"KNOW THY SELF..." is one of the oldest, philosophical statements that can be traced back to Ancient Egyptian times that still resonates people who are lovers of knowledge and are in pursuit of spiritual oneness. It is a creed that knows no boundaries and people from all walks of life gravitate to its simplistic truth. When it comes to music, nowhere does this belief have more meaning than in hip-hop, where the drive to stay true one's artistry is the ultimate goal. And, there is only one rap artist within the 21st century that this declaration of faith could not have spoken to more than The Inc./Empire/Motown Universal recording artist Jeffrey Atkins a.k.a. Ja Rule. Backed by a new label and a fresh perspective on his career and personal life, Ja Rule is ready to reclaim his longtime reign in hip-hop with his latest album, The Mirror.
"I called it the Mirror because originally I was going call it Love is Pain," recalls Ja Rule. "My 3rd album was called Pain is Love (Island Def Jam, 2001), and I named it that because where I was at the time and what I'd been through----going through a lot struggles and sacrifice to get this point in my career and to receive the love from the people----to me, that was the first album where I got love from the people. So, I originally felt I needed to call this album, Love is Pain, because after going through struggles of gaining the love of the people, they took it right back. They say after you achieve that love, people love to see you fall. But, as I started to record some songs (for this album) it began to get deeper than that. I wanted the people to realize how I felt and what I went through, during this whole transition. I mean you will never really know what I was going through, because what people think and what it really was, is two different things. So by calling this album The Mirror, I want people to really get a glimpse on what it is to be Ja Rule and the album is a reflection of that."
The Mirror is such an apropos title for Rule's eighth album. The multi-platinum veteran rapper out of Hollis, Queens, has gone through a personal transformation that sees him closing the door on a tumultuous time in his life----from the long, drawn out public feud with Interscope Recording Artist 50 Cent, to the investigation and vindication The Inc. label heads Irv and Chris Gotti by the United Sates Federal Government----to opening up a new chapter both artistically and business-wise where Ja Rule and The Inc. are poised to make run atop the Billboard charts for the remainder of 2007 and beyond. And, reclaiming his superstar status in higher rap's echelon should not be a problem for Ja, whose stellar recording history of undeniably street anthems and monumental crossover hits, captured a generation nearly a decade ago. Even during the height of the public and legal scrutiny, Ja Rule and The Inc. brand still managed bang out hits for the radio and clubs, with 2004's R.U.L.E album (Island Def Jam). Now with all the drama behind him, hip-hop should come to expect that same formula of success, but with a more mature twist. I guess the public will label it as a comeback album, Ja responds. "In my eyes, I never really went anywhere. I had some beef and had some thorough investigations to get past, but as far as leaving the industry, I mean my last album was in 2004". The album spawned two monster records with "Wonderful" featuring R. Kelly and "New York" featuring Fat Joe and Jadakiss. The record sold Platinum.
In addition to the grown man memoirs that featured are on The Mirror, what's different about this album in comparison to projects years past is its' sonic palette that Ja Rule took an active role in overseeing. Known for usually collaborating with The Inc. in-house producers, Irv Gotti and 7 Aurelius, Ja took it a step further by getting melodic assistance from the likes of heavyweights such as, Erick Sermon, Ty Fyffe, Rick Steel, DJ Kurupt, Mel-Man, among others. Such musical diversity is refreshing in hip-hop where the genre is currently criticized for being creatively stale, and Ja has the content and the passion, not only to reenergize his worth in the game, but also to inject some new life into rap and pull in some newer fans in the process. Standout cuts include the introspective testimonial on "Abandoned (A message to mankind), an aggressive club banger, "Uh Oh" and "Body" that is sure to further cement Ja Rule's legacy in hip-hop. "I don't think I gave the fans me before," says Ja. "I gave them music by me, but they didn't get a chance to meet me. People only got to know me through the singles I made. That's why I took time with this album, I just wanted to sit back and create. On some songs, it took me 3 to 4 days to finish, whereas before I was known to knock out 2 songs in a night. To talk to the people the way I needed to talk them, I just couldn't go in there and make another album. Sonically, half of The Mirror is dark and the other half is real bright. If I had to describe it, it's like night and day."
