One of hip-hop's most legendary wars began with chain-snatchings, thrown punches, diss tracks, and studio stabbings.
There are some feuds that are simply too far gone to simmer, no matter how much time may come to pass. 50 Cent’s longstanding war with Ja Rule, Irv Gotti, and the Murder Inc conglomerate is one of them. Even twenty-years removed from the first stone cast, the animosity between Curtis Jackson and Jeffery Atkins has not dulled in the slightest. As recently as last Friday, 50 was caught having a ruthless laugh at his old pal’s misfortune. In Detroit, stalwart G-Unit ally Eminem was busy sending a few love taps in Ja’s direction by way of Conway’s “Bang.” For a brief moment, the stars aligned and 2019 became 2003. All of this to the delight of middle-aged fans, many of whom still look back fondly on the long and bloody war between Shady Records, G-Unit, and Murder Inc. But how can such reckless hate come to manifest in the first place?
THE CHAIN SNATCHING INCIDENT OF 99'
In truth, the complete narrative is rather complex, made up of various testimonials, hearsay, and threats exchanged on wax. For the most part, however, all lines trace back to a young 50 Cent, circa 1999. At this point, Fif was still looking to make a dent in the game. By his own admission, established producer Irv Gotti (DMX, Jay-Z) was among those to turn down his debut album, citing a resemblance to the Jigga Man. Perhaps their fates were destined to intertwine. In any case, Fif continued to grind, making waves on the mixtape circuit with songs like the notorious “How To Rob.” As one-time 50 Cent associate Chaz Williams (who passed away earlier this month) explains, tensions originally sparked on the set of a music video, rising New York rapper Ja Rule’s “Murda 4 Life,” which left 50 feelings snubbed by Ja’s quick and flippant dismissal.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Meanwhile, Ja Rule’s Veni Vidi Vici, led by the breakout single “Holla Holla,” was quickly establishing Rule as one to watch in the industry. Having already collaborated with both Jay-Z and DMX, Rule made for a key periphery player in the pantheon of local talent. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Ja from finding himself on the receiving end of a chain-snatching, a tale he went on to share with Vlad TV in 2014. Apparently, Ja was lured down the block by an old Southside acquaintance, who was under the impression that Rule made him a cuckold during a prison bid. Despite Rule’s denial, the man still opted to seize the chain as a consolation prize. “He was like, emotionally torn,” explains Ja. “He had the shaky hands, he was in a lover’s triangle quarrel type situation. It had nothing to do with music.”
Naturally, Ja wasn’t about to let the action go unpunished, and assembled his crew to mobilize. Before the situation could escalate, Rule reached out to a mutual party, the big homie Supreme, who ultimately facilitated the safe return of the chain. “I guess the story got back in the hood, about what happened,” pondered Ja. “So 50 used that as his in to have something to say about me.” 50 found himself taking his animosity out in the booth, sending “Life’s On The Line” in Ja and Irv’s direction on October 12th 1999 (keep in mind it was likely recorded prior). On the classic track, Fif clowned on Ja’s signature “Murda” battle cry and opened the floor for disrespect in a public setting. Yet the true shots stem from an unreleased version of the track, where Fif calls Ja out by name, directly alluding to the aforementioned chain-snatching incident - right down to Preme’s involvement:
Jigga stay away from Ja before he get on some bullshit
Talk to police on that Sammy the Bull shit
You pussy Ja, why you get juxed in your own hood?
Why n***as who robbed you walk around like it’s all good?
Why you ran to Preme to get your shit back?
Why you won’t approach me, cause you know I’ll push your shit back
It’s unclear what prompted the animosity toward Ja, perhaps it stemmed from Irv Gotti’s role in declining Fif’s original deal. Perhaps it was simply jealousy, as Rule was in the midst of a full-blown rise to stardom. Either way, “Life’s On The Line” served as the first volley in a longstanding lyrical war. Yet given the fact that 50 does not allude to any direct involvement in Ja’s first chain-snatching, and given that he surely would mention it had he been involved, “Life’s On The Line” serves to corroborate Ja’s own testimony from 2014. And yet, somehow, 50 managed to put his hands on Ja’s chain at some point. The likely time period would be near the end of 1999, when the pair found themselves throwing hands in Atlanta, but we’ll get to that later.
Prior to their fateful encounter in the ATL, the dislike between Ja Rule and 50 Cent still needed to reach critical mass. In his interview with Vlad, the late Williams recounts the inciting incident, which took place at a massive concert in New York featuring Jay-Z and the entire Ruff Ryders squadron. It was there where 50 Cent and Ja Rule, already nursing a healthy dislike for one another, crossed paths backstage. He proceeds to allude to an inciting incident, in which Ja saw 50 standing “too close to a dude that Ja Rule had a problem with before that. That’s what escalated it even more, when Ja saw him standing next to the guy.” As it happens, the man in question has been widely understood to be Ja’s original chain-snatcher, the Southside acquaintance on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Williams explains that the pair were meant to hash out their differences man to man, only that wasn’t meant to be.
