By SUSAN HORNIK
Remember Ja Rule, the Grammy-nominated singer/rapper who dominated the late 1990s and early 2000s?
MTV is hoping that you do.
Ja Rule, whose name, Jeffrey Atkins, has also appeared in movie credits of late, is the latest music star to get his own reality television series. He talked about the new MTV docu-series that also features his wife, Aisha, their kids, his mama and mother-in-law “Follow The Rules” at the TV Critics Press Tour in Los Angeles.
The “Fast and Furious” star had no plans to do a reality series. “I love doing television and film,” he said. “When this situation came about…maybe a few years ago… I was not interested at first. Then, as I started to see reality TV series develop and grow into what television really is now—the new sitcom—I was very intrigued by that. I said, ‘you know what? What better way to express myself and do a family sitcome show than to do it with my family?” So I think I made a great decision in that, and we have a really great show.”
With such a competitive market– rappers who have done reality TV series include Salt N Pepa, Coolio, Rev. Run, T.I., Snoop Dogg and TLC’s Chilli and T-Boz–Ja hopes that his show, which is being produced by Queen Latifah, will be different than what else is out there.
“I think people see Ja Rule as a certain way. They see me as a wild, crazy artist and there’s Murder, you know, everything. So now they get to see me at home being dad, being a husband, a father. It’s a lot different. I’m really, really silly and crazy and like to have fun with my family. And I don’t think people get to see that from me when they see me on my day to day travels. So they get to see a different side of Ja Rule, which is cool,” he said.
Daughter Brittney “B-Stacks” Atkins grew up with her dad’s music. “I love my dad’s music. I really feel like it’s just a part of me, always. I know it word for word, just as well as he does.”
“Rules” is part of a nostalgic trend of African-American rappers, actors and actresses who were popular in the late 1990s-early 2000s, returning to television. “R&B and hip-hop stars that were hot in the 1990s are parents to older children now, as are all of the fans who grew up with them,” acknowledged TV critic Melanie McFarland.
“If you grow up as a huge fan of a certain performer, and that person goes away for a while, there’s a natural tendency to wonder where they are during bouts of nostalgia. That makes them perfect as current reality series stars,” McFarland said.
It also enables people to renew their connections with these celebrities, McFarland said. “When we were younger, we were fans and they were huge stars, but the years kind of level the playing field, to a degree. These shows let us see that they’re just people who have the same life and family issues as the rest of us — only, in most cases, they’re just people who have nicer houses and more money.”
Executive producer Christian Sarabia played up the fun factor. “I think Ja’s such a different dad and it’s going to be so fun to watch them. He doesn’t parent the same way. He’s not parenting as a parent. He’s parenting as somebody that’s been through everything. I thnk that’s what most interesting about this family and why it’s going to be exciting to watch them.”
Sarabia added: “What’s great about this family is there’s no generation gap. They literally all listen to the same music. Ja’s I think, a different dad, in that he’s literally listening to the same thing that the kids are listening to. And so everyone in the house is on the same page.”
Executive producer Irv Gotti, who is also in the docu-series, agreed. “The hip-hop culture has destroyed the age barrier. It’s helping destroy the race and color barrier. And it’s also destroying the age barrier, where we speak the same talk, we talk the same language, and it’s a better communication….I think ‘Follow the Rules’ is going to exemplify that at a magnitude where you see it….That‘s what I think the hip-hop culture has done for society.”
But while Ja is focused on acting with the new show, he hasn’t given up on music. “I’m going to put out some music later on this year, maybe early next year,” he said. “I’m still working on some good stuff, and I’ve got some surprises, some good stuff coming up. “