Though Ja is hum on The Mirror's guest appearances ("I got some surprises and I want to keep some mystique around it for now"), he isn't shy about his future plans and ventures. The Mirror is my last album as a player," Ja says. "I'm about to go into player-coach mode now with the (re-vamped), my new company Rule Global Media which includes, my Stars On Poker website, my internet radio station www.187fm.com, my film company (Tunnel Vision), and my new record label, Empire Music Group, and Erving Geoffrey Clothing Company. It's real challenging being an artist and an executive at the same time, so I plan to fall back a bit and do the mogul thing."
The soon-to-be mogul is not throwing in the towel on his recording career just yet, so fans should not be alarmed. However, Ja rule is being more calculating about his future and where hip-hop fits into it. That starts by thoroughly examining yourself and making the proper changes that are needed. By looking into The Mirror----you will not only find Ja Rule at his best, but also a place for hip-hop to begin charting a different course for it to continue survive and thrive. "I want everyone who purchases my album to look at themselves in the mirror and to think that this is the only place that you can't lie. Look for The Mirror in stores September 25th.
There's only one thing tougher than making your debut album, and that's recording your first demo. "Making mine was a total nightmare," laughs Vanessa Carlton. "I was 17 and living in Hell's Kitchen, working five days a week as a waitress in lower Manhattan. On the weekends, I'd grab my four-track and make the long drive to my parents' house in Pennsylvania because that's where my piano was. With my father's help, I'd record take after take until four in the morning, determined to capture 'the perfect performance.' Unfortunately, my dog had other plans. Each time I'd get to the end of a good take, she'd ruin it with a woof, and we'd have to start all over again."
Carlton smiles a lot these days--and with good reason. She began by wrapping up her highly anticipated A&M Records debut, Be Not Nobody, an intoxicating blend of earthy sensuality and emotional resonance. Several months before the album was finished, things were intensified by the lead single "A Thousand Miles" and its companion video; a video that garnered early airplay on MTV. "I remember watching it for the first time," recalls Carlton. "I was in the studio and had just taken a break, when someone ran in the room and said, 'you're on MTV!' We put it on and I just stared at the screen. After a few minutes, I just covered my eyes and started to laugh. It seemed so surreal. The night after that, I heard the song on the radio for the first time. It was all so unbelievable."
As if that weren't enough, Rolling Stone named Carlton one of the "Top 10 Artists To Watch in 2002." Calling her "a more pop-oriented Fiona Apple," the magazine praised Carlton's "serious formal skills at the keyboard," as well as her ability to keep her songs "busy with classical flourishes, rich voicing and harmonies reminiscent of Tori Amos."
While grateful for the recognition, Carlton could do without the analogies. "It's funny," she says, "You'd never hear Rage Against the Machine compared to Radiohead. But if they were women, they'd be compared all the time. If you're a girl who plays an instrument, you're going to hear the same comparisons over and over, even though every artist has something different to say. I think once people listen to the record, they'll realize I'm just me."
Of course, branding Carlton the next anybody doesn't quite tell her story. To find out who she really is, you have to go back to the pin dot of Milford, Pennsylvania, population 1,104. "Growing up, there was always music in our house," she recalls. "My mother is a piano teacher, and when she was pregnant with me, she made sure to play certain pieces, including lots of Mozart. When I was 2 ˝, my parents took me to Disneyland, where I heard 'It's A Small World' for the first time. When we came home, I ran to the piano and picked out the melody note by note. That's how it all began."
Under her mother's tutelage, Carlton was exposed to a variety of composers, including Eric Satie, Mendelson and Debussy. She played often, and quickly developed a versatile and surprisingly sophisticated talent, composing her first piece at age eight. "My mother has been an amazing guiding force in my life," says Carlton. "As opposed to other teachers, who would hit you on the hand and reprimand you for improvising on a classical piece, she gave me the gift of feeling free at the piano and allowed me to express myself. As a result, learning piano never felt like work, and practice was never a chore. That was invaluable in my development as a musician."
