Today, I hit a car on my bike. I was running late because I can never remember what time I’m supposed to set my alarm for and it was raining and my raincoat is M.I.A. at just the wrong time and I was thinking about just how much food I needed to survive a 10-6 day when BLAM! out of nowhere, this goddamn Chrysler was all up in my grill and my jeans decided they liked the feel of bitumen better than fresh air and so there I was sliding along 38th street like a dork on a Wednesday morning. Tres embarrassing. Besides wondering whether or not Mr Chrysler checked on his beloved Voyager before he checked on me (potentially the former), the incident, shocking as it was so hot on the heels of a full bowl of cornflakes, reminded me quite viscerally of the last time I hit a car on my bike. That time, about six years back, was much smoother, much more attractive an accident. I was cruising down my street, back to the house after the beach, and then I was sliding across some irate guy’s bonnet as though it was my fault he’d put it directly in front of my hurtling wheels. Needless to say, the soundtrack to that event – ‘Wonderful’ off Ja Rule’s 2004 ‘R.U.L.E’ – seems a fitting track to delve into tonight, rubbing sore knees and lamenting bloody jeans.
Ja Rule was never a good rapper. 2001’s ‘Livin’ It Up’ had novelty factor but was ultimately saved by guest Case’s MJ-style phrasing on the chorus. ‘Always On Time’, featuring the nobody (at the time, briefly not, and then again now) Ashanti had the same sort of gender crossover appeal as Kelly Rowland/Nelly’s ‘Dilemma‘ did a year later. What Rule had – and this is probably the main reason why the frog-in-throated one continues to live on in popular consciousness even after a six year hiatus – was a focused and minimal production team (‘R.U.L.E.’ was produced almost entirely by Jimi Kendrix, ‘Pain Is Love’ saw Murder Inc founder Irv Gotti behind the decks for every single track) that was able to cobble together a strangely alluring sound. Surely, Def Jam artists always had some spark, some underlying vibrancy to their work but with his two seminal albums, Ja Rule took it to another level.
In a sense, ‘Wonderful’ is to my mind of the same ilk as perennial favourites ‘Signs’ (featuring the excellent Charlie Wilson) and Nelly’s very own ‘Ride Wit Me’. It has this sort of intangible, summery positivity to it that can’t necessarily be broken down into it’s quite obvious parts – breathy Ashanti vocals, R Kelly at his prime, a title stressing how good life is, a Rule at his near-incomprehensible best – but is somehow more than what all of these parts combined might add up to be. There is nothing particularly compelling about Kelly’s crooning, Ashanti’s run-of-the-mill call and response or Ja Rule’s standard rhymes about bitches, monies and haters. And yet, put all together and backed by a beat that ebbs and flows at just the right time, needling synths that add exoticism and a listener mindset of not taking it too seriously, it is surprisingly good fun. ‘Wonderful’ is just one of those songs with little-to-no redeeming value that will always mean something to me, always make me boogie. It’s hard to resist. Just wear a helmet, yeah?
Ja Rule – Wonderful Ft. R Kelly, Ashanti