“When we pulled up, Ja was standing outside the hotel, and he had this little Louisville Slugger in his hand. He was standing there with a lot of Murder. Inc people.” Eventually, 50 agreed to see the conversation through. “When he went to pull Ja to the side, away from his guys, Ja walked over with the bat in his hand. As they talking, [Ja] may have gestured with the bat as he’s talking. He raised his voice or something. Then 50 swung on him. It got crazy, but we got it squashed. 50 ain’t got hurt, there was too many of them trying to get at him. He didn’t get a scratch on him.” Though many parties remained in line with Williams’ account, both Chris Gotti and Black Child had Ja Rule getting a few licks in on Fif, though at this point it’s almost impossible to discern the truth. What Williams, Black Child, or Gotti didn’t say, however, is that 50 likely emerged from the altercation clutching Ja Rule’s chain as a prize.
Consider the following anecdote, unearthed from an interview between Dame Grease and M. Wreck. In the historically-rich clip, which finds Dame Grease reflecting on 50 sporting Ja’s chain during a studio session at The Hit Factory. “I was in a studio session, and one of the homies came in,” reflects Grease. “He had just banged on another rapper. And he came in smiling, teeth from here to here, and he had his chain on his little kid. His son. He came in like ‘I just took this n***a shit.’ Nas was like ‘son, you crazy!’ Actually, that was 50.” Seemingly incapable of comprehending the surreal nature of the encounter, M. Wreck attempts to clarify: “50 came in the session with Ja Rule’s chain on when you were recording Nas.” “Yeah,” replies Grease. “I was doing beats and shit. I was like, this n***a wild.” Placing the timeline around the production stages of Nastradamus, which dropped on November 23rd, 1999, it would appear as if Fif’s variation of the tale holds weight - at least to some extent. Grease also alludes to a stabbing incident that occurred at some point down the line, although he maintains it was also during the Nastradamus time period. Of course, he’s referring to The Hit Factory incident, which serves as the most directly violent event in the timeline.
THE HIT FACTORY HIT
It’s difficult to parse together an accurate narrative of what really happened at New York studio The Hit Factory, yet many of those actively involved, including 50 Cent and Irv Gotti’s brother Chris Gotti, have since shared their stories. On the surface, it seemed driven by retribution for the Atlanta encounter, as Ja and Murder Inc seemed determined to enact an eye for an eye. According to Chris Gotti, who detailed as much on Vlad TV, it started once Ja got word that Fif was also recording in The Hit Factory. “We walked into the studio and Rule was going crazy,” says Chris. “Mind you, we have about forty, fifty guys with us. We had the big room. Rule’s like, he’s here.” Gotti explains that Rule, though debilitated by a jet-ski accident, was out for blood. Despite Irv’s protestations, Ja convinced his producer to stand firm by questioning his loyalty: “are you riding with me?” “All I seen Irv do is unbuckle his watch,” reflects Chris, sounding like a proud brother.
After a long and difficult search, the Murder Inc hit squad eventually found 50, and a Murder Inc soldier who shall remain nameless reportedly pulled a knife. “A lot of things happened when those lights went off,” says Chris. “I got hit with a speaker. 50 threw a speaker.” Despite their best efforts, 50 Cent managed to elude the Murder Inc posse, and found himself crossing paths with a man who’d go on to play a major role in events moving forward - one Ray Benzino. “Benzino saved 50,” says Chris, revealing that The Source founder sent a bloody Fif to the hospital. Today, when you hear Ja and Irv referencing the time 50 filed a restraining order, it’s because of The Hit Factory stabbing.
Of course, 50’s version of events strikes a different tone. An archival interview with Power 105 finds 50 recounting his evening at The Hit Factory, though his scattershot manner of storytelling leaves much open to interpretation. “My gun was in my jacket” he explains, claiming that he was cut off by a mix of closed doors and narrow hallways, much to Murder Inc’s benefit. “Your boy gets stabbed in the chest. The DJ, who at this time I ain’t got no money, I’m not paying, how am I supposed to control what he does after that. He looking at this like it’s payday.” The implication, of course, being that 50’s DJ was the one who moved forward with seeking protective custody, a move that would come to loom over Fifty even today. “The whole situation was bugged out,” he continues. “These n***as had my pistol in the other room.” Interestingly enough, Fif claims he didn’t even need hospitalization, citing a “little scratch.” “I went home,” he says. “I’m on the radio hearing I went to the hospital…They always make it bigger than it is.”