Though Carlton continued to hone her craft, she slowly became less interested in playing "Swan Lake" than dancing it. "I became obsessed with ballet," she says. "At 14, I was accepted into the School of American Ballet. I left home and moved into the dorm in Lincoln Center. I enrolled in the Professional Children's School and began a new life. But I was surprised at how strict it was. I had attended a Montessori school when I was younger and wasn't used to such a regimented system. The pressure was intense and the competition was pretty extreme. The first year and a half was okay, because I was still able to grow as an artist despite the environment. But after awhile I couldn't get along with my teachers and it became a disaster. I went from being the best in my class to skipping class. It became too much for me. I felt completely lost."
Frustrated, she submerged herself in music. "There was a dilapidated piano in the kitchen of the dorm and I'd go there to play," she recalls. "At that point, I had never written lyrics before, just pieces of music. But all these songs started pouring out of me and I began writing. I had never thought of myself as a singer or songwriter, but it became really natural and felt so good. In more ways than one, music healed me."
Walking away from her nascent ballet career at age 17, Carlton moved to Hell's Kitchen and took a job as a waitress. She continued to write, and after amassing a gaggle of songs, mustered up the courage to road test them on the New York club circuit. "My father is so great," she says. "He would bring me to open mic nights and push me in the door because I was so afraid. At first, I didn't want people to look at me when I performed because it felt too violating," she laughs. "But I got over that when I saw that they were moved by my playing."
When behind the piano, Carlton is hypnotic to watch, conveying a full vocabulary of emotions through evocative melodies and provocative phrasings. In the lush Be Not Nobody, which was produced by A&M Records President Ron Fair, and her latest Harmonium (produced by Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins) she continually draws as much from classical music as from classic rock, fusing both with a soulful pop voice that is by turns vulnerable, sultry and raw.
Commenting on her influences, Carlton says, "There was only classical music allowed in our house and that was fine--I loved it. To this day, I put on classical music whenever I need to relax because it reminds me of home. But my father was a big Pink Floyd fan, and would play Animals and Dark Side of the Moon in the car. So I have this odd combination of influences that grew to include everything from Mozart, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac to PJ Harvey, Neil Young and Chopin. I like music that allows me to discover something new each time I hear it. That was my goal with this record."
She pauses a moment, then adds, "I'd love to have people feel the way I do when I sit at the piano and play. I can play for hours without realizing how much time has passed. It's always there for me. That's how I used to feel when I danced. You get in this zone where you're so in the moment and so in the melody. I also find that playing the piano intensifies whatever emotion I'm feeling right then and there. It's very spiritual."
When asked what music satisfies that dancing can't, Carlton smiles and says, "With music, I don't have to be silent."
For R&B singer Lloyd, the road to stardom has taken twists and turns, with high-speed chases and precise maneuvering. Today, the 21-year old singer/songwriter and businessman is in the driver's seat. He commands the open road and is headed straight for stardom.
Singing came natural for Lloyd Polite, a native of New Orleans who grew up in Atlanta. "I knew how to sing before I learned how to talk and I knew how to dance before I learned how to walk". "It's just in my blood". Lloyd comes from a musical background. His mother played piano and sang in the church choir, while his father directed the choir and played saxophone. It was his parent's support and belief that inspired Lloyd. "It was that powerful for me that I just took a liking, I decided to just try to perfect it".
As a pre-teen, Lloyd met Joyce Irby, a singer and musician who played in the groundbreaking all-girl band called Klymaxx. Ten-year-old Lloyd met Irby during a rehearsal for a show at his performing arts school. Irby put together the R&B trio, Ntoon signed to Dreamworks Records. Lloyd was the first member and was later joined by Justin Clark and Everett Hall. "That was my first real introduction to the stage, doing shows for like 2,000 people one night and twenty people the next night." "Touring taught me everything, when you stay ready, you are always ready -- that was our motto". At the time, Dreamworks Records was not prepared to work an R&B act and the group dissolved.
