, I decided to make my own. I partnered with Wines That Rock and an amazing winemaker named Ross Reedy. He gave me an incredible batch of wine. My red is very popular right now, to say the least. I’m beating out all of my competitors, in my humble opinion, in taste and in actual alcohol value. We have 15.4 percent alcohol volume, most Cabernets are maybe 12%. 

BE: Only 1% of all US wineries are Black-owned, can we say you’re part of that?

I’m here. I own Rose Vine Cellars. I did a joint partnership with Wines That Rock. I am the owner of my company. 

BE: How many different types of wine will Rose Vine Cellars carry and where can we check it out?

Right now, you can purchase my Red Rose at I have my White Rose coming and my Pink Rose. My Concrete Rose is my tequila. If you’re into that agave, I got you covered. 

BE: Tell me something you wish you’d known about the business of music when you first came onto the scene?

I wish I would have known more about publishing and masters. I had good people around me who structured my deals very well but I wish I’d really known how important those things were. You know what? I wish I’d been more aware of number-one singles and top-10 albums — that sort of thing. When we was doing it, I was just doing it for the love, from my heart. I didn’t think about the accolades as much. These new artists are so conscious of that stuff and they use it to their advantage. I probably could have really used that type of stuff to my advantage. But it’s all good, I’m happy. I have no complaints. 

BE: One thing we admire about you is your willingness to take risks. You’re willing to try new things, to attach the Ja Rule brand to out-of-the-ordinary ventures. What do you credit that courage to?

The way I grew up, you gotta bet on yourself. If not me, then who? I have supreme confidence in what I do as a creative. I just bet on me. Always bet on Black. 

BE: If hip-hop was a person, what would you say to it?

BEHAVE! Stop acting up. Don’t f*** up the money.