Hit records celebrating a city are supposed to bring people together. Take Ja Rule’s 2004 smash single “New York,” for instance. Featuring hip-hop heavyweights Fat Joe and Jadakiss, the song was released as the second single from his 2004 studio album R.U.L.E. and peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. Having caught on with the masses as a major hit, it should have also served as reminder amongst New York emcees of the bond they share as the proprietors of hip hop. Here you have a global record with an infectious chorus – What native New Yorker doesn’t enjoy chanting “I’m from New York?” – Yet, it served as the fulcrum for the ensuing turmoil between the city’s rap juggernauts.
The year is 2004, 50 Cent – on the heels of his incredibly successful debut studio album Get Rich or Die Tryin’— is the biggest rapper in the world, oh and he happens to hate Ja Rule’s guts and subsequently, anyone who associates themselves with him. Their beef stems from 50 feeling slighted because their big homie Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, chose to back Ja Rule’s music over him. That along with many other incidents – that have been covered in magazines and documentaries – have led to the two Queens rappers loathing each other for the better part of 20 years. They’ve gone back and forth with numerous diss records and even had an altercation at the world-famous Hit Factory studios in New York City, which resulted in a brawl between each other’s entourages and 50 Cent being stabbed.
While 50 Cent’s contempt for Ja Rule drove his actions, it’s also important to note that although the latter reached fame and notoriety a few years before his adversary, in 2004, 50 Cent had a ton of pull as the most in-demand and popular rap act of the time. Which means, he acted without any regards for what his contemporaries thought, and since he was backed by Dr. Dre and Eminem (the highest selling rapper of all-time), he didn’t need to maintain relationships with his New York counterparts. So, what began as a dispute between 50 Cent and Ja Rule quickly transformed and saw the “Many Men” rapper taking shots at Fat Joe and Jadakiss on his sophomore album The Massacre. On the diss-record “Piggy Bank” – which he also attacked Nas, Nas’ then-wife Kelis, The Game and Lil’ Kim on – he slams Fat Joe, “that fat n**** thought Lean Back was in the club/ my sh*t sold 11 mil, his sh*t was a dud. He then proceeds to go after Jadakiss on the very next line, “Jada’ don’t f**k with me, if you wanna eat/Cause I’ll do yo’ little ass like Jay did Mobb Deep/Yeah, homey, in New York n**** like your vocals, But that’s only New York dawg, yo’ ass is local.”
With that began a division between 50 Cent and two more prominent New York rappers (add them to the list), and since 50 Cent had beef with Ja Rule, Fat Joe and Jadakiss, so did everyone associated with him; including his entire G-Unit crew (because that’s how 50 rolls and who wants to piss off the biggest rapper in the world?).
While New York consistently delivered rappers with hard-hitting lyrics along with plenty of big hits, the division amongst them wasn’t easy to overcome (It wasn’t all on 50 Cent as other rappers like Cam’ron also had the propensity to verbally assault their contemporaries). Nonetheless, as the South grew stronger, major acts like Outkast, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, UGK, T.I. and Young Jeezy were all delivering a stellar product and it was much easier to find cohesion among their power players, eventually paving the way for the south to become the “it” region in hip hop.
50 Cent and Fat Joe have since settled their differences in 2012 when their mutual friend and business associate Chris Lighty passed away, while Jadakiss and 50 have also found common ground. As for Ja Rule and 50 Cent? Well they still can’t stand each other. Yet, the two hip hop legends have given us plenty of hit songs and iconic moments to discuss for years to come and “New York” serves as just a small part of their long and complicated history.