At 14, Lloyd found himself at square one. "It was my drive that helped me forget that I was young and allowed me to move forward." Armed with a demo of new material Lloyd and Irby made the industry rounds. Lloyd showcased his music and the response was overwhelming. "I ended up hooking up with Magic Johnson's label, MJM. The 2001 CD, Oh My Lloyd, spawned the hit single "Hey Young Girl". "We had a release date and the video, and we did our photo shoot. We were so excited and what do you know -- the label falls".
Lloyd returned to Atlanta, back to the familiar surroundings of Dallas Austin's studio where he originally recorded with Ntoon. A chance meeting at DARP with Arista Records A&R exec Mark Pitts landed Lloyd a showcase for Antonio L.A. Reid. Eventually an offer came in from the renowned producer and label executive. But, fate forged a detour. "Around that same time, I met Irv Gotti. "L.A. seemed to be like the wiser uncle of my family and Irv was like my big brother who I could do everything with". "So I put my cameo on and they drafted me into the Inc, army". Lloyd released the successful single, "Southside" featuring fellow label mate Ashanti.
Lloyd also recorded with southern artists, 8 Ball and MJG, Young Jeezy, Lil Scrappy, Trillville, Roy Jones, Snoop Dogg, and Tango Redd. Ready to start his new venture, Young Goldie Productions, Lloyd brought in an old friend, Jazze Pha to help get the ball rolling. With Jazze Pha's Sho'nuff Records (home to Ciara, Jody Breeze and Cherish) and Irv Gotti of the named Inc Records (Ja Rule, Ashanti, Vanessa Carlton, and Seven) planted firmly in his corner, Lloyd released a new single, the infectious radio-friendly smash "You" featuring Lil Wayne. The new album is a healthy blend of old school flavor, flawless vocals and stellar production by Irv Gotti, Big Reese (Mariah Carey, Tango Redd, Young Jeezy), Jasper Cameron (Nelly, Christina Aguilera, Monica), J-Lack, and Jazze Phizzle. Lloyd takes chances vocally on each song: spewing sexy flavor on "Certified", delivering an edgy ode to a girl named "Hazel". "I'm a very out-of-the-box kind of person. If you're inside the box, you're a square". The beat goes on with "Get it Shawty", "Player's Prayer", "Street Love", and "Valentine" a song with a classic feel and a hook that is infectious.
For Lloyd, everyday is a new day and every time he revs up his engine. Lloyd is behind the wheel, navigating the dicey turns and averting the potholes with all the skill and finesse of a far more seasoned driver. Look for the new album in stores, "Street Love".
With a bevy of successful records, albums, and artists on the roster of the hit-making machine, The Inc. Records, it is hard not to laud the leadership skills of the label's founder and CEO, Irving Lorenzo a.k.a. Irv Gotti. Yet, one cannot claim the title of leader without first being tested. Dealing with untold amounts of pressure, making sure the morale of your soldiers remains high, and possessing a drive to fight through the tough times when all evidence around suggests surrender are just a few marks in being a "Boss." Irv Gotti is all that and then some.
"I'm very happy," says Irv about his current mind state since enduring a long federal investigation in which he and his brother (COO of The Inc.) Chris Gotti, were acquitted of all charges. Not to mention, The Inc.'s joint venture deal with Universal Motown Records Group. Irv again takes on mainstream again with his smash hit reality show airing on VH1. Irv and The Inc. have opened a new chapter in their 10 years of business, not only with new acts and a new home to distribute their records, but also a fresh perspective on life on how to make great music.
Irv Gotti always had music in his blood. As hip-hop spread throughout New York City in the early 1980's, the Hollis, Queens native immediately took the craft of DJing----a passion that was cemented with explosion of fellow Hollis natives and rap legends, Run-DMC. Irv's DJ career soon evolved from him playing parties to selling his own mix tapes. Around this time, he met up with an aspiring rapper who went by the name, Mic Geronimo. Impressed with his talent, DJ Irv and Mic released his critically acclaimed, debut album, The Natural (1995, Blunt/TVT). Irv served as Mic's DJ and the album's executive producer. The duo would sever their ties a year later but before the split, Gotti had signed another act to TVT called Cash Money Click----which featured a young and hungry rapper who called himself Ja Rule. There was massive buzz and video airplay for the Cash Money Click's single "Get the Fortune" (b-side "4 My Click" TVT, 1994).
