The year 2000 was a major moment for hip-hop. The Y2K scare passed and the new millennium arrives, with rappers continuing to take the genre to heights that it had never seen before. A few artists from the southern and western regions of the country were able to make noise in a big way, but New York was still considered the epicenter of hip-hop and ruled with an iron first for much of the late '90s and the early '00s, much off the strength of three particular artists on Def Jam Records.

DMX and Jay Z were the first two to crash the party with multi-platinum albums that helped save Def Jam as a label and put the brand back on the map as the most powerful entity in hip-hop. But the third member of the trio that dominated that era was Ja Rule, the flagship artist on Murder Inc. Records, a powerhouse label headed by Irv Gotti. First gaining the attention of Def Jam bigwig Lyor Cohen due to his standout appearance on Mic Geronimo's 1995 single, "Time to Build," Ja was positioned as next in line after DMX and Jay Z as the new saviors of the label.

Getting his first national look with his feature on Jay Z's "Can I Get A..." single and video, the Queens, N.Y. native would release his own debut album, Venni Vetti Vicci, in June 1999. The LP went on to reach platinum status thanks to the hit single, "Holla Holla." But some critics would discredit him due to his vocal similarities to DMX and peg him as a lesser version of the then Def Jam franchise player.

In a response to those critiques, Ja Rule would truly set himself apart with his sophomore album, Rule 3:36, which would place him on common ground with his fellow Def Jam titans as one of the biggest stars in all of rap. Released on Oct. 10, 2000, the collection debuted atop the Billboard 200 with 276,000 copies sold in its first week of release.

While not considered an undisputed classic, Rule 3:36 would be one of the most successful rap releases of the year and spawn multiple singles that helped define an era.

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, we've handpicked the five tracks from Rule 3:36 that stand above the rest and make it an essential album.

  • 5

    "Furious (F--- You)"

    Featuring Vita and 01

    Other than rap ballads, one of the consistencies of Ja Rule as an artist is delivering high-octane bangers, which is the case with "F--- You," one of the better songs on Rule 3:36. Besides the fact that it was included on the Fast and the Furious soundtrack, "Fuck You" is also notable for its sheer dopeness and replay value. Rapping intensely over the Dat Nigga Reb-produced track, Rule pledges allegiance to his Murder Inc. family in between sharing air-time with Vita and 01.

  • 4

    "I Cry"

    Featuring Lil' Mo

    Known for his more saccharine and street-wise singles, Ja Rule threw fans a curveball by releasing the mournful ballad, "I Cry." Containing a sample of The O'Jays "Cry Together," the song is one of the more solemn tunes in Rule's career. On the tune, the Murder Inc. rhymer laments his lesser moments and regrets in life. "I love my life, I love my wife, but bad times will prevail / And overwhelm me, I'm living in hell, but living wealthy / And though these hoes love me because I'm a star / I can't even buy a drink at the bar," he raps. Ja Rule strips away his rapper persona and gives an honest account of his life and times.

  • 3

    "Die"

    Featuring Tah Murdah, Black Child & Dave Bing

    "We about money and murder," Black Child barks at the beginning of "Die," a sinister track from the album. Ja and his Murder Inc. cronies lyrically murders the song with their respective flows. Featuring Caddillac Tah, Black Child and Dave Bing, the track may not rate high on the richter scale of star power, but is more than worth its weight in bars. Black Child and Tah both go for broke on the Ty Fyffe production. But Rule comes through with a monstrous finale verse with lines like, "I blow lines like an addict, bust guns erratic / Shine blind like carats, Rule's above average."

  • 2

    "Between Me and You"

    Featuring Christina Milian

    The infectious "Between Me & You" was the album's lead single and features Rule getting flirty with Christina Milian. Co-produced by Irv Gotti and Lil' Rob, the beat contains a sample of Issac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" and is powered by drums, mandolin chords and crashing cymbals that Rule navigates with ease. "Now when I first met her, all I thought was thong-thong-thong / Like lose the lame, we can get our freaking on / Baby know the game, slipped away, slide me your number / It's the last day of Spring, see you first day of Summer," he raps detailing the forbidden romance between him and his lover. The song would go on to become the rapper's first crossover hit and a undisputed classic in his discography.

  • 1

    "Put It On Me"

    Featuring Lil' Mo & Vita

    Rule 3:36's Hallmark moment comes in the form of "Put It On Me," a sentimental song that played a big part in Rule's rise to superstar status. While he had shown flashes of his hit-making prowess with previous releases, Rule truly found his footing on this song and became the chief ambassador of all things related to thug-love. Rapping "Where would I be without my baby / The thought alone might break me / And I don't wanna go crazy / But every thug needs a lady," Rule expresses his appreciation for his significant others' love and loyalty while dreading the thought of them ever separating. Featuring Murder Inc. femme fatale Vita (and Lil' Mo on the radio version), "Put It On Me" was one of the biggest hits near the end of 2000. It stands as one of the most definitive songs of its era.

  • Bonus:

    20 Underrated Rap Albums You Need in Your Collection

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