Irv and Ja Rule scored a meeting with former Island Def Jam Records CEO, Lyor Cohen. Irv impressed the executive with his passion for hip-hop and his business savvy. Though the meeting was successful on many levels, nothing came from it since both Irv and Ja were already signed to the TVT label. After a year, DJ Irv and the Cash Money Click are no longer signed to TVT; the group dissolves due to the incarceration of group member, Chris Black. During this time, rapper Jay-Z and the Roc-a-Fella Records camp emerges and Def Jam is interested in doing business with the outfit. Irv Gotti becomes an instrumental figure in the label's success and Lyor Cohen is takes notice, leading to an opportunity for Irv that he'll never forget. "I was heavy into the Roc-a-Fella camp, because I busy helping them launch their label," says Irv. "So Lyor wanted to find out who was responsible for the success of Roc-a-Fella, and my name came up. Lyor remembered me from the meeting we had a year ago, and he wanted to hire me as an A&R Director. I took the job and the rest is history."
Though Def Jam Records co-founder, Russell Simmons, and top-tier executives Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles are rightly credited for the success of the label, in the middle of the resuscitation of the brand in the mid 1990's had Irv Gotti's imprint all over it. As Def Jam's A&R Director, he signed three of some of hip-hop's top selling artists of all-time: Jay-Z, DMX, and his protégé from Queens, Ja Rule. Not to be understated, Irv was also beginning to establish himself as a go-to hip-hop hit maker, concocting beats for Foxy Brown, DMX, Jay-Z and soundtracks to Belly, Streets Is Watching, and Rush Hour among others. Yet when Ja Rule's debut album, Venni, Vetti, Vecci (Def Jam, 1999), was released and went platinum, the record industry was quickly becoming aware of The Inc. Offers poured in for Irv to produce and the demands of releasing chart-top singles and albums was even greater. Irv, Ja and The Inc. properly responded with back-to-back multi-platinum, smash albums: Rule 3:36 (Def Jam, 2000) and Pain is Love (Def Jam 2001) and the compilation album Irv Gotti Presents: The Murderers (Def Jam, 2000)----that introduced to the world Cadillac Tah----who blew up the airwaves and the clubs with his single of the Fast and Furious soundtrack, "Pov City" (2001).
"I met Ashanti through a colleague of mine who brought her up to my offices to play some music," Gotti recalls about meeting the budding R&B superstar, Ashanti Douglas in 2001. "I let her sing on the chorus for "Always on Time," and on "What's Luv". The popularity of those two chart-topping singles, helped fuel the release of Ashanti's self-titled, Grammy Award-winning debut (Def Jam, 2002) and ended up selling over 3 million copies. Ashanti followed up with Chapter II (Def Jam, 2003), which went platinum. Ashanti would cement her diva status with the platinum release of Concrete Rose in 2004. Irv has sold well over 20 million albums under the Def Jam Umbrella. The Inc. Records was considered by far, one of if not, the top hip-hop imprints in the business.
Irv came out of the trying experience humbler and wiser, and The Inc. is an even stronger label as a result of it. Lloyd's sophomore album, Street Love, reached gold status powered by the infectious singles, "You" and "Get It Shawty". Ja Rule and Ashanti are poised to drop their soon-to-be classified classic albums in 2007 respectively entitled The Mirror and The Declaration. Irv's secret weapon is his ability to discover and nurture talent----no matter the genre. This is why pop sensation, Vanessa Carlton known for her immensely popular piano-laden single, "A Thousand Miles," (off the 2002 platinum-selling, Interscope Records debut album, Be Not Nobody) is now a member of The Inc.
"The future is looking pretty damn good! To me, this is a sign of the evolution of Irv Gotti and The Inc. Records, and I believe in 10 years, there will be different type of conversation about me."